The curtain fell on the biennial football event of the Continent. Congratulations are in order to Ivory Coast. Goals or not, they are the 2015 Champions.
The second round did not provide anything different to cheer about. The same mixed/hybrid approach to the game continues to dominate in most of the games and for bigger parts of the game. The one difference was observed in goal scoring. The “Congo War” lived up to its billing. Six goals were scored in this one. More interesting is that all of them were scored in the last half hour of the game. While on the 60th minute, no team had scored, by the end of 90 minutes (of time played), 6 goals had been scored. The fact that Congo Brazzaville was 2 goals up by the 65th, but ended on the losing side, made it all the more interesting. It was an unexpected comeback and one that stands out in the whole competition.
The other encounters went as expected save for the horrendous performance of the referee in the Tunisia-Equatorial Guinea. Everything went wrong for the host from that point on as would be seen later in the semifinal involving the host and Ghana.
This particular tournament had some unsavoury incidents (on the field) that painted a very bad picture about the African game. These were matters of concern to those who appreciate the game in its artistic form. We have more than enough of violent situations in our continent (civil wars, terrorist attacks, etc). We do not need to see any on the field. There were too many incidents of violent conduct. Some were punished by the referees, while others went unpunished. Irrespective, they all did not help in an event that was itself, an uninspiring tournament. Some examples of these include Gervinho’s one against Guinea, which resulted in him getting sent off, the attack by Naby Yattara of Guinea against Asemoa Gyan, The very Gyan stamping on the Ivorian player in the final and Geoffrey Serey Die in the same final. The worst was the complete disregard of all laws of the game and fair play principle of the host (Equatorial Guinea) in the semi-final against Ghana. The evidence was the record 47 fouls (while others were still not given). This only in 82 minutes as the game was stopped due to crowd violence resulting in more than 30 minutes of delay before resuming for only 3 minutes. This was the climax of madness on the field in the entire tournament.
The game that typified the erratic nature of this tournament was the last 8 game between Guinea and Ghana. The goals (especially the 2nd and 3rd) were typical of the low standards in this event. One would not expect such errors at such high level from seasoned internationals in the same game.
It is very interesting, if not ironic, that Herve Renard has won two AFCONs (2012-Zambia and 2015-Ivory Coast) with two different National Team without winning a match in both Finals, never mind score a single goal, and all this in 240 minutes
The real sad part was what could have been called an anti-climax (the last two games), had there been any inspiring moments in the 30 matches played earlier.
The fact that the 3rd place play-off and the Final itself ended in goalless draws, fitted very well with the entire event. The goalless draw in the Final was not because of good goalkeeping. Only one attempt on target for each team at the end of 90 minutes. This cannot, by any stretch of imagination, be a good sign for the future of the game on the Continent. With this kind of approach and performances, we as Africans should brace ourselves for some more embarrassment in the next World Cup. Unless something drastic happens, we are in for it, come 2018.
It might have been the first time in the AFCON (and maybe in any international competition) to have both 3rd place play-off and the Final ending in goalless draws.
To see a team so blessed with talent playing so many players in defence and only using 3-4 in attacking situations during open play, is demoralising especially knowing how much African players (by their nature) would like to attack and show their prowess in advanced positions. The same though not similar was the case in Ghana. To see an engine like Andre Ayew confined to the wing in the traditional sense was a huge step backwards. Every time he came in, he caused a lot of damage to the opponents (like the winning goal against SA, the back heel assist against Guinea and the third goal against Equatorial Guinea). We are only left to wonder had he not been fixed on the wing like an aeroplane engine, how much of his influence we would have seen and appreciated during this tournament!! This Ghana team played far below their potential and have regressed from what they were in the last four years, though with the same, if not better team. Had Ghana played like this in 2010, they would not have come out of their group, never mind reach the last 8.
The fact that we did not see any special talent that we otherwise did not know about is further proof that no much is coming through from most nations (those who were at the event). One would only hope that the young “guns” would be seen in Niger (from next week) and in Senegal (in March). Otherwise, if this does not happen, we have to wait for some time longer.
The scores (3-0 and 3-1) in the semi-final was clear proof of the imbalance between the groups A/B and C/D in the event. The dominance of the group C/D was too obvious. Not just by the score but the overall performance between the teams.
It is very interesting, if not ironic, that Herve Renard has won two AFCONs (2012-Zambia and 2015-Ivory Coast) with two different National Team without winning a match in both Finals, never mind score a single goal, and all this in 240 minutes. Both Cups came via kicks from the penalty mark and both went to sudden death in 2012 and in 2015 (8-7 and 9-8), respectively. This is a very intriguing story of both the coach and African Football in general.
Given the short space between the Wold Cup (June/July 2018) and the AFCON in January 2019 (this will be the case every 4 years) , it might be high time that CAF reconsiders the scheduling of the AFCON, especially in the light of the CHAN.
Maybe time has come for the AFCON to be played every four years (in the Olympic year) and for CHAN to be played in January every odd year.
It might also be time for SA to revert back to their calendar year season (February to November/December) as they will always have to break every January (like countries who have weather problems-which we do not have). If breaks do not help the League, then it was time to avoid breaking the League every season.
Once more, congratulations to the Elephants.
Zipho Dlangalala is a former professional football coach, Sports Science graduate and development guru.
– By Analysis: Zipho Dlangalala, Sports Science graduate