Egypt, Cameroun ignite AFCON 2017!
I am writing this on Thursday night, a few minutes after watching The Indomitable Lions shoot down the Black Stars from their mountaintop of illusion.
The Ghanaian players will wake up in the morning feeling they have had a nightmare. They would not be wrong, because the Lions have indeed become a nightmare for teams in this African Cup of Nations (Afcon 2017) championship.
Like most other analysts and commentators I was one of those that did not envisage or see it anywhere on the radar screen of my predictions that Cameroun would come anywhere near the finals of the championship when it started. Two matches into the group stage of the championship, the Lions had put up some of the most uninspiring performances I have ever seen of that great African team. So poorly did they play that I committed a journalistic faux pax by writing them off as one of the fallen giants of Afcon 2017 even before they played their last group match.
I have learned my lesson the hard way with the team resurrecting from the ‘dead’, playing some truly dramatic matches, qualifying against all odds and making a mockery of a pundit like me that takes the ‘risk’ of daring to predict the result of matches in a championship given its fillip by its absolute unpredictability.
Cameroun, with their phenomenal rise from the brink of ouster from the championship in the first round to the pinnacle of the possibility of ultimate success at the end, have left me groping and forlorn.
I apologise to readers and all the fans of the Indomitable Lions for my seeming disrespect!
Starting with some internal crisis that threatened to combust the team, and a string of poor performances necessitating last-minute assembly of new and relatively untested players that were considered too young and too inexperienced, the Indomitable Lions have travelled a long, rough road to arrive at the final match. 14 of the members of the team are attending their first African Cup of Nations.
Through the group stage matches they continued to build up a team grounded in a defensive football tactics that have worked wonders for them. They put up their best performance in the last match against Ghana!
Arriving the knockout stages Cameroun bounced back into serious reckoning. Such has been the transformation of this team of relative unknowns that going into the final match many now think their momentum of success may be hard to halt even by the most experienced team in the championship, masters of the African game, winners of the coveted trophy more times than any other country and now deserved finalists – Egypt!
The Pharaohs of Egypt!
Egypt on the other hand have been absolutely consistent, demonstrating once again their mastery of African football and the art of winning championships in Africa.
They conceded their first goal only in the semi-final match against Burkina Faso, and may be presenting, probably the oldest player in the history of Afcon, their 44- year old goalkeeper.
The finals – between youth and experience!
Between Egypt and Cameroun are two outstanding African national teams and traditional rivals on the continent.
The final match is a clear contest between the experience of Egypt and the youth of Cameroun.
They, surely, will produce an exciting spectacle to mark the end of a colourful championship that has turned out at the very end to be a feast of the best of African football punctuated with some poor grounds, scanty crowds, mostly average teams playing very physical, mostly defensive football, a shortfall in emerging new stars, and a littering of the State boxes with the same old, battered faces of an army of tired CAF leadership to remind all progressive minds that that only a new kind of leadership in African football can guide the continent into the new dawn it yearns for and deserves!
As the myth of the rise of minnows in African football subsides, two traditional giants, Egypt and Cameroun, have ignited the fire of Afcon 2017, as the championship gets to the finish line.
Afcon 2017, Nigeria and World Cup 2018!
Permit me to digress a little! Two things have come to the fore since watching the semi-final match that produced Cameroun.
The first is that we can start to glimpse a new course in the Group of Death for the African qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup involving Algeria (failed woefully at Afcon 2017), Cameroun (rose dramatically to the fore in Afcon 2017) and Nigeria (did not qualify for Afcon 2017).
Following the disillusionment and disappointment of a catastrophic outing in Gabon (leaving after the group stage matches without winning a single match) Algeria may not rise again and pose a serious challenge in the rest of the qualifying matches for the World Cup. The burden may be too much to overcome in time to still overtake and head the group ahead of Cameroun and Nigeria.
It is Cameroun that have now totally disrupted the initial computations and calculations before Afcon 2017 that was almost handing representation from the group to Nigeria!
It was a temporary lapse in memory to have assumed such a position with two matches against Cameroun still to be played. The Cameroun national team did not earn the sobriquet ‘indomitable’ from such casual assumptions.
Here is a team saturated in the tradition of never giving up, of uncommon determination and fighting spirit, a nightmare for most opponents around the world for their very physicality, pace and power.
To play against Cameroun, anywhere and anytime, is to come face to face in a bruising battle with a hard-fighting machine that no team confronts and departs unscathed and unscarred.
They are a well-oiled team with a reputation that has flourished anew at Afcon 2017.
The team has grown and improved steadily match after match in quality of individual player’s performances and general team tactics, particularly since arriving the quarter-finals and deservedly earning the right to become worthy finalists and serious contenders for the coveted title of African Champions.
With the growth of the Indomitable Lions the fate of the Super Eagles of Nigeria and their quest to be at the World Cup in Russia now hangs on a delicate balance. It can no longer be considered a fait accompli even by the most optimistic and fanatical of the country’s supporters.
Unlike the feelings a few months ago when the Eagles resurged and started to win important matches, and the Lions were struggling and fumbling, things have changed dramatically in the past two weeks.
The Indomitable Lions are back!
This is now boldly written across the face of Afcon 2017. The Lions now pose the most serious threat to the Eagles’ march to Russia!
The two countries will be playing against each other over two legs in the coming months and whilst the confidence of the Camerounians may be boosted by their performance during Afcon, the confidence of Nigerians may be badly shaken by the same factor – the emergence of a new set of Lions from the shadows of a fading, ageing generation that existed and they were used to before Afcon 2017.
These new cubs are young, fit, very compact, determined and a team in the true sense of the word. They will pose a real threat to the Super Eagle when they start their battles in the next few months.
The Lions now pose the most serious threat to the Eagles’ march to Russia! The two countries will be playing against each other over two legs in the coming months and whilst the confidence of the Camerounians may be boosted by their performance during Afcon, the confidence of Nigerians may be badly shaken by the same factor – the emergence of a new set of Lions from the shadows of a fading, ageing generation that existed and they were used to before Afcon 2017.