By Dr. Mumini Alao
The last seven Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) have been won by seven different countries: 2010 Egypt; 2012 Zambia; 2013 Nigeria; 2015 Côte d’Ivoire; 2017 Cameroun; 2019 Algeria; 2021 Senegal. Will South Africa be the EIGHTH straight different winner at the ongoing 2023 edition in Côte d’Ivoire?
That question gained validity following Bafana Bafana’s sterling performance in eliminating Morocco, Africa’s highest-ranked team, in the Round of 16. If they could beat the best in Africa, perhaps they could become the best in Africa.
Let’s look at some Bafana credentials. Nine members of the squad are from local club Mamelodi Sundowns which gives them the cohesiveness that is evident in their play. Sundowns have been very competitive in CAF club competitions which gives Bafana the needed experience to play on the continent. The South African league is one of the best organised in Africa which gives Bafana a good pool of technically and tactically sound players to pick from.
Whoever else will win the 2023 AFCON amongst the seven other teams in the quarterfinals might have to beat Bafana Bafana first, or beat the team that beats Bafana Bafana.
Is that a prediction that Bafana now are the favourites for the trophy? No. There have been too many surprises in this competition for one to make any rash predictions. This is not a prediction, but a view worthy of consideration.
Now, let’s bring Nigeria into the conversation. Of the remaining eight teams in the tournament, the Super Eagles are the highest-ranked in Africa. They also have the most AFCON titles with three. Surely, they must be in the race for the title.
Like South Africa, Nigeria did not concede any goal in their last three games at the AFCON. In their respective Round of 16 matches, Nigeria did not allow a single shot on target by Cameroun, just as South Africa did not allow any shot by Morocco. If we accept the popular cliche that strikers win matches but defenders win trophies, we might want to bet on Nigeria or South Africa clinching the trophy with their impregnable defences, provided they’re not dragged into the lottery of a penalty shootout.
On the flip side, Côte d’Ivoire must break a hoodoo to be champions. All past seven AFCON hosts starting from 2010 have failed to win the competition. But if we consider how the Elephants rose from the ashes to knock out the hitherto impeccable defending champions Teranga Lions of Senegal, the hosts might still have more surprises in store.
South Africa and Nigeria are on one side of the draw, and Côte d’Ivoire is on the other side. If, repeat IF, all three win their quarterfinal matches as I expect, one of them will be champions. Not a prediction, but worthy of serious consideration.
Angola, Cape Verde, DR Congo, Guinea, Mali. You would have noticed that I didn’t mention any of these other five countries in the quarterfinals as possible champions. Like South Africa, any one of them could be the eighth AFCON winner on the trot. But they’re just not showing up in my crystal ball. Well, it’s been a tournament for the underdogs, so one of them might crush the crystal ball and prove me wrong.
CAF’s decision to expand the AFCON to 24 teams has revealed the depth of talent in the so-called smaller football countries on the continent. Those days when a few “giants” monopolised the trophy and rode roughshod over the other teams are gone.
Bring on the quarterfinals.
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