Sunday, February 17, 2013

Recapping a Mighty African Cup of Nations

I was extra excited for this year's African Cup of Nations (AFCON). I felt South Africa would host a good tournament but mostly because Ghana's Black Stars were returning to the scenes of the Mzansi Mundial where they captured the imagination of football fans everywhere. Sadly, the Black Stars came away without the trophy which was very disappointing. The Orange African Cup of Nations did give us a lot of stories though which I would like to recap through my various lenses. I'd leave the Ghanaian point of view to another blog post.

I've been introducing my various alter-egos to the world. East African nations don't do as well at football so Uganda's Richard Nshuti Mayanja, Kenya's David Ochieng Mwangi and Tanzania's Hamis Ambwene Massawe had to find other countries to support. The Cranes have been getting Ugandans excited about their football but ultimately fell short. Victor Wanyama is tipped to join Manchester United and McDonald Mariga is a baller, but the Harambee Stars haven't put together a stretch of games to qualify for the AFCON. The Taifa Stars probably excite Tanzania less than their coaches. This is really sad to see because many African soccer minnows have been qualifying for the AFCON but these East African countries have not been able to be counted amongst them.

Ayooluwaato Eze was pleased to see his Super Eagles qualify for another AFCON after missing the previous edition. We had another local coach in Stephen Keshi who seemed to be building for the future by bringing in many new faces. The man whose name has changed from Odemwingie to Odemwinger to Odemwhinger was dropped and a Nigerian who scores for Chelsea - Victor Moses - took his place as the shining star. Girma Goitom Gemechu was ecstatic that the Walia Antelopes had given Ethiopia the chance to play in an AFCON after many Ethiopian years and the watching world would enjoy the eye candy that exists in the form of Habesha women. Even though Ethiopia had fewer celebrated footballers than their neighbours, they would be on the big screen.

I haven't introduced Siyabonga Mandela and Roberto Saudades to the world yet. They are my alter-egos from South Africa and Angola respectively. After missing out in 2012, the Bafana Bafana were back on the big stage and to summon the angels of 1996 and possibly win another AFCON on home soil. Tshabalala wasn't the same, Steven Pienaar had 'retired' from the team and the Mzansi men had it all to do. The Rainbow nation also had a show to put on after the greatness of the Mzansi Mundial in 2010. Roberto Saudades aka my real alter-ego like many other Angolans were hoping that the Palancas Negras would gallop their way Cinderella 2006 style to a major trophy after the disappointments of 2010.

Cote d'Ivoire were the favorites and the Elephants were expected to stamp their way to glory. Zambia's Chipolopolo were the defending champs and they came to South Africa with reloaded ammunition in copper bullets. Cameroun didn't qualify, but Niger did. Egypt didn't qualify, but Ethiopia did. Senegal didn't qualify, but Cape Verde did. Yeah, a country of less than a million people. Bafana Bafana found out why the Blue Sharks were participating too late, as they failed to score against them. In fact, 2 games went without goals until Ghana's Agyemang Badu broke the scoring duck and provided some (goal) meat for all African football fans to enjoy.

The Black Stars also broke the spirit of the Blue Sharks even after a gallant performance by the latter. Cape Verde was bundled out of the AFCON through 2 Mubarak Wakaso goals. Roberto Saudades would have thought Angola would be the better Lusophone country but Manucho and co couldn't make a good impression at the tournament, going home early from Group A with Morocco. Siyabonga Mandela's team scored goals eventually and gave the hosts for lekker moments till their march to glory was halted by the cruelty of penalties at the hands of Mali. Mali was going through political strife and the Eagles were playing to unite and excite the West African nation. It looked like the Zambia of 2012. They emerged from Group B with Ghana, leaving out DR Congo and Niger.

Girma Gemechu's Walia Antelopes had some great games in the tournament but a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Burkina Faso was fatal. The Stallions of Burkina Faso displayed excellent stamina throughout the tournament, playing 2 extra-time games. They (along with Nigeria) had more arsenal than the copper bullets Zambia brought as the Chipolopolo bowed out early. They overcame Togo (led by Adjoa Bayor Adebayor) in the quarter-finals. Togo had come out of Group of Death (beating out Algeria and Tunisia) alongside Ivory Coast who had marched through with gusto, cutting and shifting the opposition. In the midst of "Babade" Didier Drogba being benched and all. That made Emmanuel Eboue say things like the below and talked bigger than the 150 million Nigerian fans in the buildup to the quarter-final clash with Nigeria. Ayooluwaato Eze and his fellow Nigerians sought God's favour that Sunday and a Sunday delivered a massive win.
Eboue became the Super Eagles' newest fan. Nigeria met Mali in the semi-finals. This was an example of a superior version of Eagles beating another and stopping further flight up for the Malian Eagles at the semi-final stage. 4-1. Nigeria spelt Mali. After beating Mali, they awaited a potential final date with their arch-rivals, Ghana. The stage was to be different. The Stallions' stamina starred over the Black Stars's shine and stagnated the stalwarts march to Soccer City Stadium. The most famous African penalty taker Asamoah Gyan didn't even get the chance to take a penalty in the shoot-out as Burkina Faso ended their Southern neighbours interest in the competition. That showed because Ghana took their disappointment into the third place match and Mali beat them to claim bronze medals and give the Malian people another reason to be in solidarity.

Nigeria-Burkina Faso. Such an unlikely final. Jonathan Pitriopa (later be named the player of the tournament) had a red card rescinded and would play. That line shows how much of a raw deal 'Les Etalons' had to overcome versus Ghana with the help of the Tunisian referee. This and that must have blared on Ouaga's streets with that news. Unfortunately for the Burkinabes, they were facing arguably the world's most religious country on a Sunday. Sunday mba, Sunday has come. Sunday Mba settled the final in Nigeria's favour in Emmanuel Emenike's absence and Ayooluwaato Eze and his Naija people went gaga crazy and did ginger-swagger alanta all through the night. After not participating in the 1996 African Cup in South Africa due to political reasons, they were back for the 2013 edition and won the cup many believe its golden generation would have won 17 years before. In dramatic fashion, Stephen Keshi resigned after winning the trophy only to be convinced back. So he'd be around to guide the Super Eagles to the Confederations Cup in Brazil. Ayooluwaato Eze is hoping that will be a dress rehearsal for World Cup participation in 2014.
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