AFCON 2013: Football Fever Again in Southern Africa

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) Africa Cup of Nations is a very much-anticipated event throughout the African continent and beyond.

Although the conduct and management of CAF leaves a lot to be desired, the organisation must indeed be applauded for resolutely sticking to the event after every two years.
The rationale that has been advanced is that Africa does not have adequate facilities ‑ which, on the continent, can only be constructed, renovated and upgraded when a country has been awarded the right to host this hugely popular event.
Secondly, CAF should be applauded for sticking to their guns despite tremendous pressure from all around by maintaining the January/February convention of the tournament. I really support them in this regard and I think the AFCON is an African property. With due respect to the rest of the football family, Africans should decide what is in their best interests.
Although changes have been made ‑ beginning with South Africa 2013 ‑ to have the tournament in odd years, it has been intimated that the change is necessary. It would allow African countries time to recover and plan well for the FIFA World Cup, as most of the countries that do play at the AFCON are invariably the ones that represent the continent at the World Cup.
African football has shown great potential with hundreds of players plying their trade in lucrative leagues all over the world. I am most certain that if CAF was really doing its job, given the resources at its disposal, by now an African country should have already won the World Cup. By now, our people should have hoisted the legendary trophy high in the air for the whole world to see at the final victory ceremony.  
The trophy should have by now been displayed in one of the trophy cabinets on the continent. The fact that Africa has not won the trophy after almost 50 years of trying means CAF and the member associations need to change strategies.
There is definitely need to raise the standards of AFCON. It is Africa’s mini-World Cup and it must have great winning incentives, to whet the appetite of participating nations.
In terms of playing surfaces and general facilities for the tournament, RSA 2013 is indeed set to be the best AFCON ever. Whether it will actually deliver the traditional drama and excitement depends on the coaches and players.
Although most football lovers in Southern Africa would have loved to see the region represented by more countries, Angola, Zambia and the host South Africa are not bad ambassadors after all.
Given their track records, we can expect anything from them. South Africa and Zambia have won the tournament before.
The Zambians are actually under a lot of pressure to defend the trophy, a year after winning it at the 2012 Gabon/Equatorial Guinea edition. It is quite possible for them to do it.
If the Egyptians have been able to run away with the trophy on consecutive occasions, the Zambians can do the same. South Africa, as the proud hosts, last won it in 1996 and created very good memories for the nation.
The current Bafana Bafana need to really stand up and be counted. Just like at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, they cannot blame anyone except themselves.
An early exit for South Africa would not just be disaster for them only but for the entire region of Southern Africa. Angola have always flattered to deceive.
The good thing is that they have also qualified for even the World Cup before. Zambia have never qualified for the World Cup although they are current holders of the AFCON trophy. They are not likely to have stage fright.
All roads will definitely be leading to the various South African stadia in January/February 2013. The coming of AFCON to the region consolidates the legacy of the 2010 World Cup and it is an opportunity to be grabbed by both hands by all stakeholders involved.
For some football lovers, the waiting is tortuous. They cannot wait for the first whistle to blow, signifying the start of the fireworks.
AFCONs are never dull affairs. Dreams come true and dreams crash at this event. Congratulations are in order for Cape Verde who ousted four-time winners, Cameroon. This is great as the so-called big footballing nations on the continent have to really play their hearts out. The era of small teams and “whipping boys” on the continent is over. Who says Namibia or Zimbabwe cannot beat the Ivory Coast or Ghana? It is now more of a psychological issue for the various coaches.
 Definitely, the better-prepared team will win the game. It is no longer a question of having professionals who play in the big leagues of Europe. Even the semi-professionals and amateurs have shown that given an opportunity on the big stage, they can deliver the goods.
Botswana is a good example, as they were the first unheralded country to qualify for the 2012 AFCON. This time they are not going to be around.
However, it is a good lesson for them, together with other Southern African nations, to go back to the drawing board, lick their wounds, dust themselves up and plan for life ahead.
Southern Sport as patriotic as ever will be rooting for our representatives, Angola, South Africa and Zambia. I wish those fans from the region, who will be able to travel, could do the same. With due respect to our African brothers ‑ as they are still our beloved brothers ‑ the trophy must remain somewhere in the region.

Halala Southern Africa, Halala!

 

 

November 2012
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