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The good, the bad and the ugly of 2021 AFCON

 

Cameroon's Samuel Gouet Oum, right, is tackled by Burkina Faso's Patrick Malo during the African Cup of Nations 2022 group A soccer match between Cameroon and Burkina Faso at the Olembe stadium in Yaounde, Cameroon, Sunday, January 9, 2022. [AP Photo, Themba Hadebe]

It’s a wrap.

Goodbye Limbe Omnisport Stadium, Kouekong Stadium, Roumdé Adijia Stadium, Bepanda OmniSports Stadium, Ahmadou Babatoura Stadium, Japoma Stadium and Olembe Sports Complex.

Since January 9, football enthusiasts had every reason to be home early, or late. In the socials, there was always something to talk about. A banter of some sorts.

It has been more than fun. Some of the 52 matches were most impressive. Others were just there; pedestrian. A few were boring.

Taking everything into account, it was a splendid and ostentatiously organised tournament. Or was it? That hosts Cameroon pumped in billions to host this year’s event, it was telling that this was not your ordinary kivumbi tournament.

In truth, many would have expected this year’s African Cup of Nations to be riddled with endless problems.

First, the biennial tournament meant to be held last year, was pushed to January 2022 due to Covid-19 pandemic. The clashes are between Cameroonian government forces and armed separatist groups didn’t make matters any better. But here were are. The action is done and dusted.

Save for Yaounde’s sweltering heat that would at times hit over 33 degrees Celsius or the not-so-impressive calls by centre referees, it was a tournament worth reexamining time and again...

After a month of enchanting football that produced 100 goals, 189 yellow cards, 14 red cards, there’s a great feeling of inevitable on- and off-field performance. We can now in one voice, bid bye to Africa’s biennial football goldmine.

For the next two years, it will be back to the basics for most teams. To some, it was an enjoyable learning process one more time and to Senegal, oh Senegal, the party will not stop any time soon.

As is the customary with any sporting event, there are incidences that seem obvious. Yes, those that form talking points for our hollow bar talks. Those that will forever remain imprinted in our minds. It matters not whether they’re good or bad.

Here are some of the good, bad and ugly happenings:

The good

Undoubtedly, Senegal’s triumph carries the day. Granted, their run from the first match might not have been that magnificent, but as Niccolò Machiavelli would say; the end justified the means. It mattered not how they won the tournament. They are the African champions. That’s what matters, now and for the next two years.

Senegal reached the final of the Afcon twice but the Lions of Teranga never clinched the ultimate prize, until that treasured Sunday. Oh, what a night!

Few football fans had much hope in this team. Save for a few die-hards, who had Sadio Mane plastered on their mouths, that was just about it. Going by their laboured 1-0 win over a spirited Zimbabwe side in their opening match, Senegal were honestly despondent. Yet against all odds, they gathered steam as they built their momentum and voila, they are the African champions after countless times of asking.

The Africa’s top-ranked national team and 20th in the world had wound up in style. That 1-0 loss to Algeria in Cairo during the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations final must have stung them a good one.

They also lost the 2002 final on penalties to Cameroon, a few months before becoming one of just three African teams to reach a World Cup quarter-final.

The Teranga Lions became the 15th different side to conquer the continent

Sunday’s accomplishment was as a result of enormous and unswerving work of head coach Aliou Cisse. When he took over, the side was languishing outside the top 60 in the Fifa world rankings. They’re now 20th on the log. Hats off Segenal, hats off.

The bad

Remember this name: Janny Sikazwe. The Zambian centre referee made a mistake and blew fulltime whistle in the 85th minute as Mali tackled Tunisia. Anyone who was watching that match must have been left in incomprehension, shudder and disbelief.

Some theories came up later that he forgot to stop his watch during a water break. Assuming that’s what happened, then it is a plausible error.

After restarting play, he blew again with just 89 minutes and 43 seconds of the Group F clash gone. Another moment of surprise and incredulity. How was this happening? Why couldn’t the fourth officials signal the anomaly? How about the two linesmen? The VAR? Stomach-churning shouts and cries from the Tunisian corner couldn’t jolt the Zambian back to reality. Blame it on the heat wave? Maybe.

Sikazwe later claimed he could have died of heatstroke.

The ugly

In football, as is with any other sport, there is only one champion, especially in the final. One winner. One loser too. In any tournament, there is one victor, and as you may, the rest are losers. Quite a vindictive world this, but it is what it is. It’s a competition. A struggle. A fight. A battle.

Unlike with the Kenyan Building Bridges Initiative proposal, here, the winner takes it all. Champions will be all smiles as they march on, donning the medals as they jubilantly look down on the stunned lot. Conquest unsurprisingly brings about strong sentiments.

Even Napoleon Bonaparte, the French statesman and military leader famously said; “…Champagne! In victory one deserves it; in defeat one needs it…”

Egypt Mohamed Salah was left in floods of tears as Sadio Mane and his Senegal brigade wheeled away in celebration. And that’s how sports, football is.

In between your champagne, spare a minute in remembrance of the eight football fans who died outside the Yaounde Olembe stadium, on January 24, 2022. Rest in Peace.