African News

State of AFCON - Part II


Girma (L): Loving his football

Girma (L): Loving his football

Classic celebrations, chaos in the stands and unexpected results. These are the things we have come to associate with the African Cup of Nations over the years and, although it has taken a few days for this year's tournament to spring to life, we've now had most of the ingredients we all hoped for - it's like a big bet on march madness, only it's January.

For that, we can largely thank the Ethiopians. Thirty-one years is a long time to wait for major competition, and the Walya Antelopes fans seem to have been diligently storing up energy in anticipation for this occasion.

By Monday lunchtime they had completely taken over Nelspruit, with 20 bus-loads of Johannesburg-based immigrants arriving in force.

By 8pm we had seen both their best and their worst sides, but it was the former that will live longest in the memory for those of us fortunate enough to experience a madcap football match that seemed to hold a great deal more significance than a mere sporting event.

The Ethiopian national anthem was spine-tingling, and the intensity of the fans' fury at goalkeeper Jemal Tassew's red card terrifying as vuvuzelas and other debris went flying. But nothing could compare to the beautiful bedlam that broke out in the wake of Adane Girma's unexpected equaliser.

It was one of those moments that reminds you of the power of sport, the joy that it can bring, and the reason why we all love it so much. The only thing to rival it in the tournament so far was Congolese goalkeeper Muteba Kidiaba's bum-shuffle celebration, which has to go straight into the top three goal celebrations of all time.

Yet if there's one thing that we're still waiting for, it's a touch more flair in the general play. Over the last 10 or 15 years, vibrant players such as Jay-Jay Okocha, Nwankwo Kanu and Abedi Pele have been replaced by the likes of Yaya Toure and John Obi Mikel.

This new breed of player is arguably more consistent in a functional sort of way and is physically stronger, but seems to lack the irrational unpredictability that was a major selling point for the African game.

One theory as to why this may have come about is the strength of European leagues, and the desire of African players to make it into them. To do so, do they have to conform to European values of consistency and robustness, and give up some of the, to use an English term, 'fancy-pants' elements?

Perhaps, but there's still a long way to go in this tournament and it's worth noting that there have been superb pieces of skill - chief among them the touch by Brown Ideye to set up Emmanuel Emenike for Nigeria's goal on Monday night. With an average of just 1.5 goals per game over the first six matches, we could do with some more of that.

Miles Maponyera

Posted: 22/01/13 13:15

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