AFCON, World Cup playoff and matters therein

The AFCON has come and gone. But a trail of it is still staring us in the face, as some of the matters raised, are still to be settled and then the forthcoming world cup play-off 1st leg on 25th March, 2022: with ten countries competing for five Confederation of African Football (CAF) slots to football’s most prestigious competition. For large number of African football fans, this is the primary reason we watch football: international football, to watch our various nations adorn the various national team jerseys defending our respective countries.

It is exceedingly demanding describing what Africa Cup of Nations means to Africans. It is akin to a herculean task to even state what it means to me for example. For one to aptly portray and convey it to others is perhaps asking a little too much. Of course, I can endeavour to pen down my unique experience of this footballing celebration of the array of African cultures and talents: in a tournament that is played against all odds in one of the nations of mother Africa’s 54 children, biannually.

Nevertheless, having to write a flawless description of what it passes across to one, is a daunting task to execute. Therefore, what I will expound is merely an attempt to depict the feeling, the obsession, the not so pleasant, and the razzmatazz therein embedded in the AFCON. From the array of cultural displays, which often are characterised by excessive decorations, distinct national costume depicting the parts of mother Africa the people hail from: to the pleasant, breathtaking acrobatic feats, catchy songs in support of their nations, and the ensuing unique gyrations, which further affirm the different countries in many instances the supporters come from. The AFCON is perhaps second only to the World Cup to Africans in significance and the vibrant sporting atmosphere it creates, which celebrates football.

Whatever it is, the AFCON means different thing to African football fanatics, it ranks up there with the very best. It doesn’t matter what someone in any other part of the world views it or classifies it as. To multitude of African supporters it is a tournament they will do everything within sporting boundaries to see their skipper lift it as the Champions of Africa.

Senegal emerged as the Champions on 6th February, 2022 edging out seven times Champions, Egypt the most wins for any nation in Africa cup of Nations’ history. Senegal winning their maiden trophy after failing to win on two occasions against Cameroon in 2002 and Algeria in 2019, is what would forever remain one of the greatest moments in the West Africa’s nation football history. The nation had suffered so much to get to witness this historic hour. What better way than to do it against the greatest national team in AFCON’s history, Egypt and in Cameroon, one of Africa’s truly great footballing nations.

Senegal have always had the talent, especially after their daring exploits in 2002. It was so clear that it has been upward trajectory two decades after. Senegalese players have gone on to reach this level: playing for some of the best clubs in the World; Bayern Munich, Liverpool, Chelsea, Napoli, and etc. This evinces the top-notch quality of the Senegalese players and it has reflected in them being ranked the best in Africa for quite some time by FIFA rankings. Congratulations to them for all that they have achieved.

The 33rd AFCON edition has come and gone. But not without issues that almost brought the game into disrepute. They were so many officiating calls that flagrantly drew the world’s attention in a very negative light. I am not a refereeing expert, but what happened between Mali and Tunisia, when the Zambian referee, Janny Sikazwe abruptly stopped the game twice before finishing the duration of the game, is too colossal to be waved aside without anything. Admittedly, it was horrific enough once. Although, it could have been a huge mistake.

But twice in the same game demands much more explanations. We heard about the mental health of the referee being called into question after the game. They could have done better by drafting in the fourth official to stand in his place. This and so many refereeing blunders mean CAF must do much better in averting future refereeing problems by studying and coming up with better responses, when they do occur, referees must remain the final arbiters; with clear preference only to the dictates of the game and not any other thing.

African football can only move forward with well-trained and fair match officials: not with questionable ones, whose debacle have painted African football in bad light for too long, where the best in so many occasions didn’t qualify. But referees enabled teams go through. This has robbed Africa of her best in the grandest football competition, coupled with poor preparations, and unfortunate results.

CAF has to work with every stakeholder to move the most widely supported game in Africa to where it ought to be. With all the array of football talents in Africa, no African country has passed quarter final in the World Cup. In fact, only three Quarter final appearances by: Cameroon 1990, Senegal 2002, and Ghana 2010 speaks volumes of African football shortcomings, which must be addressed. All these mean following the rules to the latter, prepare adequately, and of course, we won’t mind luck smiling at mother Africa in the next World Cup in Qatar, if at all, is part of what it takes to go further than Quarter final. And who knows perhaps win the all important diadem?

Sansani writes from Turaki B, Jalingo, Taraba state. He can be reached via email [email protected]

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