Africa’s biggest sporting event, the Africa Cup of Nations has come and gone but not without highs and lows. South Africa played a good host as Afcon 2013 could arguably be dubbed a success – stars were born, a new winner emerged and the the theme song (Top of the world -Dbanj) rightly placed Africa at the top of the footballing world — at least for the duration of the competition. However, one couldn’t but notice the empty seats, ticket problems and poor pitches during the games. Ventures Africa’s Ufuoma Egbamuno takes a critical look the 29th edition of the tournament.
And so Nigeria’s Super Eagles were crowned Champions of Africa for the third time in history against all the odds. Not many gave Coach Stephen Keshi’s team a chance especially considering that Keshi’s team was unconvincing in the build up to the tournament and several other top players like Osaze Odemwingie and Obafemi Martin were not included. But just like the Chipolopolo of Zambia did 12 months ago; the Super Eagles proved critics wrong by getting their hands on the trophy after a 19 year wait.
Sack Threat? Resignation?
However, it was not an easy task for Stephen Keshi in South Africa who had to ride through criticisms both from fans and journalists back home. After two disappointing draws, many fans had called for Keshi’s sack. In fact reports alleged that the Nigeria Football Federation under the order of the Nigeria Sports Ministry wanted him out. But the Sports Minister Bolaji Abdulahi denied the allegations insisting that, “There is no such thing about planning to sack Keshi. After the first game against Bourkina Faso, I called Keshi and told him look, we have a choice to continue with what would have happened if we didn’t concede that last minute goal or to focus on what we can still achieve as the tournament is not decided by one match.”
However on Monday, Keshi stunned the world and Nigerians in particular when he announced on a South Africa radio station, Metro FM, that he had handed his resignation letter immediately after the final game. The news hit the airwaves and online community and it was not surprising to see many fans that had criticized Keshi and called for his sack during the group stages suddenly make a u-turn asking for his stay. In the early hours of Tuesday, Coach Stephen Keshi decided to rescind his decision after meeting with Nigeria’s sports minister Bolaji Abdulahi.
“My attention has been drawn to reports in the media that I have resigned my appointment as the Head Coach of Super Eagles of Nigeria,” Keshi said in the statement. “While I have had cause to express my displeasure over some issues that happened in the course of our participation in the AFCON 2013, which my team won by the grace of God, especially concerning my relationship with the Nigerian Football Federation, I have since had opportunity to discuss the various issues with all concerned. I am therefore pleased to say that I have reconsidered my position and have decided to continue with my job.”
Despite the alleged sack threat, the turning point for the Super Eagles seems to be the quarter finals clash with the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire. Quite a number of people never gave the team a chance against the Ivoirians who were the tournament favourites. And considering the lackadaisical play of the team in the group stages, many believed it was the end of the road for The Super Eagles. However, Keshi’s team played the game of their lives with Warri Wolves striker Sunday Mba netting the winner. A week later, Mba repeated the feat as his only goal proved enough to defeat The Stallions of Bourkina Faso.
Well, success they say have many relatives and so despite the alleged sack threat saga, Nigeria’s Super Eagles will receive a heroic welcome on Tuesday when they return to Nigeria. As I write this, many cash gifts are already being promised goodies with business mogul Michael Adenuga reportedly promising the team one million pounds. Well, expect more in the days ahead.
LOC and Organisation
Looking at the organisation proper of the tournament, hosts South Africa can be given a pass mark for a job well done especially considering the fact they only had a year to prepare for the competition. The Confederation of Africa Football (CAF) had to make a quick decision to take the hosting rights off post Arab Spring Libya who will now host the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in 2017. Even though rains almost marred the opening ceremonies, the closing event was colourful and showcased the rich African heritage.
More so, the country witnessed an influx of well over 40, 000 visitors into the country in the one month long event. Mvuzo Mbebe, the CEO of the Local Organising Committee (LOC) says this means South African tourism, which the government has identified as having the potential to boost the sluggish economy, experienced an influx of visitors from all over the country who visited most of the tourist sites in the country. Also, according to Mbebe, “More than R920 million has been invested in South Africa” and an estimated 2.3 billion viewers watched the tournament on television.
Bafana Bafana on a High?
In a related development, South Africans did have a chance to see their darling Bafana Bafana reach the knock-out stages of any competition for the first time since 2002. Coach Gordon Igesund’s team were five minutes away from being knocked out trailing 2:1 to the Atlas Lions of Morrocco but came back strong to draw the game 2:2. Even though Igesund failed to reach the set target by the South Africa Football Association, the football body was impressed with his showing and has voted to see him carry on with the World Cup qualifiers resuming next month.
Despite these, the 2013 AFCON was also besieged with several issues one of which was terrible playing surfaces. The pitch at Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit where most of the Group C games were played as well as the semi finals between Ghana and Bourkina Faso left quite a lot to be desired. Truth be told, it was an embarrassment. Togo captain Emmanuel Adebayor was furious with CAF for even allowing football games to go on.
“Once again we are in Africa – AFCON is a big tournament for Africa – the whole world is watching this. You can’t play on a pitch like this,” Adebayor said.
“The stadium is one of the best I have played in, but to be honest with you, I’m very sorry, but it’s a disgrace for our continent to be playing on this pitch when it’s on the TV around the world. CAF have to sort things out, to solve the problem. At the end of the day we are all African and we have to be honest with ourselves. It’s a beautiful stadium but the pitch is not happening.”
Even the Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg where the finals was played still had bad patches. So much so that the Stadium Management South Africa (SMSA) had to issue a statement days before Sunday’s final that the pitch would be in good question. However, why American rock band the Red Hot Chili Peppers was allowed to perform at the arena last weekend, days before AFCON’s final still beats the imagination.
Ticketing and empty stadiums was also a big problem. Aside the finals which had well over 80, 000 spectators and games involving the hosts with an appreciable number, most games had quite a few people in the stands. With a few days to the semi finals, about half of the tickets for the game in Nelspruit which has a capacity of 43, 000 remained unsold. On the other hand, the stadium in Durban had about 19, 000 available seats still left unsold. In all, the competition witnessed an average of 20, 000 spectators. Not a bad number but considering the success of the 2010 World Cup, maybe South Africa could have done better.
Now if there’s one area of disappointment from the competition, it’s the level of officiating. There were several terrible calls from officials. Ghana’s Black Stars were recipient of three questionable penalty calls against Cape Verde, Mali and Bourkina Faso. Nigerians felt hard done by when Zambia forced them to a 1:1 draw after another questionable penalty call. The outcry for the poor officiating reached a crescendo that CAF were forced to suspend Tunisian referee Slim Jdidi after too much blunders in the Ghana versus Bourkina Faso semi final game. More so, Jdidi admitted he made a mistake sending off Bourkina Faso’s Jonathan Pitroipa allowing CAF to rescind Jdidi’s decision.
No More Minnows
The 2013 AFCON did start on a slow note with the first four games of the competition ending in draws. But after Mali’s Seydou Keita scored an 86th minute winner for The Eagles against Niger, the tournament kicked off in earnest. Countries like Cape Verde, Ethiopia and Bourkina Faso proved that indeed there are no more minnows in African football. Cape Verde were particularly inspiring as the country with just over a million people stunned the watching world with an amazing run and proved that ousting Cameroun in the qualifiers was no fluke.
Unfortunately, most Nigerians were unable to view matches of the 2012 AFCON in the comfort of their homes as a result of the disagreements between the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria and media rights owner LC2-AFNEX. The French owned company demanded about 8 million Euros from BON unlike the reported 1.5 million for Ghana. Broadcasting Rights Manager of LC2-AFNEX, Mr. Rédouane Amraoui had said in a statement that in proportion to market size and population, Nigeria was not being asked to contribute more than any other African Country.
However, BON insisted that it will only pay 1.2 million pounds. When this was rejected by LC2, BON Chairman Abubakar Jijiwa stated that a selected broadcast may be the only option now. According to him in the days leading to the tournament, “we are suggesting to them now is that they should give us selected matches involving Nigeria including the opening ceremony and the closing ceremony of the 2013 AFCON, and the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final matches of the competition at $300, 000.” Much to the dismay of Nigerians, this offer as well as an improved offer of 2.5 million pounds by BON was rejected by LC2-AFNEX. It took the qualification of The Super Eagles for Sunday’s final to get the 2013 AFCON on local television.
North Africans Lagging Behind?
The 80’s and 90’s did witness quite a number of North African countries dominating football in the continent. However, aside Egypt’s 3 consecutive wins from 2006 to 2010, other countries have somehow failed to click. Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia came to this year’s tournament with lots of hype but could not even make it out of the group stages. With Morocco set to ready to host the next edition of Africa’s biggest football showpiece, maybe that will be an opportunity to get North African domination back on track?