Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Nations Cup 2010: A Mixed Bag of Experiences

The 2010 edition of the Africa Cup of Nations, variously called CAN 2010 (by French speakers) and AFCON 2010 (by English speakers), is earnestly underway in Angola. The biennial tournament brings to the battlefield the powers that be in African football, resulting in the emergence of the continent's ultimate footballing power. While this fiesta has always been exciting, colourful and musical, entertaining global football enthusiasts, this year's tournament has carved for itself a special mix of drama, action, upsets and controversy that is worth observing.

The Togolese team attack

The horrific attack on Togo's national team enroute to Cabinda from Congo, resulting in the death of two members of their contingent and injuries to others, left a sour taste in the mouths of many connoiseurs of the game. Further, it was disturbing that the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and the tournament organisers refused to postpone any of the matches to accommodate the Togolese predicament. The Togolese team has since, in a dramatic fashion, pulled out of the tournament on the prompting of their government. In the wake of this development, many commentators started to raise questions about security arrangements put in place for the tournament. They were particularly concerned with the safety of players, officials and fans participating in the games in Angola. Also doubts have been expressed in relation to Cabinda's suitability as a host venue. But all that seems to be fading away in memory as the tournament has picked up a fast pace ever since the first ball was kicked at the national stadium in Luanda.

The Rise of the Minnows Where are West African Giants?

The tournament is registering many surprising results, reiterating the fact that there are no longer minnows in African football. Here some of the most shocking results from the games:

Angola 4 Mali 4 (Mali scored their 4 goals within the last 16 minutes of the game)

Malawi 3 Algeria 0 (Algeria have qualified for the World Cup while Malawi are playing their first Nations Cup tournament in over 20 years)

Gabon 1 Cameroun 0

In addition to the above eye brow-raising scorelines, West African teams seem to be having a difficult time at the tourney. The only West African victory over Non-West African opposition so far has been Mali's win over Malawi in the last round of matches in Group A. This dip in form by the region's footballing giants may be of concern to football fans because no team from the West African Football Union (WAFU) has won the African Cup of Nations since Cote d'Ivoire and Nigeria's back-to-back conquests in 1992 and 1994 respectively. This observation is really surprising against the back drop a large percentage of the continent's currentr world class football stars hail from sub-region.

No Clear Favourites

Prior to the tournament, many of Africa's leading football teams such as Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Cameroon, Nigeria, Egypt and hosts Angola were lining themselves to lift the trophy. However, the strong performances being put up by the so called soccer minnows means that this cannot be achieved on a silver platter. Already, star-studded Mali has been kicked out of the competition, and it is becoming increasingly likely that either Cameroon or Tunisia will not make it pass the first round. From the few matches that I've watched, it looks like Egypt and Cote d'Ivoire are slightly ahead of the other teams. The Egyptian camp is particularly confident as their coach suggests that there's a dip in the competitive level of the tournament compared to the last two nations cup competitions.

More Action Ahead

The Nations Cup competition will continue until 31st January and looks like there will be more fireworks on the field of play as the tournament progresses into the more competitive rounds. There's a lot at stake for the various teams and individual players, and this will generally increase the competitive nature of the tournament. The African football magic fabric will be woven in the loom of Angola's grassy pitches, amidst singing and drumming, producing rich entertainment for the global football audience. Good luck to all the teams! Viva African football!

PS: Don't forget to share what your CAN experience has been so far. Which team do you think will win the tournament?

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