Nothing short of phenomenal
The African showpiece this year has been sensational. It has delivered drama both on and off the field for fans. From star players missing out due to the rampant COVID and shocking scorelines to bizarre refereeing decisions. It has kept football fans, especially on the African side, buzzing. As the final approaches, we look back at all the things that have happened so far.
Like the EUROs and the Copa America, the African Cup of Nations also has its favorites to lift the trophy due to their past glories. Egypt leads the list with 7 titles to its name. A back-to-back when the competition was inaugurated and a 3-peat later in the late 2000s. Cameroun, the host country for this AFCON edition, is second on the list with 5 titles under their belt, hoping to make it 6 with his tournament.
Third on the list is the Black Stars of Ghana with 4 triumphs in the competition. Both Cameroon and Ghana have suffered at the hands of Egypt in the finals in recent times. Both would love to close the gap between them and their Egyptian counterparts. Nigeria has 3, with a recent win coming in 2013. Algeria joined DR Congo on 2 victories after they lifted the trophy in 2019.
With the rich history that some of these countries have, they are dubbed the heavy hitters and favorites. Of all the teams, Algeria was the one to look out for as they were the winners of the last showpiece spectacularly.
Riyad Mahrez captained his team to victory that was thoroughly deserved and earned plaudits around the world. He was instrumental in every match Algeria played, and he’s been in scintillating form in the Premier League with Manchester City. Algeria was bound to go far.
Senegal had unfinished business from last year as they were runners-up in the competition, so they had a point to prove. Cameroun wasn’t about to let another country take the trophy on their home soil, so they weren’t playing for victory’s sake but their pride. Ghana was a bit of a gray area as they recorded a heavy loss in a friendly game right before the tournament.
They, however, looked to end their trophy drought since 1982. Honorable mentions must go to Nigeria and the Ivory Coast as both boasted of 2 of the most talented teams coming into the tournament. With players like Sebastian Haller, Wilfred Zaha, Nicolas Pepe, and Franck Kessie in the Ivory Coast team said a lot.
These are players who have European experience under their belt, playing for top teams all around the globe. In Nigeria, there was the Leicester duo, Wilfred Ndidi & Kelechi Iheanacho, Alex Iwobi from Everton and Musa who thrilled fans during the last World Cup. These countries had all the quality in their squad to go all the way.
Not forgetting, Egypt’s MoSalah, the most in-form player in the world, with a point to prove after Egypt shamelessly left the competition in the round of 16 last time around.
There’s always excitement regarding the AFCON, and this year would be no different. The competition was set up to generate excitement as fans would get behind their countries, backing them to win.
The Debutants & Underdogs
Like every tournament, some underdogs come to steal headlines and dominate. If we’re lucky enough, it is one of the debutants who stun giants to make their way deep into the competition. Time reminds us of one of the biggest upsets in African football history, which saw Zambia live out a fairy tale.
They took out all the big guns on their way to victory even though they weren’t tournament favorites. Senegal, Ghana, and Ivory Coast bowed before the high-intensity playing team.
They lifted the trophy deservedly after hard-fought victories. Ironically, they ended up being a part of history themselves the following year. In 2013, Burkina Faso was unbeaten right until the final, where they made their appearance against Nigeria, whom they topped in the group stage, with defending champions Zambia.
The Super Eagles didn’t pull their punches that time and defeated the Burkinabes to win the trophy. That run for Burkina Faso was indeed impressive and won the hearts of football fans all around. The 2019 Madagascar team went unbeaten in the group phase and took the top spot.
A group that included Nigeria, whom they comfortably beat by two goals to nil. Their first-ever AFCON tourney. They won on penalties against DR Congo in the knockout round, but eventually, the magic finished as Tunisia blew them away in the quarters.
There hadn’t been a lot of upsets since these specific years, but this year we had Comoros and The Gambia, who were debutants in the tournament. Of course, for most people, the countries being able to qualify for the Nations Cup alone was a feat worth praising.
But what if they drew on the stories of old, of underdogs who had gone on and shocked fans? Which huge upsets would they cause and at whose expense?
In the second issue of this series, we’ll get into the notable games, score lines, and referring decisions as VAR was cleared to be used by referees in this competition.