Sunday, October 17, 2021

Four lessons from Africa’s football fiesta

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Algerian referee Mehdi Abid Charef (R) tries to disperse players as they argue during the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations group D football match between Ghana and Mali in Port-Gentil on January 21, 2017. Justin TALLIS / AFP

Aside from this obvious lesson, what else did we learn from the just concluded AFCON? Here are four others.

1 – No more minnows
There was a time when one could flawlessly predict the outcome of soccer matches even before kick-off, but this isn’t the case now, especially when you consider the outcome of some games at the AFCON. Host, Gabon with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, previous winners, Cote d’Ivoire and star-studded Algeria all slipped against less-fancied sides and as a result failed to progress beyond the group phase. Instead, it was the likes of Cameroun, Egypt and DR Congo who were considered outsiders for the title that performed superbly.

2 – Best teams doesn’t always win
Football could be cruel at times in a way that the finest sides don’t always end up winning the title. Senegal, DR Congo, and Egypt were evidently the best teams from the group phase having garnered the most points. In fact, the trio impressed with their beautiful attacking style of play, which caught the attention of many. However, it was a Camerounian team that finished as runner-up in their group that eventually clinched the title. Senegal and Egypt were stopped by Hugo Broos’ lads, while the Leopards fell to Ghana in the last eight.

3 – Long way to go for local coaches
The just concluded AFCON absolutely echoed the obvious – which is the appalling standard of coaching in Africa. Out of the 16 teams that made it to Gabon, only four stormed the Central African nation with an indigenous coach; they include Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Zimbabwe and DR Congo. However, just two made it t the quarter-finals with none advancing beyond that phase. In over 60 years of the biennial showpiece, only 13 locals have led their nations to success – the most recent was Nigeria’s Stephen Keshi in 2013. This is a rallying cry for the continent’s coaches to wake up from their slumber.

4 – Never turn your back on your country
One shocking trend that surfaced prior to the commencement of the AFCON was that of top players turning their back on their nations. Cameroun was the most affected with as many as eight players pulling out from the competition. This left Broos with no option than to lay his trust on a young and inexperienced bunch who eventually got the job done.

“There was a lot of trouble before, players who wouldn’t come with us,” said the Belgian after the final. “OK, it’s their decision. But maybe they are saying now to themselves, “S***! Why didn’t I go with them?”

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