Egypt are incredible hosts
The opening ceremony of the Africa Cup of Nations was the most amazing night of them all and it showcased so many beautiful things about the “Lords of the Nile”.
In a 75,000 capacity stadium filled to the brim, the Egyptians – with hundreds of dancers, giant pyramids and impressive pyrotechnics – took away the breaths of everyone watching from all over the world.
— Rayane Moussallem (@RioMoussallem) June 21, 2019
It was a night that made Africans proud. It was the most stylish way to begin the 2019 AFCON.
If the opening ceremony was magnificent in its grandeur, the closing ceremony was beautiful in its simplicity. Simple but colourful still.
It may have lasted for all of 15 minutes but it had it all: fireworks that hit the skies of Cairo, 60,000 cheering supporters, and breathtaking music from Ghanaian afropop singer Fuse ODG and Egypt’s babe Donia Samir Ghanen.
Africa sure knows how to celebrate.
Egypt, where are the supporters?
The opening ceremony may have been colourful but the tournament soon lost its lustre once the matches began.
From one venue to another, even at the Cairo International Stadium, empty seats greeted watching eyes from across the globe.
Something so worring at this #TotalAFCON2019 is the number of empty seats. We are at the semifinal stage and the stadium is practically empty. Don't Africans love football or ist just the requirements of getting a visa to Egypt? #VivaAfrica2019
— Arnold (@chemenjo_) July 14, 2019
It could be that the emergency hosting caught the locals unaware. Cameroon was to host the competition until they were stripped of that rights.
Egypt only earned the rights to stage the tournament barely six months to the games. But was that too short a time for soccer-crazy fans of Zamalek, Al Ahly et al to show up and cheer players?
Were the games’ tickets too expensive? Did the stadium boycott have anything to do with the political turmoil in Pharaoh’s country? Is it because Egypt got knocked out early? Many questions, few answers.
There were such large swathes of empty seats during the semifinal ties that Senegal’s coach, Aliou Cisse, had to declare ahead of the final match against Algeria which his team lost, “What disappoints us is that the stadiums are a little empty.”
Local coaches can get the job done
It’s time for Africa nations, especially their football federations, to realise that you don’t need a foreign coach to achieve greatness.
Algeria and Senegal competed in the title decider while they were being managed by coaches who were retired players. Djamel Belmadi was in the Algerian squad to AFCON 2004 while Aliou Cisse was part of the Teranga Lions team that went all the way to the final of AFCON 2002 only to lose agonisingly to Cameroon on penalties.
These two local coaches(Aliou Cisse and Djamel Belmadi) are in the finals of #AFCON2019 the first time since Burkina 1998, 21 yrs later where we had El-Gohary(EGY) & Jomo Sono(RSA). The latter says African countries should ve trust in locals. Ghanaians agreed? pic.twitter.com/BEJRgRITGL
— Samuel Apam Sammer (@apamone) July 15, 2019
The AFCON 2019 made it the fifth time in 32 editions that the final was an All-Africa coaches affair. 12 local coaches have now won 16 titles with Nigeria’s Stephen Keshi the last to win it in 2013 before Belmadi did it again last night.
Surely the indigenous coaches know one or two things about this job.
“I believe this is a message for all football stakeholders in our continent. A young local coach can right history and produce some good football,” the Algerian coach added his voice to the growing plea.
AFCON expansion to 24 teams is great
One frequent point critics held against the expansion, aside that it turned the two weeks tournament into a marathon three weeks jamboree, was that it would allow more football minnows grace and ultimately sully the occasion.
Well, Madagascar mixed that argument in pig faeces and slapped it back on the faces of the haters.
A shock in the Africa Cup of Nations as Madagascar beat the DR Congo to reach the last eight of the tournament.
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) July 7, 2019
Grateful for the chance to participate for the first time, the Malagasy left their marks on a championship they were expected to ship goals by the dozens.
The debutants won two games in the group stages, including a fine 2 – 0 victory over three -time AFCON winners Nigeria, and topped the group. They then showed some resilient spirit to overcome DR Congo on penalties in the Round of 16 before losing gallantly to Tunisia.
Madagascar win on penalties! 🇲🇬
— Goal (@goal) July 7, 2019
Almost as remarkable was also the exploits of Benin Republic. The tiny West Africa nation would not have made it to AFCON 2019 if it was just a party for 16.
They earned their seat at the continental showpiece, then proceeded to teach the rest of Africa, and indeed the world, what it means to be resolute and dogged.
Making it past the group stage – the first time ever for them – was in itself a success story but Benin’s watch however was not ended. They then contrived to knock out one of the tournament’s favourites, Morocco.
Bye Bye AFCON 16.0, we love the new version more. Welcome, AFCON 24.0.
Africa Stars arising
Top talents continue to spring forth from all corners of the continent, it is great for the competition and it can only get better.
Nearly every team on parade in Egypt had it’s own superstar to look up to for inspiration.
— Goal (@goal) July 19, 2019
Sadio Mane, fresh from a remarkable UEFA Champions League winning campaign with Liverpool, nearly dragged his country to a first ever African title. He was stopped at the last hurdle however by Algeria and Riyad Mahrez – who also enjoyed a superb league winning campaign with Manchester City.
Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi won bronze medal with Nigeria, by drowning the hopes of Soufiane Feghouli’s Tunisia.
Not forgetting that the hosts Egypt were lifted by the talents of Liverpool’s Mo Salah but, ultimately a lesson is learnt that a tree does not a forest make.
Apart from the traditional powerhouses, many of the other countries brought some well known players as well.
Saido Berahino competed well for Burundi. Cedric Bakambu yet again did the DR Congo proud. Naby Keita struggled with Guinea while Hakim Ziyech flew the flag of Morocco proudly.
Some new stars also announced their arrivals and they should be celebrated.
Nigeria’s Samuel Chukwueze dazzled with his delightful left foot and is one to watch in the future. Cameroon’s immaculate goalkeeping factory continued to churn out top quality, with Andre Onana showing he’s ready to take over from Idris Kameni.
— Fareed Ander Herrera (@Fareed_herrera) July 19, 2019
The best of the newcomers however is Algeria’s Ismael Bennacer. The 21-year-old surprisingly won the Most Valuable Player of the Tournament award and his maturity, composure and skills on the ball showed that that would not be the only individual award the Empoli playmaker will win.
Goodbye Egypt 2019. See you, hopefully, in Cameroon 2021.