It may be the world’s most overplayed tournament, yet the Africa Cup of Nations never ceases to deliver fascinating storylines, unexpected champions and heroes you never would have thought had it in them to rise to the occasion.
The 2013 instalment was no exception.
Once again Ghana and Ivory Coast arrived at the competition as overwhelming favourites (Algeria had also been tipped for glory by some, but theirs was always a status much over-hyped), and once again neither made it past the semifinals. Ethiopia’s involvement for the first time since 1982 was a feel-good story, and unfancied South Africa managed to exit the event they hosted with their honour intact.
As far as individuals are concerned, Mali’s Seydou Keita—who played his heart out for a bleeding homeland—was the inspirational figure of the three weeks; Nigeria’s John Obi Mikel the best player. Bafana Bafana goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune and Super Eagles midfielder Sunday Mba will surely be among the many Africa-based players tipped for transfers to European clubs in the coming months.
Following are the teams and players that made the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations interesting to me, with a handful of other observations thrown in just because.
They waited 19 years. “I don’t know what to say. I’m just happy.”
Sunday Mba, John Obi Mikel, Victor Moses and Vincent Enyeama led Nigeria to victory over Burkina Faso, righting a wrong for one of the most talented group of players Nigeria has ever seen. Moses was dominant, creating several chances for his teammates. Though he wasn’t busy, Enyeama made a few huge stops. Burkina Faso’s Cinderella story ends with heartbreak, but the nation many had written off before the tournament began almost achieved the impossible.
They finished third in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2010. Stephen Keshi, who played in five AFCON tournaments himself, has done what his predecessors could not: win the big games. Jerrad Peters will have a tournament recap for you tomorrow. The tournament reverts to a normal schedule. The countdown to Morocco 2015 begins. Read the rest of this entry »
There are two storylines that have risen above the rest in the run-up to Sunday’s Africa Cup of Nations final between Nigeria and Burkina Faso.
In the first, we have a confident, outspoken Nigerian manager who has criticised what he sees as an obsession with white coaches in Africa and was brave enough to leave a handful of establishment players out of his side for this competition.
In the second, we have the classic Cinderella narrative of Burkina Faso, who have never contested a major final and, according to the Cup of Nations’ official website, represent “perhaps the greatest” surprise in the history of the tournament.
It’s a descriptor John Obi Mikel doesn’t quite buy into.
It’s a question I wrestled with in the run-up to the tournament, and I doubt I was alone.
The 2013 instalment of the continental championship, which began last month and will conclude on Sunday, is the third Cup of Nations to be played in the last four years and the second in succession. The Confederation of African Football decided to move its centrepiece from the even-numbered years to the odd so as to avoid congestion with World Cup qualifiers, but rather than waiting three years between competitions opted to have two of them back-to-back.
“More is better,” was the mantra, but it’s never one I bought into. And when the first two match-days produced only five goals and one winner it seemed as though the players were as uninspired as I.
No doubt some of them were, which is why they’re no longer in South Africa. The teams that remain, meanwhile, came here to have a go, each of them motivated by something that helped propel them into the semifinals.
For example, try telling Burkina Faso this Cup of Nations doesn’t matter.
Jonathan Pitroipa has put Burkina Faso through to the semi finals with an injury time header against Togo. Pitroipa, BF’s Messi, connected on Charles Kabore corner just before the end of the first period of extra time. It’s the second time Burkina Faso has made the last four –they made it in 1998 as well. Sidenote: the pitch in Nelspruit could use some work.
They’re inherently cruel. The feeling of dread when the whistle is blown after 120 minutes is palpable. While the Vuvuzela’s continue to blare intermittently, the fans are a mess. It’s a crap shoot.
Malian goalkeeper Soumaila Diakite stole the show, making three saves to spoil the party. Seydou Keita was terrific throughout. Mali and Ghana advanced to the semifinals.
My lasting memory of this one, however, will be the South African bench. Dean Furman deserved better after playing the game of his life. His miss in the shootout will define his tournament. Micheal Majoro was going to miss. You could see it on his face. I’m having trouble recalling another match with three terribly taken penalties in one sequence.
The quarterfinals of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations are beginning to take shape. On Saturday Algeria, named by some as a pre-tournament favourite, became the first team to be eliminated from the competition when they fell 2-0 to Togo in Rustenburg. Meanwhile, Group D rivals Ivory Coast punched their ticket to the last eight with a convincing 3-0 win over Tunisia.
But let’s look back on Algeria’s ill-fated campaign for a moment. At few points in their two matches in South Africa (they lost their first contest 1-0 to Tunisia) can they be said to have played particularly poorly. Against both Togo and Tunisia they controlled extended segments of play, and in a post-match interview with the BBC Adlene Guedioura wasn’t far off the mark when he claimed his side’s failure to progress was merely (if you can actually say “merely” in this instance) down to poor finishing.
“The only thing you can reproach us for is not scoring,” he said. “I think against Togo we played well again but destiny just was not with us. It’s very harsh for us because we controlled the game again; we had the majority of possession; we had a lot of chances to score and at the end we lost 2-0.”