With matchups across the continent confirming the final field of competitors for 2013’s African Cup of Nations, Goal Ghana’s Ed Dove looks over five of the major talking points to emerge from Africa’s football this weekend.
1.        Super Eagles finding their Wings
        Glancing down the list of this weekend’s scorelines, one in particular catches the eye: Nigeria 6, Liberia 1. Dominance, command, and authority, and arguably the Super Eagles could have bagged more. Contending with limited Liberian threat, Nigeria were able to run riot over the Lone Stars, and the match soon descended into a rout.
        In principle, a terrific Nigerian performance may not come as such a shock to the casual observer of the continent’s sport; the side are, traditionally, one of Africa’s giants, whilst Liberia have only ever qualified twice before for the Afcon, on both occasions being eliminated in round 1. But this is not a vintage Nigerian team, and a 2-2 draw in Monrovia in the first leg could justifiably have given Liberia hope.
        Any optimism was dashed in the cruellest of ways in Calabar, as Naija ran riot. The Super Eagles, with John Obi Mikel pulling the strings, looked composed and organised – a marked improvement. Nigeria aren’t ‘back’ just yet, they aren’t the side they once were, but they have enough strength in depth – particularly in the final third – to pose a serious threat in South Africa.
  1. Indomitable Lions far from Kings of the Jungle
        The same can’t be said however for their dear West African neighbours Cameroon, as things are surely reaching their nadir for the Indomitable Lions. Qualification was always going to be an uphill struggle after a dire first leg away in Cape Verde. Trailing 2-0 going into Sunday’s crunch game in Yaoundé, Cameroon laboured to a 2-1 win, the islanders’ away goal prompting ecstatic celebration back in Praia.
        Whilst the Sharks can look forward to an historic maiden Afcon in South Africa, Cameroon begin to lick their wounds, but the backlash across the country will be hard to ignore. Despite Samuel Eto’o’s return, once more leading the line as captain, Cameroon failed to convince, and a squad studded with star names may well be overdue an overhaul or a change in direction. Big names have flattered to deceive for years, whilst too often the murky relationship that can exist between football and politics smears the once-proud image of the nation’s side. With players such as Stephane Mbia, Nicky N’Koulou, and Alex Song, as well as the aforementioned Eto’o, Cameroon have the tools to compete with the continent’s finest – right now, however, the Indomitable Lions appear far from being the kings of the jungle.
  1. Zambia’s Resiliency
        One of the weekend’s tensest ties was played out in Kampala, as Zambia took a one-nil lead from the first leg to Uganda. The Cranes scored within the first half hour through Geoff Massa, and with neither team able to capitalise on future chances, the game went to penalties. With each side missing a spot-kick a piece in the opening exchanges, the shoot-out went to sudden death. Goal after goal flew in, before Mazembe midfielder Pat Ochan missed for the hosts, sending Chipolopolothrough to the tournament proper.
        This wasn’t the first nail-biting shoot-out Zambia have endured this calendar year. Who could ever forget the dramatic contest between they and the Cote d’Ivoire in Libreville in February, the central Africans triumphing 8-7 to win their first Cup of Nations. I, for one, was happy to see the holders qualify for next year’s competition, and Zambia’s display in Kampala has demonstrated that this team, the spine of which (Kabala, Chansa, Sinkala, Katongo, Sunzu) remains, has a resiliency, and a mental fortitude, that can endure beyond the tragedy-tainted fields of Gabon.
  1. The Jury still out on Africa’s Emerging Nations
        I wrote extensively last week of the emerging nations in African football, and the subsequent changing face of the continent’s sport. The subject is compelling, but this weekend’s evidence suggests that I may have been a little premature in forecasting a revolution in the continent’s hierarchy. Whilst Cape Verde did manage to knock out the giants of Cameroon – a country with 40 times their population, the other ties that appeared to be balanced on a knife edge tended to be resolved in favour of the continent’s more established nations. As mentioned above, Liberia failed to overcome Nigeria, while Morocco thumped Mozambique, and Libya struggled to threaten against Algeria – who scored twice in the first ten minutes. Mali, Angola, Ghana, and Tunisia also qualified against traditionally weaker opponents, whilst the Central African Republic were perhaps the biggest disappointment – giant killers against Egypt in the first round, the Fawns of Ubangui failed to qualify for their first Afcon after being bested by Burkina Faso in Ouagadougou.
  1. Senegal/Cote d’Ivoire – Disappointment in Dakar
        It is once again disappointing that the game on the continent receives headlines in the international press not for the gallant displays of its defenders, nor for the mesmerising performances of its attackers, but for the controversies that mire it. Approaching the final quarter of an hour, the contest between Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire was halted following a riot which sparked after Didier Drogba had scored to put the visitors two goals to the good. With the tie virtually sealed at 6-2, Senegalese supporters expressed their discontent, and trouble spilled onto the pitch. Whilst it is trite to draw too many parallels between events in Dakar and those that fell upon Port Said back in February, this weekend has served to put African football, and particularly, the disruption and disorder of fans, back in the headlines for the wrong reasons once again.
        The only sanction currently levied towards Senegal is their disqualification from the Afcon, which, considering the scoreline at the time of abandonment, is much like the Lord punishing the serpent by forcing him to slither forevermore on his tummy. There is likely to be further action by CAF, as African football begins to dust itself off.
Ed Dove
Five Talking Points after a weekend of African Qualifiers
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