Welcome to the final feast.
The two teams left standing on the final day of AFCON 2015 are probably the two best teams of the entire championship.
The emergence of Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire at the finish line is confirmation once again that West Africa remains the most dominant region in African football! It is the two teams that have put up the most consistent series of matches, improving and playing better with each successive match. It is understandably so because the teams are made up entirely of players from various leagues in Europe who did not have enough time before the championship to become formidable teams. They have been using the matches of AFCON to build their team and be better organised. Like good wine they have become better with time.
A closer look at both teams, to hazard a guess where the pendulum of victory would swing, reveals a deep rooted rivalry that will be on full display when they line up today to decide Africa’s champion for the next two years!
I was asked on television the other night to name who, in my opinion, has been the best player of AFCON 2015. I ended up scratching my head in an endless attempt to recall the one moment of magic throughout the championship up to the finals that would provide me with the answer.
I could not come up with that single moment or exceptional player that has been providing the unusual edge in most matches. I have seen only faint displays that leave fudgy memories of players, teams, goals or saves.The entire championship has lacked that quality. Even Yaya Toure, the player that had just been crowned Africa’s best for the fourth consecutive time, has been but a shadow of himself.
Asamoah Gyan, the other great Ghanaian superstar, has suffered some unfortunate injuries that minimized his contributions even though his goal against Algeria in the dying minutes of regulation time that gave Ghana the victory that took the team from the brink of exiting the championship to the leadership of the group, may mark Ghana’s most crucial and defining moment.
He must take that credit for that dramatic change even though beyond that goal, in the two other matches he played after that, he was anywhere near his mercurial best!
There is still today’s final opportunity to get an answer. One great performance in the final of AFCON 2015 provides the perfect setting and opportunity to pick who becomes the championship’s best player. So far, in this most average of African championships, no one truly deserves it.
Who Do I Think Will Win The Championship?
Ghana have won it four times, but the last time was in 1982, 33 years ago! They may have forgotten how to win final matches! During the 33 years of their ‘drought’ they have met Cote D’Ivoire three other times during the championship, but only once in the final match. Ghana lost in the final via penalties. That was at Senegal 1992. Incidentally, Cote D’Ivoire have not scored a single goal in the last three finals they participated in. Even when they won the championship for the first and only time in 1992 they did so by penalties! They never seem to have the nerve to score goals in the final match, and they never seem able to finish and win in regulation time!
So, where does all that leave us?
My head tells me Cote D’Ivoire will win through penalties again.My heart tells me the Black Stars would win in regulation time! What does my unreliable crystal ball say?
Give it to the Star that is Black! Enjoy the final feast!
The Shame Of Equatorial Guinea!
The Confederation of African Football, CAF, should never have awarded the African Cup of Nations championship, AFCON 2015, to Equatorial Guinea. Why they did should actually be a subject of future inquiry. Too many things were not correct in that decision.
To start with (and this might or might not have anything to do with what transpired last Thursday night) the central African country has one of the worst human rights violation records in the world. Besides that, the country was under suspension by CAF for some indiscretion and was not eligible to even participate in the championship.Finally, the country has little pedigree in African football, a small population and small capacity stadia.
Developments during the semi-final match against Ghana now provide ammunition to those who want to justify the skepticism of those who thought granting hosting rights to Equatorial Guinea was a big mistake by CAF. On that dark long night the chickens finally came home to roost!
The Equatorial Guineans met their waterloo on the football field as the Black Stars of Ghana tore them to pieces and humbled them with a very easy and humiliating 3-0 trouncing that could easily have been more. Without the 12th player (the Referee) to help them as it happened during the quarter-final match against Tunisia, Equatorial Guinea were left exposed by the superior, mature and better organised display put up by the very experienced Ghanaians.
Equatorial Guinea actually started the match on a high note and in very high spirits, chasing after every ball and matching the Ghanaians tackle for tackle, ball for ball. As the game wore on, they ran out of ideas.
By the end of the first half, their game had deteriorated into a brawl. It looked like the strategy they adopted was to physically intimidate the opposition to submission! They sacrificed their hard fighting and endless running style for aggressive marking and brutal tackling. It was not surprising that at the end of that half, they had not only conceded two goals but had also failed to create even a single goal scoring opportunity.
Angry spectators, an almost 15,000-strong army of supporters of the home team, infuriated by the conduct of the referee who would not bend to intimidation and the emotional blackmail of the home team, turned their anger on the game.
They started to throw missiles of sticks, stones and water bottles onto the field of play, and the match had to be temporarily suspended for over 30 minutes whilst security measures were taken to protect the visiting supporters who were forced to abandon the terrace and take refuge on the tracks right beside the field of play in fear of their lives.
Unlike the peaceful atmosphere that had pervaded the entire championship from the start up till the controversial quarter-final match that was gifted the Equatorial Guinea by an obviously bad or compromised Mauritian referee, the semi-final match was a very bad advertisement for African football with the entire world watching the ugly incident! Equatorial Guinea simply compounded their credibility challenges and expended their integrity credentials.
I recall that even when they hosted the female edition of the African championship a few years ago, very serious doubts were raised about the gender of several of the players fielded.
Although they took away the trophy, many commentators were not convinced some of the players were not more male than female!
Last Thursday night those issues came flooding back and down memory lane. Against the Black Stars, Equatorial Guinea looked awful. They did not put up anything close to what a team that gets to the quarter-finals of Africa’s most contested national championship should.
So infuriated were the country’s football supporters at the stadium that they threw decency and caution to the wind and unleashed mayhem that lasted over 30 minutes!
I can imagine what the CAF President and his Executive Committee members must have gone through in that half hour of absolute shame. They must have rued the day they gave Equatorial Guinea the nod to host AFCON 2015.