The African Cup of Nations (ACN) 2010 has been a showcase of fantastic football across the host continent of the upcoming World Cup. However, this ACN will always be remembered for the tragic events surrounding the Togolese national team. While the squad moved down from their training camp in Congo to their tournament base, the province of Cabinda, their bus was attacked by gunmen. The violence resulted in the three deaths, several wounded people and the whole football world shaken by such horrific scenes. The tournament continued, despite concerns from some players and managers regarding safety. Security, which was a concern in the beginning, was thankfully not an issue with the authorities increasing provisions. Hopefully, this attack was an isolated case in a troubled part of Angola, with many believing this will not occur in South Africa during the World Cup.
Indeed, with the summer in mind, this ACN was a perfect opportunity to learn more about the African participants. All five World Cup qualifiers (Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria) progressed to the quarter-finals, despite many believing these teams would save themselves for the summer. For this reason, many people had tipped defending champions Egypt; surprising victims of World Cup elimination in a sudden-death playoff against bitter rivals Algeria, to triumph, with this their only competition for the year. Maybe it was fate for the Pharaohs, excellent throughout the tournament, to exact a measure of revenge by thumping their North African neighbours in the semis 4-0 in a typically fractious affair that saw Algeria finish with 8 men on the field. The other semi-final was a West African collision between rivals Ghana and Nigeria, with the former progressing by a solitary goal – a common theme for them.
To the neutral, Algeria must be considered a surprise package, as the Desert Foxes eliminated pre-tournament favourites Ivory Coast in the quarter-finals having narrowly qualified from the group stages. Despite well-known players like Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou and the Touré brothers (Kolo’s awful Manchester City form continued), the Ivorians could not match the desire and determination of England’s World Cup group opponents. Brazil and Portugal await the Elephants in June and they need to match their strengths of power and speed with an ability to defend competently and to deliver a final ball to Drogba, who was unable to impose his will on defenders as he so frequently does at Chelsea. A lack of midfield creativity is a problem among the World Cup qualifiers, highlighted by Nigeria needing penalties to defeat rank outsiders Zambia after an insipid 0-0 draw. These teams desperately require a quality playmaker with some flair in the mould of ex-Bolton star Jay-Jay Okocha to assist the striking quality that many of these teams possess.
While there have been high-scoring matches, the defending on show would give Alan Hansen sleepless nights. The opener between Angola and Mali left many lost for words. Angola was cruising, 4-0 up with 12 minutes left. Cue the mother of all comebacks, with Barcelona’s tireless midfielder Seydou Keita equalising in the 92nd minute. Furthermore, the bizarre quarter-final between Egypt and Cameroon, where the Pharaohs triumphed 3-1, started with Egyptian captain Ahmed Hassan deflected Achille Emana’s corner into his own net, before levelling after a goalkeeping aberration by Carlos Kameni. Mohamed Gedo, Egypt’s super-sub who seemed to score every game, profited from Geremi’s lackadaisical defending in extra-time. To round the errors off, Ahmed Hassan’s free-kick effort was wrongly adjudged to have crossed the line after a save by Kameni had pushed the shot onto the bar and back down. Apart from a few isolated cases, match officials have done an excellent job and no team has used poor refereeing as an excuse for defeat.
Many of the ‘star’ players involved, such as Drogba, Samuel Eto’o and John Obi Mikel have failed to impress. Instead, it has been the less familiar names that have stood out. The hosts pairing of winger Mabina and striker Flavio worked fantastically well in tandem, with Mabina’s ability to deliver an accurate cross and Flavio’s goal-scoring prowess. After Asamoah Gyan, perhaps the standout of the ACN, put Ghana ahead on the counter, the hosts dominated the quarter finals, only for ex-Manchester United and Hull City striker Manucho to miss four golden opportunities after great work from Mabina. Ghana were expected to make a swift exit, with an inexperienced squad chosen by coach Milovan Rajevac, due to injuries and disputes, and captain Michael Essien picking up an injury in the group stages. However, the gamble has paid off and the Black Stars are in a position where they know they have true quality and resilience from a squad built largely from the recent World U-20 Championship winners. Son of Ghanaian legend Abedi Pele, André Dede Ayew has been the pick of the youngsters with a prodigious left-foot and excellent all-round forward play.
Overall, there has been some terrific entertainment, for example Asamoah Gyan’s goal celebration against Nigeria in the semis, and fantastic goals scored, like Kader Keita’s rasping left-foot drive for Ivory Coast against Algeria. Furthermore, the teams that were hitherto considered also-rans have raised their stature as shown by Malawi, who hammered Algeria 3-0, and Benin. The ACN has clearly shown that there is great depth to African football beyond the World Cup qualifiers and has helped the continent recover after such a tragic start.