AFCON: The Real Fireworks Now Begin!
THE boys are now being separated from the men. As a result, I have also lost my bet about who will win Afcon 2015!
I did not think they had the capacity to win the tile, but being the ‘gambling’ man, I had put my kobo on Cameroun to beat the odds and ‘steal’ the title. I failed because, last Wednesday, on a dramatic night that left much of Africa breathless with excitement, drama, suspense and a little controversy, my young hardworking Indomitable Lions were halted.
The last set of matches at the group stage were going to be very critical, particularly since the games had been extremely close since the championship started with very few goals and too many drawn encounters. Remarkably, 10 of the first 16 matches ended in draws with an overall average of less than two goals per match.
Group D of the championship has been particularly interesting because of the element it introduced when the position of second team to qualify in the group had to be decided. Cote d’Ivoire had ended as undisputed leader. Guinea and Mali had ended with exactly the same number of points and goals between them on the table above Cameroun at the bottom.
One day after the matches, ballots were drawn in the boardroom and Guinea won. That action has now generated fresh debate over the propriety of such a rule that takes the process of winning away from the field to the boardroom. Many football purists now suggest that such decisions should be based on a process that must start and end on the field of play, and not by the drawing of lots.
I believe the issue will be looked at again after the championship by CAF. But that will not be the only drama of the last group matches. Each group had its own drama.
In Group A, as predicted, Equatorial Guinea, even as hosts, struggled, worked hard, rode on the back of unprecedented local crowd support, won only their match. That was enough to see them join Congo as the two teams from the group. Congo were the best and most consistent team. They were well organised, played robustly and defeated both Burkina Faso and Gabon!
Group B was also very closely fought. Only one team won a match in the entire group. Tunisia defeated Zambia and became automatic leaders of the group as all the others matches ended in draws. Cape Verde were not the same team that caught everyone’s imagination in 2013. They drew all three of their matches. DR Congo also drew all their three matches but scored one goal more to edge out Cape Verde on goals aggregate!
Zambia were a shadow of the victorious all-conquering 2011 African champions. They were the only team that lost a match in the group.
It is in Group C that there was the greatest drama on the field of play. This was the only group that had teams winning and losing matches, and with plenty of shocks and surprises. The results in this group confirm that football is not mathematics.
Surprisingly, Ghana lost their first match to Senegal. Shockingly, Algeria defeated South Africa and lost to Ghana. Senegal could only draw with South Africa.
At the wire, dramatically, Ghana that were at the bottom of the table with South Africa going into the last match, surged to the top after a pulsating match that saw them oscillate from the brink of defeat to a clear victory at the end against the Bafana Bafana. The South Africans are left totally now confused about what to do to South African football to be great once again in Africa. They are left wondering how things that looked so bright going to Equatorial Guinea could suddenly turn so dark in the end.
Senegal that had comfortably and confidently topped the group going into the final set of matches, suddenly found themselves losing out completely after a dramatic defeat by Algeria in their last match. When the final whistle was blown they were out, and their conquerors, Algeria, were in with Ghana.
But the drama did not end there. Who was the group leader? It took careful interpretation of the rules of the competition to determine who came first in the group! Ghana emerged finally as group leaders. Algeria that had the same number of points but higher aggregate of goals (having scored more goals in the other matches) was declared second. It was the result of the match between Ghana and Algeria, which Ghana, won that clinched it.
In my humble opinion, goals aggregate should apply ahead of result of the match between two teams in a group competition.
I have already looked at the drama in Group where as in group B, only one team won a match – Cote d’Ivoire. The team they defeated on the final day of the group matches, Cameroun, were instantly knocked out.
Mali and Guinea could not be separated, not by points, or goals, or even the result between them. That’s why lots were cast, and Guinea ‘won’ to join Cote d’Ivoire into the quarter-finals, leaving behind a fuming and disappointed Malian team.
However, the dust of the group stage matches have settled. By the time you are reading this, quarter-final matches are likely to be on!
This is my summary of the group stage of Afcon 2015. The gap between the traditional African football ‘giants’ and the rest has narrowed down. Predicting the outcome of matches is becoming increasingly more difficult these days. This is very good for the game.
Having said that, somehow, only a few of the traditional ‘giants’ are still firmly in the race for the Afcon 2015 title. Of all the teams, only Ghana have won the championship more than once (four times). The others that have won it only once are Cote d’Ivoire, Tunisia and Algeria. The others are new kids on the block.
Central Africa is represented by three countries – DR Congo, Congo and Equatorial Guinea. West Africa still has three countries as well – Ghana, Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire.
North Africa has Tunisia and Algeria still in the race.
The distribution of the teams speaks volumes. Central African countries, led by the two Congos, are rising powers in African football. Even their performances at club level is indicative of this new momentum.
On the other hand, there is a decline in Southern and East Africa. West and North Africa are still maintaining their lead in Africa.
Finally, once again, the matches have been very competitive, hard fought, full of drama and very exciting, but the standard of play, which is relatively low, must be of concern to those monitoring the development of football in the continent.
There is definitely a dearth of emerging exceptional talent from Africa as reflected in the ongoing championships.