Highs and lows of football fans watching Africa Cup of Nations
“If football was a president we would have a peaceful and exciting country,” - the words of a young South Africa fan speaking to Reuters while watching his team play in the Africa Cup of Nations perfectly capture the unifying force of the world’s most popular sport.
It is the game that allows fans to forget their troubles and domestic differences and come together for a few hours, where their hopes and dreams, joy and despair, are shared as one.
This happens in every corner of the globe, but across vast swathes of Africa, where daily life can be so hard for hundreds of millions of people and where their international footprint in politics, economics and other sports is often limited, it can seem more amplified, more visceral, even more meaningful.
The Cup of Nations has long been the touchstone for all this emotion and now, expanded to 24 teams and moved to a new mid-year slot in the calendar, it is touching ever more people.
Unlike the World Cup, which has been dominated by a small group and won by only eight countries, there have been 14 different Cup of Nations winners, and another six countries who have reached the final.
That means that players and fans from all over the continent approach it with high expectations – whatever their pedigree.
Five years ago Madagascar trailed 187th out of 211 in the FIFA rankings and had virtually no domestic soccer infrastructure. Yet not only did they qualify for this year’s tournament, they advanced through the group phase, stunning Nigeria and Democratic Republic of Congo to reach the quarter-finals where they lost to Tunisia.
“When we came here nobody took us seriously but we believed in ourselves,” midfielder Anicet Abel told Reuters.
“Madagascar is not famous in football, I think Madagascar is only famous for the movie.”
It is also worth remembering that Madagascar, “tiny” in football terms, has a population of more than 25 million, who were united as one in watching their team’s incredible Egyptian adventure.
Mauritania and Burundi also played in the tournament for the first time, causing huge excitement as fans gathered together to huddle around TVs.
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