As we patiently await the kick-off of the 32nd Edition of the biennial football fest in the Continent, the Total Africa Cup of Nations which will be held in Egypt from 21 June to 19 July 2019, this writer wishes to take us back into time to revisit the last edition, which was also the competition’s 60th anniversary, held in Gabon.
In this article, I examine the highs, the lows and other issues aftermath the tourney.
1. BIG GUNS FAILED TO FIRE: The 2017 AFCON saw some big guns in African football failing to qualify from the group stages. Algeria, a dominant force in African football, especially in the early 80s and a North African football superpower and defending champions, Coted’voire were notable culprits in this regard.
Also interesting to note was that both countries qualified for the competition as group winners (Groups J and I), but they failed to perform when it really mattered most as they both crashed out after two draws and a defeat with a goal difference of -1 each.
2. CAMEROON CLINCHED FIFTH TITLE: The Indomitable Lions roared to their fifth title in Gabon. The Lions, backed by the mercurial performances of Christian Bassogog, who was the tournament’s Most Valuable Player and the rock solid displays of Ngadeu-Ngadjui in the heart of their defence, preyed on every team that crossed their path.
In the final, they faced record winners, Pharaohs of Egypt and they came from behind to pip them 2-1 in Libreville. The two finalists brought a combined total of 11 tittles between them to the table. That was also the most number of combined tittles in an AFCON final match.
3. ESSAM EL-HADARY ENTERED THE RECORD BOOKS: Essam El-Hadary, the Egyptian goalkeeper that strikers on the continent dreaded his presence in opposition goal. Remember him? If my memory serves me right, my earliest memory of his prowess behind the sticks was in the finals of the 2006 edition of AFCON, between hosts Egypt and the star-studded Elephants of Ivory Coast.
I had rushed home from school—my final year in Senior Secondary School, to watch the second half of that encounter. As a Chelsea fan, I was rooting for the Elephants for Drogba’s sake, but I could only watch the Ivorian in agony, after the Egyptian goalkeeper made the game a personal duel between both of them, even denying Drogba the opportunity of scoring from the spot after the game had gone to penalties. Egypt eventually won the game (4-2) and the trophy – a reward accruing from El-Hadary’s performances in goal.
Fast forward to 11 years later in Gabon, he became the oldest player to ever appear in an AFCON match at the age of 44, in Egypt’s match against Mali.
*He would also become the oldest player to debut at the FIFA World Cup, one year later after his appearance at the Russia 2018 Mundial, at the age of 45.
4. HERVE RENARD FAILED TO MAKE IT TITLE NUMBER 3: Prior to the 2017 AFCON tourney, white-shirted nomadic French coach Herve Renard, had already won the 2012 and 2015 editions of the competition, which made him the first manager to win the title with different countries.
In 2017, the Frenchman, with his Moroccan side hoped to make it title number three, in a bid to extend his record further, but this was not to be as The Atlas Lions lost 1-0 to Egypt in the quarter-finals, thus ending his quest.
5. END OF 16-TEAM FORMAT: The Tourney in Gabon became the end of the 16-team format of the AFCON, where 15 qualifying teams and the hosts competed.
The 16 teams are drawn into four groups, each comprising of four teams, with group winners and runners-up qualifying for the quarterfinals. With structural reforms carried out by the Ahmad administration, the format has now been adjusted to accommodate 24 teams—increasing by 8 teams, who are now drawn into eight groups, with four teams each.
Group winners and runners-up would now qualify for the knockout stages. Egypt 2019 will be the first time the competition will feature this new format.
Article written by: Uwagwu Lucas Ifeanyi