West leaves North, East African sides in the shade
Posted Saturday, February 9 2013 at 02:00
West African dominance. Of all the eight West African sides that qualified for the 2013 Afcon, only Niger failed to make the quarterfinals.
The clock has been ticking, the sun has set, risen and finally, after a 22-day period, the Katlego ball will be kicked for the last time in final of the 29th Africa Cup of Nations at the National Stadium, Johannesburg tomorrow night.
And this winner-takes-it-all clash will be a contest between two West African sides: Nigeria and Burkina Faso.
Many would have expected a North African team to keep in the fray till the end but it never happened.
With Egypt, who won three titles in a row (2006, 2008 and 2010), failing to qualify because of political turmoil, other North African sides had so little to offer. Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria all couldn’t make it from the group phase. But even with Egypt’s previous impressive showings, you can’t take it away from the West Africans.
They have had such a presence at previous tournaments, very often producing the winner or having a team in the final. Since 1963 when hosts Ghana beat Sudan 3-0 to claim their first of four Afcon titles, there have been 20 other finals involving at least a West African side. Only North Africa comes close with 15 finals featuring Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Libya or Tunisia.
There are only six times East Africa has presented a team in the final.
Sudan and Ethiopia made two finals apiece in the first four editions of this tournament. They both won their only silverware when they hosted in 1962 Addis Ababa and 1970 Khartoum.
In 1978, the Uganda Cranes became the third and last side from the east to play the final. Then, at their last appearance, the Jimmy Kirunda-led Cranes lost 2-0 as hosts Ghana cruised to their third crown.
For the south, Zambia has made it to three finals and prior to this tournament, they were titleholders having beaten Ivory Coast in last year’s final.
South Africa, staging this year’s showpiece, lost the 1998 final to Egypt but had won it at home two years before.
The fortunes did not land on them this time round and they only managed a quarterfinal finish after a 3-1 penalty shoot-out loss to Mali at the Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban last Saturday. Regulation time had ended 1-all with South Africa’s eternal bluntness in front of goal haunting them again.
After that result, the script was well written that this year’s Afcon winner would come from near the Atlantic ocean. For the bloggers, #WAfcon2013 - meaning West Africa Cup of Nations became the new hash tag on social media.
In the Senegal 1992 and Mali 2002 tournaments, all the semifinalists came from the west. There is no other region that has reached that milestone.
Going into the last eight stage last weekend, only the hosts had a chance of challenging for the trophy alongside seven West African countries in Ivory Coast, Togo, Cape Verde, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Mali.
And after three all-West African quarterfinal matches, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Mali made the last four. Even if coach Gordon Igesund’s South Africa had not fired blanks in front of their home fans, the west were already guaranteed a place in the final.
So it means tomorrow will be the fifth consecutive time that an Afcon final has a side from the west.
From 2006 to 2010, it was a stretch of Egyptian dominance. Ivory Coast, Ghana and Cameroon were on the receiving end of things as the Pharaohs took an unprecedented treble to reach a record seven Afcon titles under coach Hassan Shehata.
But political instability back at home has pegged them back twice. Maybe it would have been a different story if Egypt had made it to last year’s showpiece in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
Chances are high Egypt will be back as a dominant force at the next edition in their neighboring country Morocco two years from now.