The 33rd edition of Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) competition takes place in about three weeks in Cameroon and not much is being heard about the biggest football extravaganza on the continent. We are in an era in which many fans stay glued to European leagues and competitions while paying scant attention to domestic and continental events. We believe talking points for the forthcoming event are still there and one wonders why Africans are not proud of their own products. We make bold to say Muhammed Salah of Liverpool and Egypt should be among the top five players in world football on current form. Salah alone is a huge talking point for Cameroon 2021.
Incidentally, Salah is up against the Super Eagles in Nigeria’s very first match of the competition on January 11. There are other top players like Sadio Mane, Wilfred Ndidi, Thomas Partey, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Riyad Mahrez, Paul Onuachu and Samuel Chukwueze who single handedly can make the tournament tick on any given day. Sad, however, that in the run-in weeks, it is as if nothing is happening and perhaps that is why Liverpool boss, Jurgen Klopp, had the effrontery to label AFCON a ‘small tournament’. No doubt, AFCON is massive by all standards because there are not only players who are major actors in their respective clubs in Europe taking part, but also the best legs on the continent will also be there. We expect Africans to rise up, celebrate and appreciate what we have.
Many of our super stars on the continent are better than those being over celebrated by European fans and their press. Football has been globally accepted in most parts of the world as a big weapon of unity, entertainment and lately, business. It cuts across various aspects like marketing, television rights, fans base, merchandise, facilities and also spectatorship.
This informs why the FIFA World Cup attracts the best sponsors from notable international brands and the prestige is still growing more than 100 years after it was first played. For example, the Qatar 2022 World Cup is taking place November/ December next year but Mundial fever is all over the continents about qualification, expectations and much more. One can go on and on about the players who thrill fans every four years to make the Copa Mundial what it is today.
Various continental football events also take the similar mode with fans discussing various talking points and the huge expectations ahead of the competition. We are aware Africa is not an exception because of the massive impact of football on the continent. It is like a religion as fans pick their favourite teams, star players and banter at will to boost their egos about the prowess of these teams or stars.
In the past, the African Cup of Nations was on the same pedestal as the FIFA World Cup on the continent. When the competition started with the creation of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) in 1957, many African countries were still battling to gain their independence. Egypt went on to win the first edition in Sudan; the North Africans again hosted and won the 1959 edition. Before many joined the AFCON fray, Egypt had stamped its authority on the tournament and it is no surprise that the Pharaohs are the most successful country in the competition.
The awareness grew with more countries taking part as the years rolled by. Ethiopia won the title in 1962 just as some others like Sudan, Congo and Zambia also have one title to their names. Egypt have the most wins with seven titles, Cameroon has won five times, Ghana four trophies while Nigeria has been crowned champions three times. It must be noted that 16 countries on the continent gained independence in 1960 to increase the number of participating countries and this saw newly-independent Ghana winning the title in 1963 and1965 with inspiration from their soccer loving President, Kwame Nkrumah. Perhaps, the rich history of the competition is what makes it tick, especially for young footballers who grew up striving to make a huge impact in order to be part of history and also to sell themselves to the world. Ghana’s Osei Kofi and Laurent Pokou of Cote d’Ivoire were the star players of the 60s.
They emerged top scorers for the 1968 and 1970 editions. Pokou will always be remembered for scoring five goals in a single match against Ethiopia in the 1970 AFCON. The 80s and 90s also produced its share of standout players. Egypt’s Hassan Shehata was a star player for his country and he later added more feathers to his AFCON glory by leading the Pharaohs to win the title three times. Other stars at the time include Rabah Madjer, Segun Odegbami, Lakdar Belloumi, Stephen Keshi, Theophile Abega, Roger Milla, Thomas Nkono, Rashidi Yekini, Abedi Pele, Kalusha Bwalya, Jean Bocande and George Weah. Notable recent legends of the competition are Samuel Eto’o, Mohammed Aboutrika, Ordatey Lamptey, Austin Okocha, Patrick Mboma, Didier Drogba and Hosam Hassan and of course there were many more. The fans of football talk about the Africa Cup of Nations based on the pedigree of their respective countries and their favourite stars that have made an impact or who on current form can make the tournament tick. We have observed that many African football fans, because of their love for European teams, also help to boost the profile of the UEFA Champions League and European Championship, rather than the continent’s apex event, the AFCON. The fans and the star players can make the continental showpiece event regain its lost glory by placing priority on the competition at all times which will go a long way in enhancing nationalist feelings amongst the continent’s millions of football fans.