Orange Africa Cup of Nations – Reflection

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.

Orange Africa Cup of Nations – Sunday 12 February 2012

Africa Cup of Nations – FINAL

Ivory Coast v Zambia


Ranked 16 in the CAF standings, in footballing terms Zambia’s progression to the Final today is a remarkable achievement. Their two most noteworthy results in the tournament to date include the group win over highly fancied Senegal and the Semi-Final win over pre-tournament favourites Ghana. Others will say though this journey is all about fate and that The Copper Bullets are destined to win the trophy. The reason? Back in April 1993 the Zambian team were flying to a World Cup Qualifying game in Senegal. After a fuel stop in Libreville, the plane took off, but crashed soon after, just off the Gabon coast. All passengers and crew were killed and included 18 players. So for the modern-day Zambian squad that crash and loss of their compatriots has been there in the background – a part of their drive, an unconscious positive force – and maybe, just maybe it will take them to one more incredible victory.

Ivory Coast have yet to concede so far in the competition and another statistic of note is that none of the previous thirty one games have produced a 0-0. Could The Elephants lose the tournement on penalties having not lost a game or conceded a goal? Does the competition have one last twist? Football logic says that the footballing stars of the Ivory Coast will take the title, but is it written in the celestial stars that Zambia will be crowned champions?


Sometimes you get an image that says so much. As the captains exchanged pennants before kick-off, the camera drew back and revealed Ivory Coast captain Didier Drogba standing by Zambian skipper, Christopher Katongo. Drogba physically dwarfed the opposing captain – an obvious visual ‘David and Goliath’ – a representation of The Elephants, a side full of stars, the favourites, against The Copper Bullets, the unfancied minnows.

Pleasantries over, Ivory Coast kicked-off in drizzly conditions and within a minute Zambia showed that they were not here to make up the numbers as they forced a corner. It was well worked and Nathan Sinkala fired in an excellent shot that was not only saved but held by Boubacar Barry the Ivory Coast keeper. Almost immediately the action switched to the other end where Zambian defender Joseph Musonda makes an important interception. However, the defender is in pain as replays shows his ankle twist and fold beneath him on the greasy surface. He goes off for treatment but does return, however it is evident he is in pain, and in tears departs the game after only 11 minutes. Drogba sportingly consoles the Zambian, but Musonda is understandably distraught. Mulenga comes on as substitute and so grabs his chance of glory. It does not seem to effect Zambia and on 13 minutes from a long throw, Chisamba Lungu crosses and Emmanuel Mayuka heads over on onto the roof of the net. The first fifteen minutes have belonged to Zambia, but Ivory Coast then started to get into the game as in quick succession runs by Drogba at the Zambia defence result in free-kicks within shooting range. The first is high and wide, the second a comfortable catch for Kennedy Mweene in the Zambian goal. Just past the twenty minute mark, Zambia have a free-kick, but it only results in a corner. The Elephants then press and win two corners in quick succession, with the second causing panic in the box and is eventually scrambled clear. Despite this flurry of activity, it is thirty minutes into the games before Ivory Coast create a genuine chance on goal, when from a Drogba back-heel, Yaya Toure shots wastefully wide. As the game enter the final ten minutes of the half, it loses momentum as there are breaks for injuries and it all becomes rather scrappy. After two minutes of time added-on the whistle is blown and despite the 0-0 score-line, Zambia go into the break the happier of the two teams.

Ivory Coast start the second period more positively with Gervinho getting out wide and attacking the Zambian defence. The Elephants dominate the opening ten minutes without actually creating a decent chance. However, Zambia nearly catch out the Ivory Coast as they have consecutive corners which rattle The Elephants defence. With twenty minutes to go Ivory Coast bring on Max Gradel to reinforce the threat to the Zambian defence down the flanks. Salomon Kalou departs and looked less than impressed as he left the field. The double threat of Gervinho and Gradel pays dividends, when on 70 minutes, Gervinho is bundled over in the box by Isaac Chansa – a pretty soft penalty really. Drogba takes the spot-kick and ballons it over the bar. The Chelsea man points accusingly at the turf, whilst Zambian keeper Kennedy Mweene celebrates mockingly in front of The Elephants skipper. Once more the question looms, are Zambia fated to win this trophy? The game enters a scrappy phase again and without realising it, extra-time is a real possibility. However, with a minute to go, Gradel is in the Zambian box and creates a chance for himself, with defender and keeper wrong-footed, he drags his shot just wide. Four minutes of added-time ebbs and flows and in the Final game of the tournament we have our first 0-0.

As with the start of the game, Zambia nearly take the lead in the first period of extra-time. Skipper Christopher Katongo gets down the by-line and cuts back for brother Felix. His shot looks to be going in, but Boubacar Barry in the Ivorian goal sticks out a leg and manages to deflect the ball onto the post. Replays show that the vital deflection is off the keepers studs! That turns out to be the only real goal attempt and suddenly the game is underway again for the final fifteen minutes. Ivory Coast look the more dangerous in the second period, but there is now an inevitability about the onset of penalties.

This morning I dared to venture whether The Elephants would end up losing the competition having not conceded a goal. I didn’t honestly believe that would happen, but here I was watching from afar with that outcome a real possibility. At this point, I have to say that I wanted Zambia to complete this incredible victory by winning the shoot-out. Ivory Coast went first and Tiote, Christopher Katongo, Bony, Mayuka all scored as penalties reached 2-2. Bamba then had his penalty saved by Mweene, but it had to be retaken as the keeper was adjudged to have moved too early. Bamba slammed in his second attempt and Chansa, Gradel and Felix Katongo all scored to tie it up at 4-4. Drogba was then up next for Ivory Coast, but despite the pressure of his earlier miss, there was no error this time and he gave The Elephants a 5-4 lead. The spotlight then feel on Zambian keeper who took the fifth penalty for The Copper Bullets. Calmly he scored and the two keepers (both who had played so well in the Final) shared a ‘Keepers Union’ moment, before sudden death penalties began. Tiene, Sinkala, Didier Ya Konan  and Chisamba Lungu all slot home to bring the score to 7-7. Kolo Toure was next up and had a run-up that seemed to begin at the half-way line. His penalty was a week effort and Mweene comfortably saved. Zambia had the chance to win it as Rainford Kalaba stepped-up. However, he blasted way over and the chance was gone. Gervinho had the chance to put The Elephants back in front, but he shot high and wide and once again, The Copper Bullets had the chance to clinch the trophy. Stoppila Sunzu became the hero and ensured that Zambia fulfilled their destiny. Many banners in the crowd acclaimed the victory as being for the victims of the ’93 air-crash and the Zambian players formed a circle to offer a prayer at their memory and their victory, another image which said so much. Zambia coach Herve Renard carried down the injured Musonda to join his colleagues and all that was left was the presentation of the cup, once it had been delivered by tribal dancers.

Third time lucky for Zambia. They will tell you it wasn’t about luck, but their destiny.

 2012 Africa Cup of Nations – Final

Ivory Coast (0) 0 – 0 (0) Zambia [AET]

Zambia won 8-7 on penalties

 Stade d’Angondjé, Libreville

Orange Africa Cup of Nations – Saturday 11 February 2012

3rd/4th Place Play-off

Ghana (0) 0 – 2 (1) Mali [Cheick Diabate, 23 mins, 80 mins]

Nuevo Estadio de Malabo.

Both Mali and Ghana had experience of the 3rd/4th Place Play-Off fixture from previous Africa Cup of Nations tournaments. Prior to today, Mali had played in this fixture on three occasions and The Eagles were yet to register a win. In 1994 in Tunisia, Mali lost 3-1 to Ivory Coast, in 2002 when they hosted the tournament they lost 1-0 to Nigeria and two years later lost again to the Nigerians, this time 2-1 in Tunisia. Ghana have played in the play-off fixture on two previous occasions, losing to Zambia in 1996 in South Africa, but did take 3rd spot in 2008, when as hosts they overcame Ivory Coast 4-2.

Ghana and Mali had already played each in the 2012 tournement having met in the second round of group games. On that occasion two second-half goals had seen The Black Stars emerge as 2-0 winners. Ahead of the fixture today, both sides had been hit by injuries and suspensions which affected team selection and meant that each team had six starters from that group game selected for this play-off fixture. In a tournament which has had its fair share of shocks, the 3rd/4th Place Play-off saw the underdog again have the last bark. Mali emerged 2-0 winners with goals either side of the break from Cheick Diabate. The first after 23 minutes was a tap-in from inside the six yard box after Ghana keeper Kwarasey could only palm away a shot from Samba Diakite. The Black Stars cause wasn’t helped when Isaac Vorsah was sent off mid-way through the second-half. With ten minutes remaining, Mali sealed the win as in a break-away Adama Tamboura crossed to Cheick Diabate for his second poachers finish from close range. Mali deserved winners 2-0, whilst a disappointing finish for Ghana, who looked a shadow of the team that had shone in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Orange Africa Cup of Nations – Friday 10 February 2012

Tomorrow Game 31 of the 2012 Orange Africa Cup of Nations takes place. And what is the significance of Game 31? Well it is the last one before the Final and is therefore by definition the 3rd/4th Place Play-Off fixture. It must be a difficult game for all involved. Fans generally have little interest in it and given that there have been some very low attendances in this tournament (even with free tickets and free transport being offered on occasions), it must be a worry for the organisers that the game tomorrow will be sparsely attended. Although one saving grace is that the game is in the 15,000 capacity stadium in Malabo and not one of the other bigger grounds.

For the coaches and managers what do they do about team selection? Do they approach it from the perspective of finishing the tournament with a win, the honour of finishing 3rd and of course the FIFA/CAF ranking points that come with it? Or do they give a game to the squad members that have had little or no involvement in the competition so far? It is a game to blood the younger players?

As for the players, well when I played, I always played to win, so I would expect those chosen to perform to the best of their ability and in a professional manner. They are playing for their country and they should be proud no matter the status of the fixture. However, what will be lurking in the back of their minds? Will the disappointment of not making the Final be an overwhelming thought that hampers performance? Will they be worried about getting injured in a ‘meaningless’ game before returning to their clubs?

Perhaps it comes down to expectation. For instance given that Ghana were amongst the favourites for the tournament is finishing 3rd/4th enough for the Ghanaian Football Association? Is the coaches job and the future international careers of the players under threat? The circumstances for Mali are possibly different. Did they believe they could make it this far? For the team ranked 15 in the CAF ratings (Ghana are 2), it has been some achievement. So the pressure is all on The Black Stars it seems. Only tomorrow will tell though how the respective teams approach the game

Orange Africa Cup of Nations – Thursday 09 February 2012


At the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, one of the talking points before and after the event was the Official match ball, the “Jabulani” (meaning, celebrate in Zulu). It came in for an enormous amount of criticism, with some claiming that the ball was too light and unpredictable in flight. Interestingly an earlier version of the ball had been used in January that year in the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations, where the Jabulani-Angola was the competition match ball. However, there was little criticism of the ball during that tournament. It may have been that issues were caused when the ball was modified for the World Cup. It may have been the altitude in South Africa. Or could the fact that once some starting complaining, a (possibly unfounded) seed of doubt was planted in players minds about the Jabulani?

For the 2012  Orange Africa Cup of Nations, the “Comoequa” has been used. As with the choice of name for the tournament mascot (Gaguie), there is a simple reasoning to the match ball name. “Comoequa” originates from the River Como and the Equator, both of which pass through co-hosts, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. It’s a colourful ball to say the least, as it is mainly yellow and features some of the colours from the flags of both co-hosts. In terms of performance, there doesn’t seem to have been any complaints from the players and from the games I have watched it doesn’t appear to have behaved in any peculiar way at all. What do they say about a poor workman?

Orange Africa Cup of Nations – Wednesday 08 February 2012

Zambia (1) – (0) Ghana (Staid de Bata)

Mali (0) – (1) Ivory Coast (Stade d’Angondjé)

Congratulations to Zambia and Ivory Coast. Commiserations to Ghana and Mali. Both games settled in ninety minutes and both by a single goal. However, that doesn’t begin to tell the story of another dramatic night in the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations.

In Bata Zambia and Ghana were the first game of the day. The game hinged around two key moments and an old football adage. The first key moment came on 8 minutes when Ghana were awarded a penalty. Asamoah Gyan took the spot-kick and he went for placement rather than power. Unfortunately for Ghana, Zambian keeper Mweene went the right way and saved with his left hand. After their 2010 World Cup exit on penalties and now this, perhaps The Black Stars are starting to develop the English penalty phobia. The second key moment came on 78 minutes. Emmanuel Mayuka received the ball on the edge of the Ghanaian box with his back to goal, he created some space for himself to turn and although surrounded by white Ghanaian shirts managed to curl in a shot which nestled in the net after clipping the post. To paraphrase David Coleman, “Zambia…one nil”. Finally, the old football adage, “…you have to take your chances…”. Having missed a penalty Ghana did create plenty more opportunities. Certainly Kennedy Mweene had an excellent game in goal for Zambia, but Ghana were wasteful upfront and they paid the price when Mayuka scored the winner for Zambia. The Black Stars wait for another tournament win continues, whilst Zambia keep defying the odds.

With one of the favourites gone, Ivory Coast would have been nervously eyeing their opponents Mali as the game kicked-off. Ivory Coast like Ghana created plenty of chances in the opening half and must have been wondering if they would also suffer the same fate as The Black Stars as a goal eluded them. However, with half-time approaching, Gervinho produced one of the goals of the competition. He collected the ball in his own half and then beat Mali defender Ousmane Berthe. Gervinho then ran the length of the Mali half to cut into the box and calmly finish past Soumaila Diakite. In the second-half The Elephants did what they have done in previous games in this tournament and basically absorbed the threat of the opposition and comfortably held on to their single goal win.

There is a break now until Saturday, when the 3rd/4th place play-off game between Ghana and Mali takes place in Malabo and then Sunday the Final itself, when Ivory Coast take on Zambia. 

Orange Africa Cup of Nations – Tuesday 07 February 2012

Slowly but surely the end of the 2012 Orange Africa Cup of Nations is coming into view. Tomorrow the last four teams take part in the two Semi-Final fixtures. Depending on the result it will lead either to an appearance in a Final and perhaps the opportunity of a career defining moment or having to take part in a game that no one wants to play in – the dreaded 3rd/4th Place Play-Off.

First up will be the game between Zambia and Ghana in Bata. The Zambians have crept into the Semi-Finals pretty much under the radar. They have got past this stage to play in two previous Finals, the first in 1974 and the second in1994. The 1974 tournament was held in Egypt and in the Final The Copper Bullets faced Zaire (who were later that year to take part in the World Cup in West Germany). The game went into extra-time (after it finished 1-1 in normal time). Zaire went 2-1 ahead, but Zambia equalised with virtually the last kick of the game and a replay was needed. Zaire proved too strong and took the cup in 1974 with a 2-0 win. Twenty years later in Tunisia, Zambia faced Nigeria in the Final, but a 2-1 score-line saw the Zambians finish as runners-up again.

They say you need a certain amount of luck in the Cup and Ghana will feel they had that in their last outing against Tunisia, when they were literally handed the game after a terrible goalkeeping error. The Black Stars have been billed as one of the favourites from the start of this competition, but have rarely shone so far. Their record in the Africa Cup of Nations is impressive with four wins (1963, 1965, 1978 and 1982), but will reflect that it is 30 years since that last triumph. The pressure will be on them to make it through and I’ll take them to get past Zambia in a close game that will require extra-time to separate the teams.

The second Semi-Final will see Mali take on Ivory Coast at the Stade d’Angondjé. Mali have appeared in a Final and that was back in 1972 in Cameroon, where they lost 3-2 to the Republic of Congo. The Eagles face an Ivory Coast squad that boasts the best CAF and FIFA ranking, but like Ghana have at times flattered to deceive. I didn’t tip Mali to get past Gabon in the Quarter-Finals, and really can’t see them getting past Ivory Coast on this occasion. The Elephants to go through 2-0, to set up a Final between Ivory Coast and Ghana.

If my predictions come to pass, then the Final will be a repeat of that which took place in 1992. The game finished 0-0 at full-time and extra-time couldn’t separate the teams either. So to penalties and it turned into a dramatic episode. The first seven penalties were successful and Ivory Coast led 4-3 as youngster Isaac Asare took the next for Ghana. He was unsuccessful and suddenly Ivory Coast had the chance to clinch the cup with the next kick. Joël Tiéhi took the kick, but couldn’t clinch his place in the football history of the Ivory Coast. Tony Yeboah (then of Eintracht Frankfurt, before his move to Leeds United) brought Ghana level at 4-4 and the drama continued as penalties moved into sudden-death. At 10-10 all the players had taken a penalty each and so Basile Aka Kouamé who had started the shoot-out for Ivory Coast prepared to take his second. He scored but Ghana keeper Ansah having gone the right way merely pushed the ball into the net to give The Elephants a 11-10 lead. Anthony Baffoe then had the task of making it level once more, but his effort was a very tired one and Gouamené in goal for The Elephants made a comfortable save and with it Ivory Coast had their first (and to date, only) Africa Cup of Nations title. Anybody for a repeat in 2012?

Orange Africa Cup of Nations – Monday 06 February 2012

Now I’m all for creativity and cleverness of design, but it is me or are the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic mascots just plainly odd and therefore don’t fit the bill? Having read about the story behind the names used for the mascots (Wenlock and Mandeville), I can see the reasoning. However, in terms of appearance they look like one-eyed blobs – what the hell have they got to do with London? Well from their design the only thing I can see is the taxi light which each mascot has on top of its head and which is supposedly “…inspired by the London taxi…” Is that it? To me they don’t convey anything that says the Olympics are being held in England, let alone London or indeed that they are mascots for a sporting event.

What you may ask has this to do with the Africa Cup of Nations? In watching the games and researching various aspects of the tournament, I came across the 2012 Orange Africa Cup of Nations mascot named Gaguie. Now you might think the name is from an old African dialect. In fact it is an amalgamation of the countries names who are co-hosting the tournament (Gabon and Equatorial Guinea). Simple, yet so effective. So what is Gaguie? Gaguie is a gorilla, but a gorilla with a message and was chosen as a symbol “…that represents the biodiversity and fauna of the central African ecosystems, spaces where both ecologic treasures suffer the danger of disappearance…” (from the Official Web Page of the Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea). Gaguie wears a football shirt which is blue, green and white (colours from the flags of Gabon and Equatorial Guinea). Again incredibly straightforward reasoning yet conveys the message of unity of the two co-hosting countries. Also, Gaguie is never seen without a football or in football action, so when looking at the mascot we know what sport it is representing. Some may say that it is all too simplistic. Really? I know which I prefer and which to me represents both the event, country and carries a serious message.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to know what the respective budgets were for the creation of the London 2012 mascots and the 2012 Orange Africa Cup of Nations?

Orange Africa Cup of Nations – Sunday 05 February 2012

Gabon (1) – (1) Mali (AET: Mali won 5-4 on penalties) [Stade d’Angondjé]

Ghana (2) – (1) Tunisia (AET) [Stade de Franceville]

Yesterday I tipped the two “G’s” (Gabon and Ghana) to complete the Semi-Final line-up, but only came up with one out of two tonight.

In the case of Gabon, “G” stood for “Going, going, gone”, as there was no dream of progress for The Panthers and as a result both co-hosts exited at the Quarter-Final stage. However, it all looked so promising in Libreville, when after an even first-half, Gabon took the lead on 55 minutes with a goal best described as a comedy of errors. Gabon launched a free-kick into the Mali penalty area which was badly misjudged by Mali as they tried to clear. The ball fell to Gabon forward Aubameyang who cut the ball back into the box where it was  missed by the Mali defence. The ball ran to Eric Mouloungui who drove the it towards goal and which found its way in after a deflection from two Mali players who were more effective in getting in each others way, rather than blocking the goal-bound effort. Gabon went in search of a second and captain Daniel Cousin hit the post when it was easier to score. The clock ticked down and it looked like Gabon were edging their way to the Semi-Final. Then with six minutes remaining, a ball into the Gabon box was headed back towards the penalty spot by Modibo Maiga. Substitute Tidiane Diabate with his back to goal, controlled, turned and fired under the body of Didier Ovono in the Gabon goal. Mali were level mainly through great skill by Diabate, but the finger will be pointed at Ovono, in that he should have kept the shot out. Extra-time came and went and suddenly it was the drama and agony of penalties. Six successful penalties had the scores at 3-3 as Gabon’s star performer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang stepped-up. His kick was saved and the advantage shifted to Mali. Bakaye Traoré coolly put Mali 4-3 up, but Gabon stayed in the tie as Ecuele Manga casually chipped in his penalty to level the score at 4-4. It all came down to Seydou Keita who with calmness passed his spot-kick left footed into the net. It was a lesson in penalty taking and England fans will hope Fabio Capello was taking note! Despair for Gabon and elation for Mali. The Eagles were through and have the dubious pleasure of facing Ivory Coast in the Semi-Final. For now though it will be about enjoying the moment.

For Ghana is was a case of “G” for “Gift”, a gift that only came to fruition in extra-time. The prospect of extra-time didn’t look on the cards early on when The Black Stars made a lightening start and were 1-0 up against Tunisia within ten minutes. From a corner taken by Emmanuel Agyemang Badu, Ghana skipper John Mensah muscled out the Tunisian defence to head in. Ghana continued to press and a second goal seemed likely. With half-time looming and Ghana cruising, against the run of play, Tunisia scored three minutes before the break. A speculative cross into the box was headed home by Saber Khelifa who attacked the ball with more purpose than the Ghanaian defender. The second-half couldn’t separate the teams and so as with the earlier game it was extra-time. The “gift” arrived just over ten minutes into the first period of extra-time. Agyemang Badu looked like he had wasted a good attacking position, when he over hit a cross. However, Tunisian keeper Aymen Mathlouthi inexplicably tried to take the cross as it was sailing out of play. He failed to gather the ball and instead knocked it into the path of Andre Ayew who gratefully slotted home to give Ghana the lead 2-1. It was quite simply the keeping clanger of the tournament and Mathlouthi cost his team dearly. Into the second period of extra-time, Tunisia lost their composure as Aymen Abdennour was sent-off for elbowing an opponent and Oussama Darragi was lucky not to reduce Tunisia to nine men with an ugly challenge. It was a shame that the game finished in the manner that it did. However, Ghana made it through, although less comfortably than they would have hoped.

There is a break now until Wednesday when the Semi-Finals take place and they will be as follows:

Zambia v Ghana (Estadio de Bata)

Mali v Ivory Coast (Stade d’Angondjé)

Orange Africa Cup of Nations – Saturday 04 February 2012


Zambia (3) – (0) Sudan [Estadio de Bata]

Ivory Coast (3) – (0) Equitorial Guinea [Nuevo Estadio de Malabo]

De La Soul once sang, “…three, that’s the magic number…” and so it proved to be for Zambia and Ivory Coast tonight as my predictions to progress indeed made it through to the Semi-Finals.

In the opening game of the evening at the Estadio de Bata, Zambia met Sudan. Zambia dominated from the off and were 1-0 up within the opening fifteen minutes. Kalaba swung in a Zambian free-kick from the wing and as the Sudanese defence stopped, Sunzu (sporting a rather fine mohican) headed in. Now depending whether you are part of the goalkeeping union or not, you would either say that Sudan custodian Akram was left badly exposed by his defence and had no chance with the header, or his challenge at punching away the incoming ball into the box was too little too late. Whatever you point of view, it added more fuel to the fire in the debate about the standards of goalkeeping in this competition. Sudan struggled to get into the first-half and any chance of establishing any rhythm was hindered by two enforced substitutions due to injury as Yousif Ela Eldin and Hamid Nazar were replaced. Overall, Zambia deserved their half-time lead. Sudan however dominated the opening twenty minutes of the second half with good chances created for Eltaib and Ahmed Khalifa. They were still in the match on 66 minutes, but then threw the game away. Kalaba broke into the Sudan penalty area and was being forced wide, when inexplicably, cynically and crudely, Saif Eldin Ali Idris hacked the Zambian down. A penalty was awarded and Sudan were down to ten men. Akram did well to save the spot-kick, but the rebound fell kindly to skipper Christopher Katongo who swept it in and put the game out of reach of Sudan. The result was put beyond doubt on 86 minutes, as James Chamanga curled in a beauty to make it 3-0. Undoubtedly, the turning point was the sending off and penalty, as it was still only 1-0 with about 25 minutes still to play. However, Zambia were the better team and are emerging as a dark horse in the tournament.

In the second game of the night the first-half was very much about The Elephants captain Didier Drogba. After thirty minutes (in which Ivory Coast had dominated), a penalty was awarded after Didier Zokora was fouled. Drogba stepped up, but his effort was well saved by Emmanuel-Danilo. However, within six minutes Drogba redeemed himself. Rui Fernando Gomez make a hash of controlling the ball, Drogba pounced, drove into the box and after cutting inside two defenders squeezed a shot past Danilo; 1-0 and Ivory Coast had their half-time lead. As in their previous fixtures, The Elephants seemed content to absorb the pressure in the opening of the second-half and play on the counter. The killer blow came with twenty minutes remaining. Yaya Toure fired in a free-kick and Drogba placed a bullet header into the net for his and The Elephants second. If that finish wasn’t impressive enough, then with just ten minutes to go, Yaya Toure scored with an absolutely stunning curling free-kick and clinch a 3-0 win. The Elephants through and yet to concede a goal – ominous for the other teams. Equatorial Guinea did their country proud and they will no doubt rise up the CAF and FIFA rankings after this showing.

The great shame about the games tonight were the attendance figures, with a reported crowd of only 200 in Bata and surprisingly in the capital Malabo, the stadium was not full even for home team Equatorial Guinea, with a reported crowd of 12,500 in the 15,000 capacity stadium. When the CAF organising committee review this tournament, the issue of attendance figures will surely be on the agenda.

Tomorrow the remaining two Quarter-Finals take place with the first involving co-hosts Gabon up against Mali in Libreville and the second with Ghana playing Tunisia in Franceville. Gabon looked an accomplished side in winning their three group games with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang the star attacking force for The Panthers. Mali who face Gabon, clinched their Quarter-Final berth after coming from behind in their last game to beat Botswana. For me, Gabon will have too much for The Eagles. In the later game, Ghana take on Tunisia. Ghana like Ivory Coast, haven’t really got into top-gear, but did enough to top their group. Their four goals to date have been scored by four different players, which shows that they have a number of options in that department. Tunisia have yet to keep a clean-sheet in the tournament and will for me struggle to contain The Black Stars. G-force tomorrow then, with Gabon and Ghana to go through.