Orange Africa Cup of Nations – Thursday 02 February 2012

The Africa Cup of Nations is an event that in all probability I’ll never actually go to ‘live’ in my lifetime, but it’s there on my footballing ‘wish’ list. My first memory of African football goes back to the 1974 World Cup in West Germany where Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) were drawn in the same Group as Brazil, Scotland and Yugoslavia. In the game against Brazil, the Zaire defender Ilunga Mwepu lined up in a wall with his teammates as the Brazilian’s were about to take a free-kick. Nothing strange there you might think, however, before Brazil could take the kick, Ilunga broke from the wall and hoofed the ball up-field, earning himself a booking and internet celebrity status years down the line.

My point is that even back then you knew that there was something different about African football. It came with a smile on its face, innocence, a unique atmosphere filled with colour and vitality, with abundant energy from fans, players and coaches alike. The current Orange Africa Cup of Nations tournament to date has had its fair share of drama, surprise exits and like 1974 in West Germany some atrocious weather. Some would argue that the standard of defending and goalkeeping has been very poor this time around, but that shouldn’t detract from the inordinate amount of skill on show and some simply stunning goals. It has been extremely emotional to see the way sides have celebrated their progress to the Quarter-Finals and witness for others the pain of elimination. Therefore to see the terrible pictures of events from Egypt yesterday was a stark reminder about the domestic situation that lurks behind the shadows in a number of African countries currently.

I don’t profess to be an expert on African politics (or indeed politics in general), but like the majority of people I do pick up through the various forms of media, what is happening beyond the shores of the United Kingdom. Take for instance some of the teams who did make it to Gabon & Equatorial Guinea for this years competition. During 2011, there was an attempted coup in Guinea whilst in the Ivory Coast, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt all were playing their Qualifying games against a background of civil war and unrest. It is said that sport and politics should never mix, but history has shown how certain countries and their leaders have tried to use it for political gain. For some this is positive, as after the uprising in Libya, National football coach Marcos Paquetá claimed that the team was now “…not only playing for football success but for a new government and a new country…”. In Egypt things seem far more perilous as football seems to have become inextricably linked to the continuing troubles. BBC reporter Jon Leyne summarised the events from Egypt with the following;

“…even as the violence was continuing at the Port Said football ground, Egyptians began suspecting, wondering if darker forces were at play.

The Muslim Brotherhood, now the largest party in parliament, accused remnants of the Mubarak regime of provoking the riot in an attempt to reduce the country to chaos.

Egyptian football fans can be notoriously violent. But what immediately aroused suspicions is the fact that the al-Ahly supporters, known as Ultras, have become a political force as well. They have been at the forefront of many of the big confrontations with security forces in the last year.

What really happened at the Port Said stadium may never fully be known. It’s just as likely to have been a case of incompetence, from a police force which has been seriously under strength since they were chased off the streets in the revolution a year ago.

The immediate danger for the Egyptian authorities is of new violence, as angry football supporters take to the streets once again. But this has also provoked a new political crisis, undermining trust in the ruling military council, at a time when Egypt is moving towards presidential elections and the handover to civilian rule…”

For me, one of the joys of football is the fact that is it an escape from our everyday lives. We are able to leave the stresses and strains of work and domestic life at the turnstile for ninety minutes and take on the pleasure and pain of watching our team. In Egypt yesterday that separation, that line between the two was simply blown apart. At the coming Quarter-Finals game there will a minute’s silence before the games. It will no doubt cast a shadow over the remainder of the tournament and is a reminder that in our ever-changing world, football will never be just a game.

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Posted February 2, 2012 by Editor in category "2012 Africa Cup of Nations

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