The Africa Cup of Nations explodes
Ivorian striker, Didier Drogba will certainly say goodbye, and desperately needs a winners’ medal to cement his legacy, but for all the stars and its captivating sights and powerful sounds, the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) remains a very poor football festival.
South Africa has opened its arms again, for the second time in 17 years, to host the best football teams on the continent hoping that, just like in 1996, Bafana Bafana will be crowned kings at the end of the football festival.
Zambia will be hoping to make history, by becoming the first country to win the AFCON in two straight years, after they completed a fairy-tale success story in Libreville, Gabon, last February.
The emotional sub-plot, which followed Chipolopolo’s march to greatness, in the very city where the doomed aircraft carrying a generation of their finest footballers took off for the last time, before plunging into the Atlantic Ocean moments later two decades ago, killing everyone on board, has long faded.
Nigeria boycotted the tournament, the last time it was held in South Africa in 1996, because of a diplomatic row between Pretoria and Abuja and, having won the tournament in Tunisia in 1994, the absence of the Super Eagles, who were the defending champions, left a huge hole in the tournament.
But the Super Eagles are back, this time around, searching for their first title in 19 years and coach Stephen Keshi will be hoping it can be done in a country where they are guaranteed a huge support base because of the big Nigerian community residing in South Africa.
AFCON, record winners, Egypt, fading giants Cameroon and 2002 World Cup quarter finalists Senegal, will be missing from the festival but a number of new boys have come to the fore.
Cape Verde, with a population of just 450 000 off the West African coast, make a debut in the AFCON finals after they defied the odds to eliminate the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon.
Ethiopia return to the finals, after a 31-year absence, and memories of their triumph at the 1962 edition of the tournament have begun to fade.
“Most of them were not there when Ethiopia was qualifying for Africa Cup of Nations 31 years back,” coach, Sewnet Bishaw, told journalists.
“We have psychology class every two days, we teach them.
“And to erase this pressure we have arranged games to practice.”
But while the presence of a number of European-based players will still give the tournament its box office appeal, and interest in tickets has been rising after a slow start, there is concern about the real value of the tournament.
With most of Africa’s best players now based in Europe and playing with and against the cream of European stars, it is inevitable that what happens at the Euro championships should have an effect on them.
When Fernando Torres returned to Chelsea from Euro 2012, having helped Spain win the tournament, he must have bragged about that triumph to his teammates, who include Nigeria’s John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses.
The Super Eagles duo must have learnt that Spain pocketed a cool US$33 million from winning Euro 2012.
Put that into context with the Nations Cup and should Nigeria win the tournament in South Africa, they will take home just US$1.5 million.
The entire Nations Cup prize money is about US$2 million.
The prize money at Euro 2012 was about US$280 million, up from US$257.6 million at Euro 2008 in Austria and Switzerland.
Every team at the tournament was guaranteed about US$11.6 million for just reaching Euro 2012 finals, while there was US$1.45 million for just a win at group stage.
It means the team that wins the 2012 Nations Cup finals will get just about the same prize money that a team at Euro 2012 took home for winning just a group game.
Former Ghanaian captain, Sammy Kuffour, who won the UEFA Champions League with Bayern Munich of Germany, has already questioned the value of the AFCON.
“If you compare the US$100m prize money for the winner of the Champions League then he US$2m is peanuts,” said Kuffour.
“So the organisers must do something about it.”
The former Ghanaian international is now working for SuperSport as a football pundit and will feature prominently on television during the 2013 Nations Cup finals.
The Nations Cup also pales when compared to the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which features North American countries, and whose bounty was around US$17 million in prize money in 2009.