The Africa Cup of Nations is upon us, and while it hasn’t exactly started off with a bang, at least the goals haven’t been scares. ANTOINETTE MULLER picks out five key points from the opening weekend.
In the shadow of the Premier League, the African Cup of Nations kicked off on Saturday night. Gabon tops group A after beating Burkina Faso 2-0, while hosts Equatorial Guinea were held to a 1-1 draw against Congo. In Group B, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo also played out a 1-1 draw, while underdogs Cape Verde eked out a 1-1 draw against Tunisia.
It was very much a slow and steady start, with the biggest “impact” from an African player occurring without said player even touching a ball. Manchester City looked completely at ease without Ivorian Yaya Toure. They lost 0-2 to Arsenal, meaning they have not won a single match that Toure has missed this season. Whether he can be as influential for his country remains to be seen, though.
From the tournament, the biggest news was not related to football, either. Those who were paying close attention might have noticed that DRC had very small font printed on their shirts. Apparently this was due to a printing error, and the squad will be duly fined for its sin. (Obviously dodgy fonts are one of the biggest threats facing football today.)
Alas, there were few talking points from the opening weekend, but nonetheless, we’ve picked five.
South Africa still deeply affected by Senzo Meyiwa’s passing
South Africa only begins its campaign today on 19 January, but it’s quite clear that the team is doing this one for its late captain. In the build-up to the first match against Algeria, Shakes Mashaba called on fans and players alike to uphold Meyiwa’s memory. “It’s unfortunate what has happened,” he said. “It was beyond our control so we say to them they must stay focused, stay put, and cheer the team as they did when the late Senzo was with us.” Tragedy has a strange way of bringing out the best in teams and bringing them even closer together. South Africans specialise in finding silver linings, and there certainly is a feeling that the squad wants to honour its fallen soldier.
Burkina Faso’s tippy-tappy can be exposed
During the previous edition of the tournament, back in 2013 in South Africa, Burkina Faso passed their way to a place in the final. This kind of play can often frustrate teams into submissions. On Saturday night, against Gabon, Burkina Faso once again adopted their trademark style. But this time, they were exposed. Although they played more attractive football, over-complication cost them. The Stallions’ final touch was also found lacking, but at least their coach broke it down simply for everyone involved.
Paul Put said afterwards: “If you can’t score goals, you can’t win matches. It’s a shame, but that’s the way it is.”
Thanks, Paul. That’s a sterling revelation right there. Here we were all thinking that football matches could be won through interpretive dance and fans having a creative dress sense. How brilliantly, err, put.
Equatorial Guinea might surprise a few
They have not played a competitive fixture since June last year, but the host nation actually looked quite composed. Although they really shouldn’t be in the competition (they were booted out of qualifying for fielding an ineligible player and qualified by way of being hosts), at least they haven’t fallen flat on their faces. In fact, they could very well have won their opening fixture if only Javier Balboa’s compass were not directed straight at the keeper. Emilio Nsue, too, had a goal ruled offside, a decision which was contentious at best.
Keep expectations of Zambia low
During the 2012 edition of the tournament, Zambia defied all the odds and won the tournament in Gabon. While nobody expected them to dominate after that fluke, there was still some hope that they would be inspired. Eight of the players who formed part of that famous victory are part of the current squad, but it’s better to keep expectations low. Zambia’s midfield lacked telepathy and buckled far too easily under pressure. For the neutral romantic, it’s easy to get caught up in the possibilities, but you’re better off keeping your dreams for this team low-key.
The ‘leaders’ still think it’s about them
Every big sporting tournament involves some sort of self-indulgence by the leaders of the country that hosts it. The opening ceremony of the Africa Cup of Nations was no different. For far longer than necessary, Equatorial Guinea’s president Teodoro Obiang Nguema paraded around the pitch after the opening ceremony. In his speech that followed, he said the country was “proud” to host the tournament “despite criticism from our enemies”, adding that the country “welcomes the youth of Africa and modestly offers its contribution and its hospitality”. The hullaballoo went on for so long that kick-off was almost five minutes late.
One thing that the president did get right was the “modest hospitality” part, at least if the whinging coaches are to be believed. En route to their opening fixture, the team from Congo got stuck in a traffic jam for over an hour, without aircon. Their coach, Coach Claude Le Roy, was stuck in a hotel which he said had no running water and exposed electric cables.
After the match, fans also managed to find their way into the media room and Congo’s coach was understandably a little bit irked.
“If CAF doesn’t understand they have to protect team … then they (CAF) have to change,” Le Roy said.
Some media reporting on the tournament have subsequently dubbed him “Le Whinge”. DM
Photo: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (2nd L) of Gabon celebrates his goal with his team mates after scoring against Burkina Faso during the 2015 African Cup of Nations (AFCON 2015) soccer tournament Group A at Bata Stadium, in Bata January 17, 2015. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh