By Patrick Omorodion
The 2019 AFCON which ended on Friday, July 19, is the 32nd edition since the competition started in 1957, incidentally in the same Egypt, recorded many firsts.
Despite being the fifth time Egypt was hosting the continent’s football festival, this edition recorded many firsts which made it exceptional and will be remembered for a long time.
Top of the firsts recorded by the Egypt AFCON is in the number of participants which increased from 16 in the last edition held in 2017 in Equatorial Guinea to 24, the reason the hosting right was stripped from Cameroon which CAF thought would not be able to cope following paucity of facilities.
CAF’s Malagasy president, Ahmad in explaining the increase said, “we were dreaming of a tournament that had twice the passion and twice the competition. We wanted the AFCON to reach the largest number of African countries”.
Another major first Egypt 2019 recorded was the timing of the competition which was moved from it’s regular February to April months to June-July. This, CAF had explained was to allow African stars, who are more often torn between their clubs and country, represent their countries.
Defending the timing, Ahmad said that “As for the timing of the competition being held in the summer, Africa’s climate is diverse. Where I come from, Madagascar, June and July fall in the winter season”, he said. No wonder CAF introduced water break for players to cool off as Cairo temperature especially rose to 37-38°c.
Another first AFCON recorded with the 32nd edition in Egypt and for which the CAF president is beating his chest is in the area of broadcast of matches saying, “ this is the first time the matches will be broadcast at 4k UHD resolution, which means football aficionados will be able to fully enjoy watching the game on television “.
Ahmad, who is reportedly being probed for corruption, did not let the investigation spoil his joy on the firsts and successes recorded under his short stint so far as the boss at CAF.
He told, Horus, the magazine of Egypt Air, the official Carrier of the 2019 AFCON, that another first recorded is in the area of sponsorship as sponsors fell on each other to be part of the football party.
“This is also the first time we have (a) large number of sponsors. There are 19 African sponsors and eight from other continents, on top of which is title sponsor”.
For the first time also, an AFCON competition recorded an avalanche of applications from the media to attend the competition.
According to Ahmad, “the CAF official channel received 2,700 applications from media outlets from the African continent and from abroad to cover the competition. (Unfortunately) we approved 1,700 applications, which is unprecedented”.
Surprisingly though, this reporter was among the 1000 denied accreditation until I got to Cairo and shuttled on end to and from the CAF temporary Secretariat at the Marriott hotel in the Zamalek area of the ever bustling city to be accredited.
Another first which was recorded but almost turned controversial was the now famous Video Assistant Referee, VAR, which introduction, Ahmad said, was made after “consultations with technical experts and veteran referees”.
Explaining further, the CAF boss said the executive committee had decided that VAR would be used from the semi finals but “the decision was later modified for it to start from the quarter-finals”.
Many a football follower had castigated CAF for increasing the number of participants, arguing that it will only succeed in reducing the quality of the competition as inexperienced teams will find their way into the competition.
These people will not have the same thoughts again after what they saw the so-called minnows display in the month-long competition.
Debutants, Madagascar, started by stunning three-time champions, Nigeria 2-0 in their group game. They were almost going to qualify for the semi finals but were stopped in the quarter-finals by Tunisia.
Another surprise was the elimination of much-fancied Atlas Lions of Morocco by minnows, Squirrels of Benin Republic via penalty shootout after both sides ended proceedings 1-1 after full and extra times.
The competition came to a classic end last Friday with another first the Egyptians are still sulking over. That is Algeria lifting the trophy on Egyptian soil after their darling side Pharaohs were shocked out by South Africa in the round of 16.
No Maghreb country has won the trophy on another’s soil but Algeria broke that jinx when they beat hard fighting Sadio Mane propelled Teranga Lions of Senegal 1-0. Algeria’s second title but first outside their shores.
Egypt 2019 has come and gone but the Egyptians are beating their chest to have saved CAF by hosting the event at a very short notice after Cameroon were stripped of the right with just five months to kick off date.
The opening ceremony was rated better than most of the World Cup opening ceremonies by the world press and the Egyptians are celebrating the commendation. The ceremony had a Nigerian touch with Afrobeat sensation, Femi Kuti joining Egyptian Hakim and Ivorian Dobet Gnahore to render the competition’s song, Metgamain, meaning, ‘We are together’ which drew a wild applause from fans and dignitaries who thronged the 75,000 capacity Cairo International Stadium.
The 2021 baton has been passed to Cameroon. Africa and the world would be waiting to see how the Central African country would respond to the challenge Egypt has tossed their way.