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An entertaining start to the Nations Cup

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Piers Edwards | 14:53 UK time, Thursday, 14 January 2010

Anyone fancying a flutter on an African team to do the unthinkable and win this year's World Cup may be thinking twice about dipping into their pocket after the first round of matches in the Nations Cup.

So far, little Malawi - the tournament's rank outsiders - have managed to muster more points than the combined tally earned by World Cup finalists Algeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Nigeria.

Of course, South Africa-bound Ghana are still to play a game in Angola after their Group B opener against Togo was cancelled. Togo's departure (or, seemingly insensitively, 'disqualification' by Caf) followed last Friday's attack on their team bus that left three people dead.

On the pitch, the football has been entertaining, with several shock results, while the crowds and organisation have been reassuringly healthy.

kafoteka_ap595.jpgMalawi celebrate after scoring in their shock win over Algeria

I've even read Gabonese officials praising Angola's hosting skills as being a model for the future, words that resonate ever louder since most Nations Cup organisers usually only deal with a truckload of complaints.

That said, there are - just as there are always seem to be (e.g. Ghana 2008, Mali 2002) - complaints about the pitches, especially the way those in Luanda and Cabinda cut up so easily, but it hasn't stopped them delivering some fine games.

Take Luanda's 11 November Stadium, the venue for the tournament's first game on Sunday. After the spectacular firework display came the unforgettable 4-4 draw between Angola and Mali.

Angola coach Manuel Jose, who has been round the block in African football (he is also credited with launching Luis Figo's career when both were at Sporting Lisbon), blamed the draw - after his side led 4-1 with two minutes left - on a lack of fitness, so the pressure is on in their remaining matches against Malawi and Algeria.

On Monday, the drama continued with one of African football's biggest upsets in recent history. Malawi's Flames, who aren't even ranked in Africa's top 20 by Fifa, were appropriately red-hot as they thumped England's World Cup opponents Algeria 3-0.

As I said last week, the appeal of this Nations Cup is the presence of so many outsiders. Although I certainly didn't expect Malawi to be one of those, the tournament still seems wonderfully open, especially should Ivory Coast (my tip!) crash out early, as is possible.

Malawi's maiden Nations Cup win sparked wild celebrations at home. I'm told that shops reduced the prices on their goods, while taxis and buses were offering passengers rides for free, as the nation partied.

It's a shame, though, that no one was there to see their historic victory, with ground staff and reporters arguably outnumbering supporters at the match, with just 500 fans watching in a stadium that had held 50,000 frenzied Angolans the night before.

In truth, this was the tournament's only game to kick off so early (at 1445 local time: the rest being 1700 or 1930) - and crowds have been good since, especially as Nations Cup games tend to be poorly attended if they don't involve the host. Angolans are clearly revelling in the chance to watch Africa's biggest stars.

This devotion is clear from the hundreds who turned up at Cabinda airport last week just to catch a glimpse of Didier Drogba, while there was a full house in Lubango on Wednesday as Gabon stunned World Cup-bound Cameroon 1-0.

Moise Brou Apanga looks to get the better of GeremiGabon entertained with their win over Cameroon

Some will say the victory came too late (Gabon might have been in South Africa themselves had they beaten Paul Le Guen's side in World Cup qualifying last year), but it was a triumph for Alain Giresse, part of France's legendary 1984 European champions.

In 2008, two years after taking up the Gabon post, Giresse quit because of security fears but he was persuaded to stay by the government and has since taken Gabonese football to rare heights (up to 48th in the Fifa rankings after they were 104th when he took charge).

Indeed, this Nations Cup is showcasing African football's strength in depth, for both Malawi and Gabon, for whom goalkeeper Ovono Ebang has excelled, were superb value for their wins, while Zambia, Angola and Mali have also shown moments of real quality.

Now, though, it's time for the big guns to deliver. Following Togo's withdrawal, Group B's next match has incredibly high stakes. Should Ghana beat Ivory Coast on Friday, the favourites will be out barring a sizeable win for Burkina Faso over the Black Stars next Monday.

Friday's game between the two World Cup finalists, and neighbours, takes place in Cabinda, where the locals are simply hoping for an exciting game so that the region is talked about for footballing reasons.

And given the fact that the shaken players from all three camps in Cabinda are now effectively prisoners in their hotel - they cannot go out unless accompanied by massive security - they should be itching for the chance to show their skills.

It's too early in the tournament to ask why Africa's World Cup finalists are underperforming. Let's wait until the end of the groups, but I fully expect Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Ghana to come good - while believing that Algeria and Nigeria will struggle.

Before I go, just spare a thought for millions of African football lovers on this continent who are currently unable to watch Nations Cup matches because their governments or TV stations simply cannot afford the exorbitant fees being demanded for matches.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    Talking of the exorbitant TV rights for CAF, is that the same reason why British channels seen reluctant to show the games? I think generally British football fans will watch any footie on the telly, no matter who's playing. Showing CAF matched would definitely get people to show more of an interest in African football.

  • Comment number 3.

    I think that if we had coverage on terrestrial television then the UK would be more involved in the tournament. The news so far is just what has happened to the Togo team, which was tragic.

    The rest of the tournament has had no coverage at all.

    How can we all get involved when Sky TV have taken the lions share as usual.

    See my blog link below, if you dare!

    http://jonnyontheball.blogspot.com/2009/10/our-national-sport-suffers-again.html

  • Comment number 4.

    This year is the year for the smaller African Nations. People do not understand something about Southern Africa. This is only the 2nd time ever this part of the continent has hosted this tournament and the climate is going to be a major factor. Whilst Africa is generally hot and dry, the intensity varies depending on which side of the EQUATOR you are. Thats why its no surprise that Algeria will complain of the climate in Angola even if they come from a much dryer and hotter North of Africa. Its for that reason the last tournament to be held here in 1996 was won by the hosts and a Southern African nation. I fancy Angola to win it this time, tho the Egyptians might crash the party. Expect a good showing from Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia.

  • Comment number 5.

    Has anyone seen a coach sacked during a tournament... well watch out.. its coming soon.
    Benin to beat Nigeria, NFF to sack Amodu. Its coming.
    Most pressurized coach of all 32 nations going to the 2010 world cup - Current Super Eagles coach - Shuaibu Amodu i.e. if hes going to the world cup in June. I highly doubt it.

  • Comment number 6.

    I agree, it's time to end the "marketisation" of all sports, whether it is cricket or football. We need to make sport accessible to all sections of society, not just those able to pay the exorbitant monthly subscription for Sky (even if their sports channels do admittedly show a wide and interesting selection of sport). By making tournaments like the ACON available on freeview, obviously it's reach is greater, and this has several benefits, not only encouraging more people to play the game (for fun or professionally), increasing community spirit, but also it will give the average football fan a greater appreciation of world football, and when you watch football of different cultures, it not only develops your knowledge of football, but also potentially can develop tolerance and acceptance of different ways.

    The same is happening with cricket. The ECB, after winning the Ashes in 2005, decided to sell the rights to the Ashes to the highest bidder (Sky). The inevitable impact of this decision was, 4 years later, the number of people who saw the winning moment was 27% of the average number who watched the drawn test in 2005. This has several knock on effects, such as fewer young players feeling inspired to take up the sport, which reduces the pool of players who will make up the next generation of England cricketers. On a more social level, increased exposure to sport can act as a real medium through which to bind people together, and while is obviously not the solution to all problems at all, can have a positive impact on community relations.

  • Comment number 7.

    Let African Football stay the way it is now, better for players and the game, if the game is too commercialised like the EPL , then there wont be too many African players in the African cup.it will be filled with money minded spoil sports, let Africa be the breeding ground for talent, so atleast that way, EPL will look good.

  • Comment number 8.

    "Should Ghana beat Ivory Coast on Friday, the favourites will be out barring a sizeable win for Burkina Faso over the Black Stars next Monday."

    Really?

    Should Ghana beat Ivory Coast, the favourites will be out with any size win for Burkina Faso over the Black Stars.

    Ghana would have 3 points, Burkina Faso 4, and Ivory Coast 1.

    I think you mean,

    "Should Ghana beat Ivory Coast on Friday, the favourites will be out barring a sizeable win for the Black Stars over Burkina Faso Monday."

  • Comment number 9.

    Good Piers you mention the millions of African football fans who cannot watch the matches because their broadcasters could not afford the fees being charged by AFNEX - the rights holder. I think CAF should look into this and make sure that as many countries as possible can watch this showcase live on their local television and priority should be given to access rather than revenue.

    Yes, its interesting to see that in the first round of matches the four World Cup finalists could only muster one goal between themselves and that a goalless draw was the best achievement.

    But I think we should wait until the the group stage matches are completed to make a judgement. Already Algeria have come back and beaten Mali and so its now up to the rest of the teams to make sure they reach the knockout stages.

    Having said that it could be better to falter now and have time to fix the problems rather in six months time in South Africa.

    Full time analysis

  • Comment number 10.

    The 'upsets' simply reflect the modern game - discipline and tactical commitment can be enough to overcome more elaborate skill and flair.

  • Comment number 11.

    It's been a very interesting beginning of the tournament. It's a pity it's not available on BBC, I had to get a 1 month subscription to Eurosport online to watch the tournament.

    I'm looking forward to the rest of the group matches. There have been lots of suprises, great stuff.

    I think everyone and their grandmother knows that Nigeria have to get rid of their manager before the World Cup or it's going to be a disaster. The problem is a lack of confidence which a good manager should provide and poor team work which a good coach should provide and I reckon the present manager is neither of the above.

    Tha aside, well done Malawi for their win over Algeria and Gabon for their win over Ivory Coast, some major scalps taken there.

    It's unfortunate that CAF chose to penalise Togo rather than support them, that was in my opinion very poor.

    So far though, in spite of the initial unfortunate incident with the Togolese team and the terrorist, I must say well done, Angola for doing a great job.

  • Comment number 12.

    The success of teams like Malawi and the performance of Zambia is very significant. The problem with African football is that the more famous, or star filled, a team becomes - the more they believe they should play with a european style. Cameroons performance against gabon was disgusting. Le Guen played a 4-3-3, designed to stretch the play. But this doesn't suit the rhythm of cameroon football. It forces the players to play against their instincts. European tactical innovations are abstract constructs which are totalitarian and mechanistic. African football is about subtle changes of rhythm and interchanges of position. This style of football is built on qualities which Africans have in abundance - rhythm and awareness. When teams like Malawi and Zambia enter the pitch they do so to PLAY football. When Cameroon entered the pitch against gabon they did so trying to implement some abstract tactical innovation of their new manager. Le Guen should be sacked. This is the root of the African inferiority complex - everything is measured against European "standards" and "latest innovations". South Americans teams are allowed their own style. Why do African team have to copy Europe? It's a disgrace and will get Africa nowhere.

  • Comment number 13.

    Those calling for the tournament to be made available on free-to-air channels need to think about this logically. For example, if BBC chose to spend a large chunk of the license money on an African football tournament, there would be less cash remaining in the kitty for other BBC endeavours. For example, should African games be preferred over the Football League games which the BBC have started showing this season?

    The BBC have already announced that they are having to make cuts on their internet presence. If they started showing every football game from around the world, there would be nothing remaining to keep the excellent BBC Football website afloat!

    For the commercial channels, they clearly realise that these games would not attract enough viewers to justify the costs of the games.

  • Comment number 14.

    The Nigeria team certainly is not at its best right now but please give me a break,of the South-Africa bound teams that played,the eagles' scoreline was the least surprising of all.we played against Egypt who are the defending champions and after one game we're already being written off as one of the teams to struggle.what about world ranked 16th placed Ivory Coast who were held by WR 49th placed Burkina Faso or WR 11th placed Cameroon who were beaten by WR 48th placed Gabon.there is surely room for improvement with regards to the coaching crew and player selection and a disappointment in the Nations Cup will surely be a blessing for the world cup because only something serious like maybe a 4-0 thumping by the squirrels of Benin or a smaller team in the later stages will cause a change in the status quo of the coaching crew.

  • Comment number 15.

    What happens if all Group B matches are all draws?

  • Comment number 16.

    luckily i've been able to watch quite a number of games on eurosport hd as i get this channel free, only thing that has been a joke so far was the algeria malawi crowd but apart from that it's been pretty entertaining, looking forward to the rest of the tournament

  • Comment number 17.

    @ Hugo:
    "This style of football is built on qualities which Africans have in abundance - rhythm and awareness. When teams like Malawi and Zambia enter the pitch they do so to PLAY football. When Cameroon entered the pitch against gabon they did so trying to implement some abstract tactical innovation of their new manager."
    An interesting observation - even if maybe borderline racist. But don't forget that in football defending is a lot easier than attacking, no matter where the players originate. I would really like to see how an African team would do with a really top-notch coach like Guus Hiddink or Louis van Gaal who have a reputation for getting the best out of their players.

  • Comment number 18.

    To answer my own question, CAF regulations are below:

    Article 72
    In case of equality of points between two or more teams, at the conclusion of the group matches, the ranking of the teams shall be established according to the following criteria:

    72.1. Greater number of points obtained in the matches between the teams
    in question;
    72.2. The best goal difference in the matches between the teams in question;
    72.3. Greater number of goals scored in the group matches between the teams concerned;
    72.4. Goal difference in all group matches;
    72.5. Greatest number of goals scored in all the group matches;
    72.6. Fair Play points system taking into account the number of yellow and red cards;
    72.7. Drawing of lots by CAF Organising Committee.

  • Comment number 19.

    I have to say BBC's coverage of the ACN this time round has been really poor.

  • Comment number 20.

    @jonny on the ball
    As usual... the BBC is there to broadcast and report the shadow part of the African being. You see emphasis is on what has happened to the Togo national TEAM. This is nothing different from what they label as "TERRORISM". But when it comes to be happening in the land of the African Continent, they just baptise is with different name and/ or analysis. Many more examples could be given,... but lets not get into it!
    This period marks the African Cup of Nations! SPORTS!!!!!
    ...
    read back at what Hull's Brown and Arsenal's Wenger commented on the Togo bus attack incident.
    Arsene knows what he is doing and what he is saying... MATURITY!

  • Comment number 21.

    @ Kidane, not to worry about Phil Brown (rightly called so). He is an overbaked man, who's feeling the heat of relegation. Its normal for him to try release the pressure elsewhere. Isnt it all we Brits are like that. Arsene is French, no wonder we hate them.

  • Comment number 22.

    @ tgtaxi
    If that is the case (that you hate 'm for their being matured), I would expect nothing different to come out of such being!!!!!!!!

  • Comment number 23.

    @ Kidane
    People will try and tell you this and that to justify but thats the whole truth.

  • Comment number 24.

    I would suggest a book "Has Anybody Got a Whistle?: A Football Reporter in Africa" by Peter Auf Der Heyde; an excellent treatise of African Football, it details incidences like we currently hear about from Angola.

    That is of the Malawi coach saying that his team did not have a pitch to adequately prepare on for the past few days for the game against Angola. You would think this sounds like a typical "excuse" you hear of from coaches so often. However, it is well-documented in the past, in some other African country, soldiers denied a team practicing on a pitch and having a proper dressing room before a match and who can forget Thomas Nkono the Cameroon goalkeeper being led off the pitch by Riot police in Mali and accused of leaving a voodoo charm on the field?

  • Comment number 25.

    Amodu, coach of Nigeria has many people upset but did you know this is about the 3rd or 4th time he has been put in charge of the Super Eagles??

    Keeping it short, the way Jack Charlton was able to mold the great Ireland teams of the 1990s with players in the topflight but also playing domestically or in the lower leagues, this is exactly what a coach needs to do for Nigeria.

    Similarly, Nigeria with the big names but lacklustre play have a plight that has been very similar to what has happened to England in years past.

    This in short is what Nigeria faces in the future. I'd think there best option SHOULD they fail in this tournament would be to get former player Keshe or someone like that in charge.

    Additionally, Nigeria lost to perhaps the best team in the tournament. They really should not despair so deeply but work towards a constructive future.

  • Comment number 26.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 27.

    Outswinger (#8), you're spot on and that was a typo of sorts - academic now though following Ivory Coast's 3-1 win over Ghana on Friday, which means the Black Stars must beat Burkina Faso on Tuesday, here in Luanda, if the World Cup finalists are to make it out of Group B. I'm writing this from the Ghana team hotel in the Angolan capital, where I can report that the Black Stars' key man, Michael Essien, certainly doesn't look 100% fit. He's just hobbled off the team bus, treading gingerly and unable to put all his weight down on his right foot, having picked up a slight knock in training this morning. That aside, some other Ghanaian players were unhappy about having to train - funnily enough - on a pitch with no goalposts! The organisation, following Malawi's complaints as well, is suddenly coming under its usual focus (http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/football/africa/8462050.stm%29, especially with the training pitches here getting ever more questions...

  • Comment number 28.

    Ghana is unfortunate to have lost about five key players-Appiah, Essien, John Mensah, Paintsil, Annan- to injury. Muntari, also, has been axed for indiscipline.
    To make matters worse for us, we have a coach who is not too good. However, I believe young lads like Kodwo Asamoah, A. Badu, and Rahim Ayew can hold their own against any team in the world. Ghana 2 Burkina Faso 0.
    Benin deserve to qualify to the next stage. Nigeria should improve play.

  • Comment number 29.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

 

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