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, fanbase, merchandise, facilities and also spectatorship. This informs why the FIFA World Cup attracts the best sponsors from notable international brands and the prestige is present till date.
For example, the Qatar 2022 World Cup comes up towards the end of next year but the 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.
Of course, 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 ego about the prowess of these teams or stars. In the past, the Africa Cup of Nations took the mode of FIFA World Cup on the continent. When the competition started with the creation of CAF in 1957, many African countries were still battling with 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 their authority and it is no surprise that the Pharaohs are the most successful country in the competition. The awareness grew with more countries as the years rolled by. Ethiopia won the title in 1962 just as some other countries like Sudan, Congo, Zambia also managed to win once. Egypt have the most wins with seven titles, Cameroon have won five times, Ghana four trophies while Nigeria have won 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 and 1965 with inspiration from their soccer loving President, Kwame Nkrumah.
Perhaps, the rich history of the competition makes it tick especially for young footballers who grow up striving to make huge impact in the competition 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 however produced great players on the continent. Egypt’s Hassan Shehata was a standout player for his country and he later added more feather to his AFCON glory by leading the Pharaohs to win the title three times as head coach. Other stars at the time included Rabah Madjer, Segun Odegbami, Lakhdar 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. Of course there were many more. Fans of football talk about AFCON based on the pedigree of their respective countries and their favourite stars who have made impact or who on current form could make the tournament tick. It is so absurd that the 33rd edition of the competition is upon us next month in Cameroon and not much is heard about it on the continent.
We are in an era in which many stay glued to European leagues and competitions without attention to domestic and continental events. Talking points for the forthcoming event are still there and one wonders why Africans are not proud of their own products. In world football today, Muhammed Salah of Liverpool and Egypt should be among the best five players. Salah alone is a huge talking point for Cameroon 2021. Who can stop his runs? Incidentally, Salah is up against the Super Eagles in the very first match of the competition. There are other top players like Sadio Mane, Wilfred Ndidi, Thomas Partey, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Riyad Mahrez, Paul Onuachu and Samuel Chukwueze are players expected to make the tournament tick. Sad however that in the run-in weeks, it is as if nothing is forthcoming and that is why Liverpool boss, Jurgen Kloop, had the guts to label AFCON a small tournament. AFCON is massive by all standards because there are players who are major actors in their respective clubs in Europe taking part. Africans must rise up to celebrate and appreciate what we have. Many of our superstars on the continent are better than those being over celebrated by English fans and the press.