Tuesday 14 February 2012
A chance now to reflect on the 2012 Orange Africa Cup of Nations, which for me will be remembered as the tournament of the ‘underdog’. A competition where the favourites, Senegal, Ghana and Ivory Coast, one-by-one fell by the wayside as teams such as Equatorial Guinea, Mali and eventual champions Zambia emerged from the shadows.
I’m a firm believer in that there is nothing like ‘being there’ to fully sample the atmosphere, to feel and witness events. One day I hope to get the opportunity to sample something of the Africa Cup of Nations. For now though I can only try and appreciate and observe through the various forms of media. The things that I am left with after this tournament (clichéd or not) include the vibrancy, colour and enthusiasm of the crowds, the goal celebrations (individual to every nation), a competition that was not at all predictable, some brilliant attacking play – balanced by some pretty poor defensive work and goalkeeping mistakes and of course Zambia emerging as winners in a twist of football fate.
However, there will be issues that the Confederation of African Football (CAF) will no doubt be looking at when they come to review the tournament. Amongst those is the attendances for the competition. Very few games were sold out and some crowds were embarrassingly low, such as (eventual winners) Zambia’s Quarter-Final fixture against Sudan which was officially recorded by CAF as being 200. As with any tournament, the vital questions to ask will be around the pricing of tickets, availability and distribution, as well as the interest of the ‘home’ fans in wanting to watch other countries play. It was reported that CAF was aware of the issue and did offer free tickets and transport to some games. However, I’m not sure how successful this was. I am not in anyway being critical of CAF, because I can quite clearly remember Euro ’96 in England, where sell-outs were the exception rather than the rule. Given that in 2013 the competition is in South Africa where the smallest stadium capacity is likely to be 41,000 (assuming the 2010 World Cup stadiums are used), then ticketing and attendances is a major topic for discussion.
They say that football is the same the world over, but anyone watching this tournament will know that this is not the case. Here in England we are force-fed a diet of Premier League, Champions League and La Liga, and the viewer is presented with what is touted as the ‘cream of football, the best in world’. In many ways though it is a very sanitised version of football. A game were increasingly any sort of physical contact and tackling is gradually being outlawed. There were at time some very crude challenges through the Africa Cup of Nations, but that is no surprise in an event of thirty two games. Referees seemed more lenient when dealing with the incidents and generally players just got on with it – simply part of the game. Would we see the same reaction in the Premier League? So was there a greater honesty in the Africa Cup of Nations?
I have been critical of some of the defending and goalkeeping (although both Kennedy Mweene and Boubacar Barry in the Final were excellent), in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, but is it unfair to compare the European game with that of Africa? The FIFA rankings can be argued over all day long about their validity or otherwise, but it is interesting to do a couple of comparisons using them. Firstly, of the 16 qualifiers for Poland & Ukraine, 13 of them are in the top 25 in the World. Only Ivory Coast from the Africa Cup of Nations feature in the top 25. Secondly, if you take the FIFA rankings of the 16 teams that played in the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations and get an average, you get a figure of 75. Doing the same with those that have qualified for the UEFA European Championships, that average figure is 18. That is a difference of 57 places, which (whatever your view on the rankings), is a gulf in standards and therefore should be reflected in expectations about what we see as a spectator. Taking those figures and applying to the rankings it would see fixtures featuring Canada or China (both ranked equal 74th by FIFA) playing Ivory Coast (ranked 18th by FIFA) or Georgia (76) against Bosnia (19). It will be intriguing to compare the two tournaments once the 2012 UEFA European Champions are crowned later this year.
As with all major tournaments there are various awards handed out after the Final. For 2012 the following were presented (information from the Confederation of African Football [CAF] website)
Team of the tournament:
Goalkeeper: Kennedy Mweene (Zambia)
Defence: Jean-Jacques Gosso(Ivory Coast), Stophira Sunzu (Zambia), John Mensah (Ghana), Adama Tamboura (Mali).
Midfield: Emmanuel Mayuka (Zambia), Yaya Touré (Ivory Coast), Gervinho(Ivory Coast), Seydou Keita (Mali).
Forwards: Christopher Katongo (Zambia), Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast)
Boubacar Barry (Ivory Coast), Rui (Equatorial Guinea),Youssef Msakni (Tunisia), Manucho (Angola), Eric Mouloungui (Gabon), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon), Sadio Diallo (Guinea), Cheick Diabaté (Mali), Houssine Kharja (Morocco), Mudather El Tahir (Sudan), Rainford Kalaba (Zambia), Kwadwo Asamoah (Ghana).
Player of the tournament: Christopher Katongo (Zambia)
Fair Play award: Ivory Coast
Top scorers (all with three goals): Manucho (Angola), Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon), Cheick Diabaté (Mali), Houssine Kharja (Morocco), Christopher Katongo (Zambia), Emmanuel Mayuka (Zambia).
Finally, it will not be a two year wait until the next ‘fix’ of the Africa Cup of Nations as it will take place in South Africa next year in 2013. CAF decided that it wanted future tournaments to take place in the ‘odd’ years in order to avoid occurring in the ‘even’ years with the UEFA European Championships and FIFA World Cups. If the 2013 event is half as dramatic as 2012, it will be worth watching. Goodbye Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, thanks for the memories.