What you need to know:
After hitting rock bottom, the only way should be up, but not for African teams
At the time of writing this column, 32 matches had been contested in the ongoing 2021 Africa Cup of Nations. Before African football’s showpiece tournament got under way, it was perfectly alright to dismiss as fanciful any forecast of the rulebook being torn to shreds. Unknown quantities like The Gambia, Equatorial Guinea, Malawi, Comoros, and Sierra Leone were widely expected to face a difficult slog.
Out of an abundance of caution, your columnist chose not to hazard a guess. Truth though is that – like many – I expected powerhouses like Algeria and Ghana to enjoy deep runs in Cameroon. While Algeria’s Desert Foxes were hanging on by their fingertips at the time of penning this dispatch, Ghana’s Black Stars had dimmed out in the most dramatic of fashions Tuesday night.
Of course, chances of normal service resuming and fans being given the Cameroon-Nigeria final they deeply crave cannot be dismissed out of hand. And this is not necessarily because of the ability of powerhouses to game the system in their favour.
Hosts Cameroon and close-door neighbours Nigeria have been in imperious form. A final pitting the two sworn enemies against each other hands the Super Eagles a golden opportunity to exert vengeance after losing that gripping final to the Indomitable Lions on home soil 22 years ago.
Yet Afcon 2021 is pulsing with David versus Goliath conquests on almost the same scale as Euro 2004 did. There is, however, every indication that the oodles of confidence the minnows have will eventually fizzle out.
That said; it would be unwise for traditional powerhouses to be frozen in a state of denial. What once was a yawning chasm – a gulf in class, really – has now shrunk, tremendously. A fishing community in the Comoros Archipelago has access to the same body of knowledge as the gated community that houses Ghana’s FA.
Since football has been standardised, an entitlement mentality – the like of which we have come to expect from Ghanaians (never mind that the last of their four African titles came in, wait for it, 1982!) – is quite counterproductive. It is also a bit of an eyesore.
At Afcon 2017, your columnist witnessed firsthand how Ghanaians do themselves a huge disservice by showcasing stubborn resistance to sound advice. They always seem to take particular delight in heaping needless pressure on themselves. Even when it is apparent that success can only be achieved through continued caution! The prima-donna behaviour of their stars is often excruciating—but mainly just painfully funny—not least because team is a collective noun.
All of which is vexing because when Johnny McKinstry was once asked which African football powerhouse Uganda most mirrors, the immediate past Cranes coach offered Ghana. He was mostly referencing the playing style, but could as well have added the mannerisms.
Ugandans have a sense of entitlement especially when all things Cecafa blip on the radar. Whereas their Cecafa feats are not quite written in the past tense, Afcon 2021 has shown in the most stark manner how the footballing region remains in punchbag territory.
A footballing backwater, if you will. The performances of its representatives (Ethiopia and Sudan this time) were yet again insipid. Never mind that—thus far—this is a tournament for the underdog. Some things never change!
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