African News

State of AFCON - Part III

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Khune: Safe as houses

Khune: Safe as houses

Earlier this week, in an otherwise rosy digest, I lamented the trend of African football towards a less vibey sort of play, and speculated about whether this might have something to do with players putting away their bag of tricks in an effort to make themselves more appealing to European leagues, which are largely about percentage play.

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But another trend that's been very noticeable, especially if you cast your minds back to African Cup of Nations tournaments of a decade or two ago, is the huge improvement of goalkeepers on the continent.

Certainly in my memory, one of the defining characteristics of those AFCONs was the plethora of howlers between the posts. While these generally provided plenty of comic relief for the neutral, they were not the best advertisement for the tournament and provided a stick with which snobbish foreigners could cane it derisively.

Nigeria have not won the African Cup of Nations in more than 20 years, which seems unforgivable when you think of the team they had in the late nineties and early 2000s. Yet those teams were almost all flawed simply because they could not find a goalkeeper worthy of the title. It was a problem experienced by many of their opponents as well.

Yet aside from the clumsy and dangerous challenge by Ethiopian keeper Jemal Tassew in their opening match, none of the shotstoppers in this tournament have disgraced themselves.

Instead we've seen some excellent saves, which should be taken into account before we judge the general lack of goals in the tournament too heavily. The Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, would have had two or three on Thursday night but for the sharp work of Niger keeper Kassaly Daouda.

And in Itumeleng Khune, South Africa have a world-class goalkeeper in the making - not only is he a fine shot stopper, but his distribution is superb. It may have been largely lost in the closing minutes of Bafana's win over Angola on Wednesday, but how good was his long kick forward for Lehlohonolo Majoro? If you catch another replay of the game, look out for it.

Khune's record of just five goals conceded in South Africa's last eight games speaks for itself, and yet he may not even be the best goalkeeper in the tournament. As he sat down next to Kennedy Mweene at a press conference in Nelspruit on Thursday, Zambia coach Herve Renard introduced his player as "the best goalkeeper in Africa".

That was certainly the case in 2012, with Mweene marshalling a defence that was the basis for Zambia's Afcon triumph - not to mention saving those crucial penalties. But he faces some stiff competition for the title this year, because the standards in his trade have risen sharply.

That may mean less goals for the neutral, but it surely reflects a growing quality in African football.

Miles Maponyera

Posted: 25/01/13 10:28

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