AFCON 2021 REVIEW

For about a month precisely from January 9 to the 6th of February,  Africa and the world were treated to a great spectacle of football, the 33rd edition of The CAF Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), held in Cameroun played in 5 cities and 6 venues.

Before the tournament began there were loud murmurs from European teams who worried about releasing their African International players in the middle of the season. There was also a worry that Covid 19 would disrupt the tourney. 

Pre-tournament favorites

Algeria: The Fennecs were tournament defending champions, and won the 2021 Arab Cup in December. They were on a 33 game unbeaten run, with stars like Manchester City winger Mahrez, Slimane, and Bounedjah,  they were pundits favourites. 

Egypt; 7 time tournament winners who had Africa’s best player Mohammed Salah were also tipped for the Cup. 

Ivory Coast: Parading gifted forwards like Wilfried  Zaha of Crystal Palace and Sebastien Haller of Ajax, the Elephants were a feared squad. 

Senegal: With the spine  Edoard Mendy in goal, Khoulibally in defence, Gueye in the middle and Sadio Mane in attack, the Lions of Senegal were tipped to excel in this tourney. 

Perennial bronze medal winners the Super Eagles were not rated highly pre tournament, especially after struggling through their last 3 world cup qualifiers and sacking Coach Gerhnot Rohr a few weeks to the tournament. Austin Egoavoen was appointed coach in an interim capacity.

This tournament had 2 debutants, Gambia and Comoros Islands, they were expected to be the also rans alongside teams like Sierra Leone, Equatorial Guinea, Malawi, Sudan, and Guinea Bissau. 

Squads

Team dynamics have been changing since AFCON began in 1957. In the early years, all the players were born in Africa and played for African based clubsides, but by the 1992 edition held in Senegal, the foreign based players   outnumbered the home based ones. A major change in this years competition was the significant increase in the number of players in the competition not born in Africa. The country where most players in this tournament were born was not Cameroun, Nigeria, or Egypt, it was France with 114 out of the 654 participating players, that’s roughly 20% of the participants. 21 players in the tournament were born in Senegal, same as Spanish born players though they represented Equatorial Guinea, 16 players were born in the UK, including Joe Aribo, Semi Ajayi and Ola Aina for Nigeria, Steven Caulker, Osman Kakay, and Kevin Wright for Sierra Leone, and  Wilfried Zaha for Ivory Coast. The advantage here is nations can get the services of players born in Europe who have excellent coaching from the Academy System, but the local leagues need to be developed so that in the future there are still quality players born in Africa representing African teams.

Biggest upsets

Algeria crashing out of the group stage after a draw and 2 defeats ended the 35 game unbeaten run of the earstwhile AFCON Champions. Ghana’s Black Stars, with 2 draws and a loss to debutants Comoros also were eliminated at the group stage. The Super Eagles of Nigeria surpassed expectations by winning 9 group stage points, but losing to a Covid 19 depleted Tunisian team that finished 3rd in their group was an upset of sorts as expectations were for at least the Eagle’s usual bronze medal.

Tournament surprises

Debutants Comoros got as far as the round of 16, faced Cameroun with no recognized goalkeeper in the squad and narrowly lost by two goals to one.

Gambia the other debutant eliminated Guinea in the round of 16 before bowing out in the last 8 to hosts Cameroun like Comoros did in the previous round. 

Equatorial Guinea after winning the biggest upset against Algeria went out in the quarter finals against a Kalidou Koulibaly and Sadio Mane led Senegal.

Game of the tournament

Hosts Cameroun took on newbies Comoros Island.   The Islanders upset the form book by qualifying for the 2nd round, and they had the difficult task of seeing off the Indomitable Lions. This task was made almost impossible when the Islanders lost all their goalkeepers. Salim Ben Boina the first choice was injured and his understudies Ali Ahamada and Moyadh Ousseini tested positive for Covid-19. Comoros accepted their fate as CAF already ruled that if a team could field 11 fit players the AFCON fixture would go on. Left back Chaker Alhadhur, of French Ligue 2 side AC Ajaccio was selected in goal. Even though it didn’t quite end like the Cinderella story for Comoros as they lost the game by 2 goals to one., Alhadhur covered himself in gold as he saved 5 out of the 7 shots aimed at his goal, ensuring the Islanders went home with their heads held high, after their great underdog story. 

Sore point

Jock Stein the legendary Glasgow Celtic coach is credited to have said “Football is nothing without the fans” This statement was further accentuated when 8 fans were killed in a stampede  while attempting to gain entrance to watch the Cameroun versus Comoros round of 16 game. As a direct result of low attendance in the opening games, tournament organisers decided to open the gates to the fans, this was the backdrop to crowds rushing to the Olembe Stadium. Investigations of the root causes of this sad event were being carried out as at press time. Football is a game that brings joy to many, it is regrettable that fans would lose their lives in an attempt to watch the beautiful game.

The finals

Two of the pre-tournament favourites Senegal and Egypt qualified for the final game. Senegal had the easier route winning their knockout games comfortably, Egypt on the other hand went through 120 minutes and penalties 3 consecutive times before reaching the finals. It was dubbed Sadio Mane vs Mohammed Salah, after the 2 Liverpool Fc forwards who played for both nations.

The game was full of drama starting with Mane missing a penalty in the 8th minute, then a goalless 90 minutes after relentless Senegalese attacks and dogged Egyptian defending. This led to extra time, the 4th consecutive one for Egypt, and ultimately the lottery of penalties. Sadio Mane decided the match in a slightly different way from how he started it, by slotting home the winning penalty and sending Senegalese fans Dakar to Ziguinchor, St Louis to Louga to football Heaven and delivering their first tournament triumph. 

Awards

Best Goalkeeper; Edoard Mendy of Senegal

Top Scorer; Vincent Aboubakar of Cameroun with 8 goals

Player of the tournament;   Sadio Mane of Senegal

Aliou Cisse the coach of Senegal turned back the hands of time and reversed the 2002 tournament in Mali. He was the Captain of the Senegal side that lost to Cameroun in the finals,  He was also the coach of the Senegal team that lost to champions Algeria in 2019. 20 years after the Mali finals he lost as a player and 2 after the 2019 final loss, he led Senegal to victory in the same tournament in Cameroun. 

Congratulations Terranga Lions and Senegal, deserving AFCON Champions.

This article was also written in the 2022 edition of the Aso Pipes, the Magazine of the Abuja Chapter of the Ex Navy Boys.

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Regrets For Fuel

Maeby Today

No regrets.

For as long as I can remember, I have loathed this saying. It is something that millennials, in particular, seem very fond of using as their mantra. It is, in a way, an excuse. I know I did something extraordinarily ignorant, but no regrets! I learned something!

As true as it may be that negative consequences due to poor choices can act as the teachers of life, I don’t think it’s accurate to say that not regretting our behavior is part of the learning experience. In fact, I believe that regret is actually life’s greatest, most impactful teacher.

We all make poor decisions at times. We do things that are detrimental to our relationships, our bodies, our very livelihoods. These decisions often lead to negative consequences, such as losing a relationship we had held in a place of value, struggling to correct distorted body image, losing jobs or…

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Gerry & The Pacemakers : Ferry Cross The Mersey – Anthems from Liverpool

Thom Hickey on Gerry and the Pacemakers

The Immortal Jukebox

British Beat – Some Other Guys 4

‘People they rush everywhere

Each with their own secret care’

(Gerry Marsden – Ferry Cross The Mersey)

Liverpool in the 1950s was a city filled with youthful dreamers.

Of course, the quartet of dreamers who would go on to launch millions of dreams across the entire globe were John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr – The Beatles.

But, dreaming alongside them and in their wake were thousands of other young men from the port city.

Dreamers who had, like The Beatles, been electrified by the records brought home to Liverpool by sailors returning from America (for a more detailed introduction on this topic and the City of Liverpool see the opening paragraphs of : The Swinging Blue Jeans : Merseybeat Kings – The Hippy Hippy Shake, You’re No Good)

Prominent among these dreamers were two brothers from Dingle in…

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Who Killed Major Nzeogwu? – By Max Siollun.

An interesting piece on the Nigerian Civil War

OBLONG MEDIA


Nzeogwu died in the final week of July 1967. While there is consensus that he died, exactly how he died and at the hands of whom has remained in dispute. In conspiracy rife Nigeria, all manner of rumours and apocryphal stories have alleged that Nzeogwu was murdered in a Machiavellian plot engineered by Ojukwu to eliminate him or perhaps that he was killed while trying to defect to join the federal army. As always, the truth is much more mundane.

Nzeogwu in Prison

For his role in Nigeria’s first military coup, Nzeogwu was imprisoned by the military regime of Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi at the notorious Kiri-Kiri maximum security prison in Lagos. His co-conspirators were also initially detained there but many of them were later moved to prisons in the Eastern Region: including Majors Ifeajuna (Uyo prison), Ademoyega, Onwuatuegwu (Enugu prison), Captain Gbulie (Abakaliki prison), Major Chukwuka, Captain Nwobosi (both Owerri prison)…

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Stagecoach To Somewhere – Walt Whitman and Elvis Presley

Great article juxtaposing Elvis Presley and Walt Whitman

Howard Jackson

French political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville wrote this in Democracy In America

There will be more wit than erudition, more imagination than profundity  … performance will bear marks of the untutored and rude vigour of thought, frequently of great variety and singular fecundity.

It sums up Elvis Golden Records Volume 1 quite well.

This is what Walt Whitman said in his poem Song Of Myself –

I am the poet of the Body and I am the poet of the Soul,

The pleasures of heaven are with me and the pains of hell are with me,

The first I graft and increase upon myself, the latter I translate into a new tongue.

Whitman was determined to deny himself nothing, to embrace the whole world because he was, like all

Walt Whitman Walt Whitman

human beings, ‘inevitable and limitless’. He was not necessarily the father of American ambition but he was…

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Arthur Alexander : The Poet of Melancholy – In The Middle Of It All

Beautiful article on Arthur Alexander

The Immortal Jukebox

The Immortal Jukebox A3 : 

Arthur Alexander – In The Middle Of It All 

‘The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation’.

(Henry David Thoreau)

‘Now I ache, with heartbreak and pain and the hurt that I just can’t explain’

(Arthur Alexander)

Imagine you are the manager of a blue collar bar in a tough small town.  You work long hours making sure everybody has a good time and that nobody’s good time winds up leaving someone else on their way to hospital.

You know who not to serve, who to share a joke with, who to warn off and who to throw out for their own good.

You keep a weighted pool cue just out of sight from the floor within your reach – just in case.

You stock the jukebox and make sure that there’s old and new favourites: something that counts as a home town anthem…

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Was Elizabeth I’s refusal to marry psychological or circumstantial?

Great exposition by Louisealacy on Queen Elizabeth1

9e903137460065896171293eadbbc35f Elizabeth before her coronation

The idea of Elizabeth I never marrying has always fascinated me. As a female, living in a predominantly male environment reigning over a nation the way that she did sparked my interest to discover her motives for not marrying. Were her motivations psychological, stemming from a turbulent childhood which saw her mother executed and her stepmother die shortly after childbirth? Did these reasons stop Elizabeth from forming a union with a suitor or were her reasons merely because she sacrificed her matrimonial and maternal instincts to rule the country? Roger Ascham who was Elizabeth’s tutor wrote that ‘her mind (had) no womanly weakness, her perseverance (was) equal to that of a man’. I wondered too if Elizabeth ruled the country as a female or with a masculine approach and so came up with the question, were Elizabeth I’s reasons for not marrying psychological or circumstantial?

Katherine Parr Katherine…

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The Immortal Juke Box A5 : Toussaint McCall Nothing Takes The Place Of You

The Immortal Jukebox

http://

It’s dark when you set off for another shift at the plant and it’s dark when you get back to this dark room in the boarding house held together with flaking paint.

Your overalls are stuck fast to your back and your body holds on to the ache reminding you that there are still some things you can feel.

The radio doesn’t work anymore and the TV is filled with smiling fools selling dreams no one believes in any more or pictures of boys who could be your sons dying in Vietnam for a reason you never could get.

Outside there’s someone shouting at someone something about something that never mattered anyhow. The rain’s begining to fall and the moon stares silently down promising to keep the worlds secrets for one more night.

You stopped off at the corner to buy a bottle that’ll take you through till sleep…

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A TALE OF TWO COACHES: SIASIA AND KESHI

 

 

It was the best of all times, it was the worst of all times, it was the dawn of despair, it was the season of hope, it was the age of sackings, it was an era of promotions…It’s no longer news that Nigeria won the 2013 African Cup of Nations held in South Africa, our first victory since 1994 exactly 19 years on, it’s no coincidence that the man wearing the number 19 jersey Sunday Mba, scored the 2 most important goals of the tournament on 2 different Sundays, the goal that knocked out Ivory Coast the continent’s strongest team on paper, and the goal that won the trophy for Nigeria in the tournament’s final game. What stood Sunday Mba out was he was and presently is a home based player.

Not much was expected from the Nigerian Super Eagles at the tournament for many reasons like we did not qualify for the last tournament, something that had not occurred since 1986 (26 years before), Nigeria did not have many players plying their trade in Europes top clubs, and of the few in the other clubs not many were regulars and the few regulars were out of favour with the coach Stephen Keshi, Odemwingie and Taiwo come to mind. Coach Keshi’s final tournament list and Odemwingie’s rant dismissed the little hope many had for the team to make any impact, as the list included 17 debutants and 6 home based players. This was quite a departure from former Coach Samson Siasia who made a name by blooding home based players but failed to qualify Nigeria for the last tournament when he relied on big name foreign based players who disappointed him and the nation. Both Keshi and Siasia had almost the same kind of footballing education and otherwise, both attended the famed St. Finbarrs College, Akoka that produced about 10 Nigerian internationals. Father Dennis Slattery was the principal, both represented the school team in the Principal’s Cup completion for secondary schools, and both were junior internationals representing Nigeria and later became full internationals. Stephen Keshi was the pioneer that opened up Belgium for African footballers after he, Henry Nwosu (another St. Finbarrs allumni) and some NNB FC of Benin players were unjustly banned for a year, Siasia was one of the first players to join him there. Both were first team players at the beginning of the Clemens Westahof era, so both of them knew the secret of his success was getting the right blend of foreign and home based players in the national team and that merit mattered more than big names as both of them were later dropped from first team roles even though Keshi was team captain. Siasia took after Westahof by developing the home based players and he was successful winning Silver in the 2005 junior world cup and in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. On the back of his achievements he was appointed Head Coach of the Super Eagles and he focused more on foreign based players and there was no sense of competition in the team again, this culminated in failure to qualify for the Cup of Nation competition and he was promptly sacked. Keshi on the other hand had moderate success In Togo and Mali, and was appointed to take over from Siasia. He promptly started grooming the best home based players in the land, he had seen from the examples of Westahof and Siasia that a competitive spirit must be fostered on the team and home based players deserve a chance also. Keshi’s all conquering Nations Cup team had six home based players, 2 of them were regulars; Godfrey Oboabona played in central defence while the hero of the hour Sunday Mba played in the Midfield.

Keshi would do well to build on his success by giving more home based players opportunities and his teams should all be merit based, if he can do that, who says the Super Eagles can’t win the next World Cup?

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A MAN CALLED SHANKLY

The history of Liverpool football club can be divided into three parts, the pre-Shankly, the post-Shankly and the Shankly era, this testifies to how this man of humble beginnings built perhaps the greatest football team Britain has known. The importance of this great man to Liverpool can never be overemphasized. He was born in the hardy Glenbuck mining community of Scotland, where it was either the mines or football. Luckily for Shanks and his 5 brothers it was football. He had an eventful career which included winning the FA cup with Preston North End in 1938 before the 2nd World War interrupted football. He went into management shortly after the war, and was interviewed by Liverpool in the early 50’s but he declined when he was told he would not be in charge of team selection, a common practice of those times. He went on to manage other teams until he was invited back to Anfield for another interview. He was asked if he was interested in managing the best team in England, to which he replied “is Matt Busby packing up at United?” Liverpool then in the old 2nd division, was in the shadows of United who were arguably the best team in the land with Busby rebuilding the team from the ruins of Munich a year before. Shankly got the job and was given a free hand to run the team this time. It’s hard to understate the ordinariness of Liverpool’s position in 1959. Languishing in the old second division, with a crumbling stadium, poor training facilities and a large unwieldy playing staff, the challenge facing Shankly was enormous. Liverpool’s, and his, good fortune, was that in Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan, and Reuben Bennett, the club had an experienced and resourceful backroom staff, they were the foundation of the famed boot room, the last link to the Anfield boot room is Jamie Carragher, but he will retire at the end of this season. Shankly went to work reducing the playing staff and getting new players that would take Liverpool to the next level. Ron Yeats was his first signing; Yeats asked “wasn’t Liverpool in the 2nd division?” To which Shankly replied ‘Yes, but when we sign you, we’ll be in the first’. Shanks was a master motivator, few coaches in the modern era come close, perhaps Jose Mourinho. Ian St. John soon joined from Motherwell. Ian Callaghan was promoted from the youth ranks, during this period, Billy Liddell ended his playing career, he was perhaps the main reason Liverpool did not slump below the old 2nd division into obscurity, he was a Great Britain and Scotland International, and he spent his entire playing career at Anfield. It was sad he was not part of Shankly’s team that won promotion. Shankly led Liverpool to the first division in the 61/62 season after narrowly missing out by coming third in the 2 previous seasons. Liverpool had an average first season, but won the league in the following year with new signings Peter Thompson and Willie Stevenson. Shankly led Liverpool to its first FA cup triumph at Wembley in 1965, and he won the league the following year, Liverpool were narrowly eliminated in the champion’s cup at the semi final stage and lost the European cup finals during this period. He was an expert in commonsensical psychology, he suggested Liverpool put on an all red strip as opposed to red and white stating that Yeats looked bigger and would terrify the opponents in it, he placed the ‘This is Anfield’ sign on the Anfield tunnel to remind the Reds who they were playing for and the opponents who they were up against. By the mid 60’s age had caught up with his team but he kept faith with them till the 70’s before he broke up the old team and built a new one around the talents of Tommy Smith, Emlyn Hughes, Stevie Heighway, and later on Kevin Keegan. His new team got to the finals of the FA cup in 70’ but lost in extra time to double winners Arsenal. What struck me was the hero’s welcome the team received when they arrived at Liverpool, he addressed the crowd telling them that Chairman Mao the Chinese communist dictator had never seen a show of great strength and that he had told the players before that they were privileged to play for the supporters and if the players did not believe his statement before, they now do, everyone out there was hanging on his words and if he wanted he could have ordered them to riot, such was the power of the man. On the day Shanks signed young Emlyn Hughes, they were stopped by a policeman as they drove to Melwood, Shanks said ‘do you know who is in this car’, the copper replied ‘I’m afraid I don’t know you’, Hughes thought this was the old do you know who I am? routine.  Shanks blasted ‘not me you fool, it’s the lad the future England captain’. Emlyn Hughes later became England’s captain. Shankly’s last official game in charge of the Red’s was the 3-0 FA cup triumph over Newcastle at Wembley. At the final whistle, he went over to the deflated magpies and had an encouraging word for each of them, Malcolm MacDonald probably felt more heartaches than the rest of his mates because he boasted before the match telling the world what he was going to do to Liverpool, Phil Thomson shackled him. Super Mac recalled that he sat on the pitch with head bowed when the game ended and Shanks walked up to him and spoke in his hardy Scottish accent words along this lines, ‘well done son don’t worry so much about today, you’ll be back son believe me, you’ll be back!’ What a gentleman. Sadly Shanks retired shortly after the game, he simply was tired, he expected a place on the board but had long alienated himself to them with statements like ‘In football there is a holy trinity of the coach, the players, and the fans the directors are not part of it, they only sign the cheques’, the board was also very aware of the way Matt Busby’s appointment as a director affected Manchester United culminating in them getting relegated, so Shankly waited but no offer came along. He soon realized he missed football too much and was regular at the Red’s training sessions, which was a bit awkward for Paisley his former number 2 man now the Gaffer, so he was politely turned away. It was a disgrace that he was even more accepted at Everton than at Anfield during his retirement. He passed on 7 years later in 1981, but he lives forever in the hearts of Liverpool supporters the world over. A statue of him at Anfield and the Shankly Gates are a memorial to the greatness of a man who made the people happy.

 

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