AFCON 2012- SO FAR, A POOR ADVERTISEMENT!
Posted: Jan 29, 2012
Let me admit straightaway that my opinion is heavily laced with bias. I may actually be either over critical or my expectations are too high. Whichever, my conclusion is the same - AFCON 2012, so far, has been kind of disappointing. The championship has not lived up to my expectations in many ways. The standard and quality of play have been relatively low. The high profile players (the superstars in several European clubs) have been rather subdued and unimpressive. The terraces in most matches have been full of empty seats. The audiences at matches outside of the host teams have not been as boisterous, loud, colourful and exuberant as we have seen in recent previous editions, where the atmosphere around the grounds gave the African football festival a unique flavour. As a very active participant in the African championship since 1976, I should know what I am talking about. I was a close observer in 1976 when I stayed back to complete my education. In 1978 and 1980 I was a very active and successful player in the two championships I took part in with 6 goals to my credit, third place and winner, and highest goal scorer award. In 1994, I became the last Team Manager in the history of my country to lead the Nigerian national team to another winning campaign. From 1998 to 2010, I worked as a journalist (reporter and an analyst) for several media organisations. In 2012, I am back to my television observatory, watching a championship that, so far, has not being representative of what is expected to be the best of African football.
The championship has not been a showpiece. The audiences at most match venues have been scanty (except during matches involving the host teams) and ‘quiet’, marked by the terraces full of empty seats. The quality of performances has not been high, characterised by physical play and too much seemingly running without a discernible strategy and discipline, evidence of poor coaching. Even the teams that boast some of the best African players have not displayed mastery and supreme comfortability on the ball in the matches they have played. It is indeed two of the teams with a large dose of players drawn from their domestic leagues have shown some organisation and discipline (Zambia and Sudan). Almost at the end of the first round of matches, truly outstanding performances have not been recorded even though it is true that first round games are usually more difficult for teams. In my humble estimation, the best match so far has been the one between the two North African teams - Tunisia and Morocco - a highly entertaining, competitive, very tight and technical performance. The slightly luckier team won on the night. Neither team has kept that level of performance since. Other matches have been very brutally physical, rendering impotent individual skills and teams. There have been isolated moments of brilliance but it has been more a display of athleticism and power rather than artistry and team discipline and organisation. Having said that though, even as the men are being gradually separated from the boys, expectations are rife that as the games advance to the second round of matches, the minnows having been weeded, the entire picture may change with a higher standard of competition bringing out the best in the players. This is the hope now. So far, my predictions before the championship have been largely spot on, except in the case of Senegal.
Senegal let down pundits and analysts (including myself) that vigorously posited that they were one of the tournament’s three favourites, the others being Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire. To become the first team to lose two consecutive matches and to be bundled out of the championship before the end of the first round of matches is humiliating and leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. Whatever happened to the galaxy of Senegalese stars that were painting the European leagues red, black and blue with their performances?
Mali and Burkina Faso could not get their performances off the ground. With Mali, I could discern the attempt by Saidu Keita to influence his team to play like his Barcelona FC team - quick interchange of passes, fluid and almost frictionless movements, sharp dribbles, endless running and quick tackles when the ball is lost to the opponent - a style that makes Barcelona FC the best team with the most effective style of play in the world at the moment. Of course, it was a very poor attempt. Such mastery does not come in two weeks of training. The Barca style is a life-long skills acquisition and continuous development programme, the product of years of endless practice!
With Burkina Faso,it is a return of football from the archives long high balls from defence to attack in hopeful expectation of something happening in front of opposing goals. Football in those days can be forgiven for such systems, but not football of 2012!
Zambia have once again demonstrated just how dangerous they can be. After two games they have provided some of the better performances of the championship showing the potency of speed, quick passing and concentration in front of goal! if only the team can keep this level of performance throughout the championship, they could be a real threat towards the end.
Gabon and Equatorial Guinea have ridden successfully on the back of home support to progress into the second round. Gabon look the better of the two even though the support for the Equatorial Guinea team has been louder and more passionate. That both continue to be in the championship even with less than convincing performances has provided the championship an essential life line. It is clear that without the home teams in the race, the chances of playing in empty stadia are high. I will not be surprised if CAF records the lowest attendances at Nations Cup matches in its history.
Angola and Sudan have created some respect and attention for themselves with some gutsy performances.
Botswana and Niger have not disappointed. By the time you are reading this, it is very likely both countries would be on their way home. They both lost their first two matches and do not seem to have the players or the ammunition to create any upsets.
Ghana may not have played very well, but they still look the most compact team in the championship. If they will be beaten at all it can only be by their co-favourite in the championship, Cote D’Ivoire, and even that would be a very steep mountain to climb. Cote D’Ivoire have won their matches but have not shown a cohesiveness that convinces analysts they can go all the way. Cote D’Ivoire still need their current best player, Yaya Toure, to lift his game and knit his attack into a consistent goalscoring machine in order to succeed. So far, he is not showing enough of his true capability.
As the second round knock-out matches begin, all eyes will now be on Ghana, Zambia, Cote D’Ivoire and the two host teams. All the teams will be expected to play at their very best in every subsequent match as a condition for advancing further in the championships.
Generally, the level of the matches has been low, the conditions of the pitches have been poor at times, the number of wasted goal-scoring opportunities in front of goal have been legion, finishing off moves in front of goal has been a major problem, evidence of good coaching has been absent, and the officiating has been average.
The absence of Nigeria, Cameroun, South Africa and Egypt, with their army of supporters, journalists and superstar players, has seriously affected the quality and excitement of the championship. They would have provided the depth, interest and followership to make the championship a lot better. AFCON 2012 has not been the same without them.
Those that claim that African teams are developing may have to rethink that position. It is not evident in AFCON 2012.
Having said all these, the championship may still light up as second round matches begin. For me, everything still points in the direction of a Ghana/Cote D’Ivoire final with the hosts battling between themselves for third place.
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