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Egypt worthy winners of disappointing tournament

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Piers Edwards | 10:31 UK time, Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Unlike previous tournaments, this Africa Cup of Nations was not so much a 'football festival' and far more, it often seemed, a three-week advert for hosts Angola.

After the final, I asked the local organising committee's executive director whether the 2010 Nations Cup would be remembered for the football or the deadly attack on Togo, to which Antonio Mangueira replied 'the football and we had some wonderful fireworks too'.

Fireworks were not going to make anyone forget Cabinda - unless they had happened on the pitch of course which, by and large, they didn't.

egypt_getty595.jpgEgypt celebrate after becoming African champions for a record seventh time

For football-wise, this tournament will be remembered for Egypt's history-making treble, which confirmed what most fans already knew - that the Pharaohs reign supreme in Africa. And now they add an unprecedented hat-trick to an unrivalled tally of Nations Cup goals, appearances, joint-record participations in the final and, of course, most titles - seven.

To cap it off, the Pharaohs are on the longest unbeaten run in the tournament's 53-year history - these 19 matches now stretching across the 2006, 2008 and now 2010 triumphs. They have also just broken into Fifa's top 10 teams in the world.

Which makes one wonder ever more why Africa's best team will not be at the continent's first World Cup finals, even if I've already voiced my opinion here that Hassan Shehata, who could now claim to be Africa's greatest coach, messed up his tactics in the Algerian play-off.

Egypt's vanquished foes can count themselves incredibly unfortunate to have lost Sunday's final (1-0) - the Ghanaians floored by a late sucker punch from super-sub extraordinaire, Mohamed 'Gedo' Nagy, who didn't start one match in Angola but top-scored with five goals.

Black Stars boss Milovan Rajevac blamed the goal on his young side's desire to find a winner but also acknowledged that these wonderfully-enterprising youngsters - six of whom are 22 and under - were incredibly tactically disciplined otherwise considering their age.

I'll come to them and other World Cup finalists in future blogs but am focussing on Angola 2010 here, where one considerable lack was colour. Indeed, despite the crowds being impressive by historical standards, it was hard to feel any football fever at a tournament famous for it.

In fact, everything felt micro-managed: from the strict security, through the slow media access to the players (laughable at times) to the way Egypt's Mohamed Zidan was physically restrained by a swarm of 10-15 guards as he tried to celebrate near Egypt's fans after Sunday's final?

Most of the fans had only flown in the day before because - this being the crux of the matter - Angola is far too expensive for most long-term visitors to consider.

And book-ended by the attack on the Togo bus - with the pre-tournament tragedy unfortunately revived towards the end - the quality of football on offer was not good enough to distract from Cabinda: and where were the entertainers?

I'd argue that only a handful of games will live in the memory (the truly unforgettable Angola v Mali, Cameroon v Zambia, Algeria v Ivory Coast and Algeria v Egypt) although I did enjoy the tactical final even if others may have found it boring.

Mali celebrateMali came back from four goals down to draw 4-4 with Angola in the opening game

At times, it felt like teams were only advancing - not because they were brilliant, but because one of them had to win out. That said, Egypt, Ghana and Zambia all entertained - and their performances were a credit to their respective coaches (Shehata, Rajevac and Herve Renard).

And what these teams emphasised more than anything was the importance of teamwork, because these sides - Ghanaian Richard Kingson aside - were not about Premier League or European stars. In fact, those that were - the self-destructive Ivorians, Cameroon's very domitable Lions and Nigeria's not-so-super Eagles - were dominated by individuals and poor, if non-existent, pass selection.

And if Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto'o or Obafemi Martins played for their European sides as they did here, their first-team starts would surely be over.

One man to suffer that fate was former Cameroon skipper Rigobert Song. The dreadlocked defender is remarkable in that until the Group D clash against Tunisia, which he didn't start, he had played every minute of every Cameroonian Nations Cup match since his 1996 debut.

Even if many visitors will largely remember Luanda's infuriating traffic, the ubiquitous din of the builder's hammer and drill as well as Angola's high cost of living, most locals relished opening up their country to the world.

That will be a happy memory: so too Abdelkader Keita's stunning strike against Algeria, which thumped both post and bar on the way in - surely the goal of the tournament.

And this, very simply, is the 2010 Nations Cup XI I'll be remembering:

Goalkeeper: Essam El Hadary

Defence: Samuel Inkoom - Madjid Bougherra - Lee Addy - Emmanuel Mbol

Midfield: Mabina - Kwadwo Asamoah - Ahmed Hassan - Jonathan Pitroipa

Strikers: Flavio - Gedo.

Sub: Arnaud Seka, one of the smallest footballers ever?


  • Comment number 1.

    This particular tournament reminded me a lot of Italia 90, all tactics, little flair. Apart from truly bungled decisions - actually, try idiotic - like CAF's two tournament ban for Togo, I thought the referee messed up the semi between Algeria and Egypt. Not that it would have been easy for the off-form Desert Foxes to vanquish the Pharaohs but now we will sadly never know.

    The biggest disappointments by several country miles are our official reps to the World Cup. All of them were off with the exception of the starlets (Ghana) who played to their strengths magnificently.

    I wanted to establish if the soccer order is shifting away from West and North Africa and I remain unconvinced. Those two regions are a lot like the English Big Four in terms of attempting to dislodge them. That said, Malawi and Zambia all gave a good account of themselves, as did Gabon initially and Benin. Africa still has plenty of work to do.

    I feel that the continent is progressing tactically, with player exposure clearly benefiting from playing abroad. Cote d'Ivoire should have been among the strongest contenders but let their fans down once more. The team needs to learn what playing for the shirt means and Egypt might provide the best example to learn from.

    The Pharaoh's continue to disprove the theory that you need foreign-based players to function as a team. Playing predominantly domestic players aided by the likes of Zidan, this is one of the most comfortable teams on the ball and one that does not panic even when they fall behind their opponent. While not my team, Cameroon is, Egypt's achievements can never be overlooked and they remain competitive always even despite changes in personnel. Kudos to Shehata and his coaching staff.

    One thing the Egyptians in particular and North Africans in general can lose is playacting in order to win bookings and decisions. They have too much drama which to me detracts from their level of skill and competitiveness.

  • Comment number 2.

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

  • Comment number 3.

    Sure thing this tournament hasn't hit the heights of '08 where there were bags of goals and the big players performed.

    This time round, we did have some great matches as you mentioned and some stunning upsets, but the quality of play has been disappointing. Poor goalkeeping all round, and shambolic defending, strangely by the big sides. You can't believe Toure and Bamba can switch off that much.

    But Egypt have proved that they are the kings of Africa, and Ghana exceeded expectations with their young side. Nice to see for the future.

    As for your team of the tournament, I'ld put in Vorsah instead of Addy, Al-Muhammady instead of Inkoom, I wish I would put Song, he played well in a poor side.

  • Comment number 4.

    May I also add that there is this side that infuriates me, namely Nigeria. I've never seen such an underperforming side in the whole continent. All because of less motivated players and lots of politics behind the scenes. It's unbelievable that a side with Martins, Nsofor, Odemwingie, Obasi, Kanu, Uche, Yakubu fails to score enough goals! Nigeria used to be my favourite side in my pre-teen days, but not anymore. I don't see them getting anything out of the world cup, and I'm even sad they made it there!

  • Comment number 5.

    I feel like talking favourite side Ivory Coast...I feel like they underperformed this time round, but once they solve a little probs, I see them going far come the World Cup.

  • Comment number 6.

    If the AFCON and its organisors the CAF are an example of what is wrong with Africa.. no surprise the continent is marred in poverty, corruption and dictactorships..
    Following the attacks on the Togo Team, the president of the CAF told the Togolese players (he said so himself on Canal+) that Togo will not be punished if they elected to return home. They took him at his words..he presided over banning Togo for the next 2 editions of the competition.
    The pitches were of so poor quality, it was unbelievable professional players could perform.. I Travelled to sub Tropical Africa once in January.. the heat and the humidity must have been unbearable for players such as Drogba who have lived all but a few years in Africa.
    Finally the refereeing level was a pathetic level... Non-goals allowed ie Egyptvs Cameroun.., goal disallowed.. Kolo Toure strike against Algeria clearly onside not allowed, Referee clearly not at the level acceptable to FIFA because clearly overweight...Egypt vs Algeria completely wasted with 3 sending off with the 1st one completely unjustifiable..

    Algeria play acting against the Ivory Coast was a sad spectacle as well..
    Egypt is the best team in AFRICA..does not bode well for the teams joining SA2010.

  • Comment number 7.

    @ Lagellerotumblero,

    Clearly , you are one of those who hate Nigeria. You are sad nigeria made it to the world cup, why dont you ask FIFA to disqualify Nigeria fro fielding unpatriotic players, so that your favourite teams can play in the world cup.

    You believe if Ivory Coast fix their problems, the team would do well in the world cup, but you dont see Nigeria doing well in the world cup. It cleary shows your dislike for Nigeria. Why dont you also think Nigeria would do well if they fix their football politics and appoint a good coach.

    No body gave the Nigerian team a chance of getting to the semi-finals. The pre-tournament favourite was the Ivory Coast and Cameroun. At the end of the day, Nigeria did better than the media favourites, Ivory Coast and Cameroun. You obviously did not notice that Nigeria improved with the tournament. You did not watch Nigeria dominate the semi-final match against Ghana and the third place match against Algeria. Clearly, Nigeria is one of the big but under-performed teams in Angola, alongside Cameroun and Ivory Coast, but I think they were better than Cameroun and Ivory Caost, considering that Nigeria had no coach. Yes, the Nigerian coach has no business being a coach.

    Back to you Lagellerotumblero. You were asked to comment on Angola 2010 and not to discuss your hate for Nigeria. Pray hard for Nigeria to withdraw from the world cup, to make you happy.

  • Comment number 8.

    Hi Piers,
    I am not going to enter any debate over how "disappointing" this tournament was to who and for what.I would neither want to indulge in discussions on whether it was really "overshadowed" by the Cabinda affair or not. It is your blog, it is your opinion.

    What I am happy to do is say: CONGRATULATIONS to the Egyptians. At one point I thought they may get dismissed as were the Cameroonians in 2006 after a wonderful first round, but that came to nought.

    Their performance also gives me an opportunity to return to point of view I expressed on this blog, a few weeks to the start of the tournament as the timing of the competition came into question.

    Here is what I posted at the time about the development of football on the continent and the Egyptian example:

    "I believe, the development of African soccer is actually destroyed by this mad rush to play in Europe for money. The fact that Drogba, Eto'o, Essien, Kalou, the Toure brothers are successful in Europe does not develop the "African" game. They are the big trees that mask the destruction of the forest around.

    The leagues are a shadow of themselves and clubs only sell players in what has become the new slavery. Kids are sent out at 14,15,16,17 to Europe to make money. If Africa has to develop its football, it is not in changing dates of the Nations Cup. It is in improving the infrastructure, organisation and sponsorship of the local game.

    A good local league which pays averagely well would mean fewer players taking the risk of their lives to go overseas to eran pittances at plymouth Argyle or some obnoxious Norwegian or ice-cold Russian 2nd division league.

    Take the Egyptians for an example. Very few Egyptians play in Europe but it has not stopped them from winning the Cup of Nations against Cote d'Ivoire and Ca meroon with 23 man squads of "professionals" from Europe including Drogba, Eto'o, et al.

    The most they should do is to bring in good soccer experts who would build the blocks of development after which the whole thing remains in the hands of Africans. Egypt (again) has won its africa Cups with Egyptian coaches developed in the country through a powerful well structured system.

    That is how Africa shall develop not through a few stars from Europe. Those stars would only be an addition and not the base of development.

    I dream of the time when all African leagues would be developed to host the bulk of their talent and be able to even attract talent from elsewhere, like Esperance Tunis did in the early part of this decade when it attracted Brazilians (who albeit naturalised as Tunisians) like Santos. It is possible. Then Africa could quietly organise its tournaments when it deems fit - under rules by CAF and FIFA."

  • Comment number 9.

    After the post quoted at N°8 above, another poster made it a point to remind me that Egypt for all her organisation did not make it to the World Cup, so their system wasn't such a great example.

    Now, that Egypt has once again triumphed over the "great professionals" of Africa from Europe, including Algeria's group of half a dozen former France youth team players, maybe my response at the time remains valid today:

    "I expected the argument that Egypt has not made it to the World Cup. #91 provided an argument. In addition:

    a)Remember that the teams with tons of European based talent are the very ones who have not been able to make history to the point that other continents can sit and discuss on equal terms with Africa. (I am paraphrasing you there).

    b)The Cameroon team that played the quarter finals of the World Cup in 1990 were home based. Since then Cameroon have often come with all "professional" teams but have never crossed the group phase of the World Cup. They (Cameroon all Europe based) were unable to beat Egypt at home which prevented them from making it to the World Cup in 2006.

    c)Tunisia also has a well developed local football. They had very few Europe-based players in their teams that qualified them to the World Cup in 1998 and 2002. By 2006, they were developing an over-reliance on Europe based stock. Today there are more Europe based players in the national squad and what has happened? They are not going to appear at the World Cup in 2010 like Egypt.

    d)Senegal and its Europe based players have slumped since their first World Cup in 2002. With hundreds of them in France and the likes of Dioufs, Pape Bouba and the crew at Stoke, etc they failed for the second time to qualify for the World Cup. They were held down by the Gambia (mainly local players).

    As you can see the using participation at the World Cup as the measuring rod can go both ways. Don't you think?

    Let's imagine the 50+ countries in Africa with developed football - professional teams, facilities, coaching. Imagine that the bulk of the players stay put in their countries or move within Africa depending on which leagues are bigger. Can you imagine the level of the CAF Champions League or the CAF CUP (their Europa League)? Don't you think that the level would develop to that of the South Americans and provide competitive players for their national teams?

    I am in no way saying Africans should NOT move to Europe. No. I am not saying players don't improve by playing in top European leagues. Far from that. I simply believe, the development of the African game has to be taken in a holistic way (and at the root) - not based on the number of Africans playing in top European leagues."

    Waiting for your blog on the performance of the World Cup teams.

  • Comment number 10.

    Piers - why do you think that Egypt, who have had incredible success in the African Cup, have failed to qualify for the world cup for decades

    In this case it's tactics perhaps - but they've won it four times since 98, yet not even a world cup appearance, there must be more of a reason than a couple of tactical errors

  • Comment number 11.

    i (as an egyptian) would rather have seen egypt in the world cup then winning another african nations. the fact that it was a record breaking 3rd time in a row is of course fantastic, but the world cup is the world cup, and not appearing for 20 years is truely a head scratcher.

    we can't play away from home in the word cup qualifiers for some reason, we drop alot of points against weak teams and always leave it to the last minute where its either out of our hands (relying on other results) or lose the crunch matches (like algeria)'s very frustrating! we have such a talented (and aging) team and this really was their year, we had a no very difficult group, but still no world cup place.

    maybe its something to do with our players' mentality? we've had a few players in the premier league and have all had a dishonourable discharge......ghaly threw the tottenham shirt on the ground, zaki was called the least professional player ever by steve bruce and mido....well mido let himself go a bit for reasons i don't know and felt it was ok to publicly shout at shehata at the last african cup after being subbed off....and he was so promising and played well up until then!

    i can't put my finger on the reason we dont qualify for the world cup, not for the life of me.

  • Comment number 12.


    I disagree with your view that this Africa Cup of Nations was lacking in standards. It's true that the last two editions, particularly in 2008 in Ghana, there was high quality football being played in almost every match. However, that was because many of the so-called "superstars" performed back then.

    This time round, there were flashes of true brilliance only from the likes of Zambia and Mali, who were actually eliminated in the 1st round, whilst the only truly consistent side in its attacking flair was of course the Egyptians. They thoroughly deserved their 3rd successive trophy and to be in the world's top 10 amongst the world's powerhouses is the icing on the cake.

    Apart from that, all the big guns were very methodical to say the least and by that I mean truly boring. Cameroon and the Ivory Coast never really turned up, making into the quarter luckily while Nigeria scarped their way through to a third place finish.

    As for Ghana, yes they deserve a lot of credit but if you look closely they did not really serve up the quality that these youngsters are supposed to have. They stifled every match they played in, including the final and although they looked the more likely it was all from set pieces. In the end they got what they deserved which was to be punished by the only side that played football while working hard for each other at the same.

    So with all such teams' under performing you have your answer to why this might have been a below par tournament by previous standards.

    Still fantastic to watch though, enjoyed every second of it

  • Comment number 13.

    One disappointing aspect of this tournament that we'd not wish to see repeated at the World Cup is the refereeing horrors. Now we'll never know how good Cote d'Ivoire and Cameroon are thanks to the blunders to disallow Kolo Toure's equaliser and to allow Hassan's freekick against the Indomitable Lions.

    For one, those refs shouldn't officiate at South Africa.

  • Comment number 14.

    The tournament as a whole for me was not spectacular but congrats to d Egyptians once again for a well deserved 7th victory. Pity they wont be coming to SA but must take consolation having played their own 'world cup' there last year. The Egpytians have shown us again that what is needed to win a competition is a team not stars! They may continue to dominate the continent for a long time to come unless African players in Europe chose to 'die' a little for their countries. Like somebody said, if they put on d kind of performance as they did in Angola in their teams, they will have no business being there in the first place. Drogba, Eto, Martins and Yakubu were particularly disappointing. However, I expect the African teams going to the world cup who performed below par in Angola to go the extra mile and make an appeciable impact at the world cup. WRITE THEM OFF AT YOUR OWN PERIL! B4 I forget, I wish to add my voice on the issue of Togo's ban. It's unjust & MUST BE REVERSED PLSSSSSSS CAF FOR HUMANITY SAKE!!!!!!

  • Comment number 15.

    Thank you Piers,

    Grateful that you are exposing the ugly scenes regarding the CAF and Togo. As you will have seen this has aroused real concern among the public, with 4 times as many people leaving messages on your blog (discussing the ban). I have written something concerning the events which have shocked, worried and somewhat inspired me to do something. It can be found at [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator] under the title, 'The Enemy is us.. Togo and the Price of Terror.' More importantly I want to know if you can suggest any action, or if you know of any emerging campaign that will fight the ban, as I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling aggrieved enough to make some form of protest.

    Many thanks,

    Luke Doran [Personal details removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 16.

    Well for me Angola 2010 was not successful at all, the standard is still average, we have seen maybe two-three good games, and for that African football still have a long way to go. The pitch, the referees and the weather did not help either. Yes Angola built nice looking stadiums with terrible pitch along with a desorganised time table for teams to access these stadiums to train how disappointing is that! Each time I look forward to this tournament I get a disappointment maybe I should lower my standards to enjoy it in the future and stop comparing it to other big tournaments such as the world cup! Hopefully the african teams going to South Africa will be able to show their better side and display greater football skills just like they do in their teams. As for Egypt not beacuse you have won this cup you deserve to be in the world cup it is completely a different matter so dont get carried away......

  • Comment number 17.

    A simple answer as to why Egypt are unsuccessful at qualifying for the world cup yet they continue to impress at the Nations cups, is that Egypt's strength is in their teamwork and familiarity with each other. The obvious reasons for their success which you all eluded to is the fact that the majority if the team play together regularly at Cairo's biggest clubs, but why do they consistenly fail to qualify for the WC?
    I believe it is because of the large time gaps between qulaifier matches. When the Egyptian national team plays together consistently in a relatively small period of time they are unstoppable, but when they have to wait 4 or 6 months until the next competitive match, that is when they look average at best. When there are major player changes due to injury, suspension or whatever the reasons may be, that cohesion and familiarity is lost and Egypt have a very difficult time preparing the team before a one-off match (which many of the qualifiers tend to be because of the time gaps in between).
    Some will argue that they struggle at away matches, but I believe that is not true - they where able to go play the nations cup in Burkina Faso, Ghana/Nigeria, and Angola (all sub-saharah nations) and come back with the trophies. Another example to support this is the main reason as to why they did not qualify to the WC, when they tied at home to Zambia in the very first qualifier game (hence strengthening the argument that they do not play well after a long break as there were no competitive matches prior to the Zambia draw). It is acceptable and almost expected for Egypt to drop points or even lose a match away (especially against Algeria) but dropping points at home is unnacceptable in qualifiers if you want to be a serious contender to go to the WC.
    So basically for this current egyptian "golden generation" team to play well and win, they have to be in a tournament setting with back-to-back matches(like the Nations Cup or Confederations Cup or even World Cup), but alas, it is too late for that aging team which is unfortunate because I truly believe if they had made it to the WC they would outshine all the other African teams there.

  • Comment number 18.

    Alright Mr Piers, is there no other disaster happening in Africa? We have had the Egypt victory story for a while. Since you specialize on what is wrong with Africa, I think it is about time you gave us a new African disaster blog...


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