By Segun Odegbami
AFCON 2021 has come and gone.
Memories linger on.
It was a great festival and a true celebration of the best of African football.
It had plenty of colour, culture, excitement, suspense, drama and pure entertainment. It was a great advertisement of African football, following the pre-tournament drama of those that wanted the championship cancelled because of its effect on their business of football in Europe, and the Africans that would not hear of a cancellation or a suspension.
The whole world became spectators of the showdown, waiting and watching to see what would happen during the championship to determine African football’s future.
Africa stood its ground, and went ahead with the championship despite the fears and the threats of Covid-19, and came out of the test in flying colours.
Cameroon and, indeed Africa, had to put up a great show to ‘shame’ the critics and sceptics from the moment the first ball was kicked to the moment the Tarango Lions of Senegal lifted the coveted trophy in a final match that held the watching world spellbound for the 120 minutes it lasted.
One of the most memorable moments of the 4 weeks festival of football, was seeing one of Africa’s greatest football players of all time, Roger Milla, looking dapper in his Blue Suit, walking majestically onto the grounds of the Olembe Stadium, with the jubillating players of Senegal and the mourning players of Egypt as the background, carrying the golden trophy across the field to its final resting place on the podium.
It was the first time any African football legend would be so honoured at such an event. It was an unforgettable moment.
There were other great moments too.
The picture of hundreds of thousands (probably more) of Senegalese people on the streets of Dakar, trooping out to follow the motorcade of their returning heroes in an unprecedented sea of humanity, remains etched on the mind.
Ironically, that is the scene the rest of the world did not want to see, of an ultimate spreader of the dreaded virus at this most critical of periods in the global fight against Covid-19.
No one could have stopped the people from their ‘orgy’ of celebration. At the end of it all, no one is even making any noises and asking the obvious question: what will be the long-term cost of throwing all caution and safety protocols to the wind, to celebrate a country’s one glorious moment in the sun?
AFCON 2021 will also be remembered for the drama of Janny Sikazwe, a referee that dramatically, prematurely ended a match with 5 minutes left to play, came back following protests to play till the 89th minute and ended the match again without the 4-minutes extended time period had been displayed on the board. Following protests, and about 40 minutes later, he called for the two teams to return to the field to play out the 4 added minutes.
The Tunisian team refused and the match ended in chaos. No one has been able to clearly explain what happened, why the man did what he did, and what the repercussions would be for a referee who was considered so good he officiated at the last World Cup.
The Egyptian Goalkeeper, Gabaski, easily one of the players of the tournament, left a water bottle on the field of play after the end of the penalty shoot-out that ended AFCON 2021.
The bottle that must now have found a ‘home’ in a football museum in Yaoundé or Cairo, had small notes taped around it with tactical information on each of the Senegalese players and how they took their penalty kicks, obviously the product of serious research by the Egyptians of their opponents. It is eye-opening.
The goalkeeper consulted his water bottle notes before each kick to determine what direction to dive to. There could never have been better preparations for a penalty shootout than that.
It was very significant that the winning Senegalese coach was a former Senegal international player that had been handling the team for 8 years. His success has surely helped resolve, if only temporarily, the question of low-grade foreign coaches handling African national teams ahead of their indigenous Black coaches.
Even Nigeria that was toying with the idea of hiring another foreign coach after AFCON, to replace one that did not succeed after 6 years in charge, abandoned their ‘new’ foreign coach on the tarmac. A Nigerian consortium will now continue with the national team.
Ghana also kicked out their failed foreign coach and have now set up a consortium of Indigenous Ghanaian coaches to take over.
This is all as a result of Aliou Cisse’s success with Senegal. It is left to be seen if other African coaches that are still in the mental prison of ‘White is better than Black’, would take the cue and follow the new trend.
The player selected as player of the tournament, Sadio Mane, did not earn it by playing the best football during the championship. He was given the award only because his team that also did not play the best football during the championship, won it. Two players stood out in the Senegalese team as pillars – the captain, Kalidou Koulibaly, and the goalkeeper, Edouard Mendy. Between them they played the kept the team solid as a rock. The best player in the Senegalese team in my reckoning was also the person named as the tournament’s best goalkeeper.
For his work rate, his established reputation, his energy during the final match, particularly, and that he scored the very last crucial goal during the nail-biting shoot-out was the reason Sadio Mane got the award of Player of the Tournament
8 football fans died in a stampede at the Oleme Stadium during one of the matches. Enough was not done, thereafter, to explain what happened and to hold anyone responsible for the calamity. It was one dark spot of the championship.
The difference between African football and football from anywhere else on the planet was found in the physicality of African football. Obviously less organized in terms of team tactics and organization, African football flows with an over-abundance of power play, speed, brutal energy, endless running and goals conjured from ‘nowhere’. Every match was an end-to- end unadulterated attacking football without spectacular goals.
On the lighter side, there was the video of a Ghanaian? prophet that went viral during the championship. He made predictions about how the championship would end. Many people religiously followed his predictions that were largely correct until the last match. He put his neck on the guillotine when he prophesied that the Cameroonian team would only get to play the Third-place match (which is what happened) and that the trophy would be won by a North African team.
The failure of his prophecy saved the lives of many from heading straight to hell.
He fell flat on his face and must now be eating humble pie in a corner of his nefarious business headquarters.
The difference between African football and football from anywhere else on the planet is now clear to the world. It is found in the physicality involved. Obviously less organized in terms of team tactics and organization, African football flows with an over-abundance of power play, speed, brutal energy, endless running and goals conjured from ‘nowhere’. Every match is an end-to-end unadulterated attacking football with or without spectacular goals.
AFCON 2021 was indeed a great celebration and festival. The world would take the championship seriously after this feast in Cameroon.
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