With the conclusion of the group phase of the 34th edition of the African Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast, here are a few noticeable facts.
* THE HOSTS
Ivory Coast has just shown the world for the past two weeks that Africa is far from what’s being painted out there. Their people have been very hospitable and accommodating. Even in their most agonizing moments, when some of their fans were being teased and goaded during a loss to Nigeria, they remained calm respected their guests.
The government and organizers have pulled the stops to ensure the event is going on hitch free.
The infrastructures have been profound too, with many who visited, hailing the beautiful stadia and the impressive road networks connecting the various venues.
Tourists are having a swell time and so are fans from all over the continent and the world at large.
These are some of the opportunities hosting of such events bring to nations… development.
Kudos to the friendly people of Ivory Coast.
* TOP CLASS OFFICIATING
Gone are the days when African referees are looked down upon because of their activities on the pitch.
If there’s anything to be proud about, it’s the fact that, almost all the referees handling the various matches have been able to cover themselves in glory.
Their calls have been spot on and near perfect, thereby leaving the various teams and their fans with little or nothing to worry about in the end.
The officials in the VAR room have been able to guide their colleagues on the pitch to make the right calls where and when needed.
It’s been so profound that there are calls from certain quarters that CAF should be consulted by their European counterparts, especially, those in England, for African referees to lecture their colleagues in Europe on game handling and management.
On the strength of this, we shouldn’t be surprised to see increased number of referees from the continent at the 2026 FIFA World Cup in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
* THE BANTER HAS BEEN FUN
It’s been said that, anywhere Nigerians find themselves, there’s no dull moment.
This Afcon has further enhanced that popular notion.
With each game, especially where Nigerian fiercest rivals, Ghana, have faltered, the banter over their neighbours have been nothing short of fun and exciting. They’ve never failed to rub salt to injury as the Black Stars fell at the group stage again for the second successive tournament.
The mockery sort of added some more spice to the tournament as it seems, almost every Nigerian football fan wanted nothing more than to see their neighbours fail woefully.
Ghanaians had no answer this time as The Super Eagles had the bragging rights by qualifying to the round of 16.
Nigerians are truly…the life of the party.
* THE BEAUTY OF AFRICA
On match days, if there’s anything other than the football to look forward to, then it’s the array of the beautiful women who troop out in numbers to support their teams.
Wearing their country’s jerseys, these women certainly add colour and radiance to the colourful scenery in the various stadia across The Ivory Coast.
Check the Internet after each match day and you’ll be wowed by the sort of beauty the African continent has to offer as these women celebrate their teams in their own special ways.
Based on my personal ranking, Cape Verde might be leading the rest of Africa in this regard. Hot on their heels should be Equatorial Guinea, whose women are a wonderful sight to behold. Many nigerians in particular, upon sighting the pretty damsels from Equatorial Guinea, had to forgive their long lost uncles, brothers and relatives who traveled to the famous ‘Panya’ in the 70s and 80s to hustle but returned empty handed. There are those whose families were said to have contributed huge sums to go rescue their relatives from the tiny West African nation, probably, from the clutches of these beauties.
* THE QUALITY OF PLAY
The kind of results this Afcon has thrown up has been shocking to say the least. Bookmakers would be having a hard time with their jobs going forward. The minnows have refused to follow the script this time around, as they’ve been responsible for the slaying of so many African giants. The ones that escaped did so by the skin of their teeth.
Equatorial Guinea laid down the marker in Group A with a resounding 4-0 victory over hosts Ivory Coast in their 3rd group match that left The Elephants gasping for air in their bid to survive. They finished top of the group over another giant in Nigeria, while Ivory Coast still qualified through the back door (the 4th best 3rd placed teams).
In addition, Equatorial Guinea’s skipper, Emilio Nsue, surprisingly leads the scorers chart with 5 goals after the group phase. The 34-year old plays as a right back for Spanish 3rd tier club, CF Intercity.
In Group B, Cape Verde’s Blue Sharks sank their teeth into the big boys in their midst, including an impressive 2-1 win over Ghana that consequently dimmed the lights of the Black Stars.
The Island nation led the way in Group B, with Egypt sneaking through, made possible by a faltering Ghana side that conspired amongst themselves not to have anything to do with the Round of 16, or so it seemed?
Group C had 4-time champions Cameroon battling for their lives on the final day. The wounded and badly bruised Indomitable Lions managed to stutter over the finish line at the death despite being stung twice by the Scorpions of Gambia, but ultimately prevailing 3-2 to finish 2nd behind the defending champions, Senegal.
In Group D, hunting for a 3rd continental title didn’t go according to plan for The Fennec Foxes as Algeria finished in an embarrassing 4th place after Mauritania’s first ever Afcon win (1-0) condemned the 2019 winners to an early exit, while also propelling the minnows into the knockout phase as well. It was nothing short of incredible to say the least, especially, in a group that also contained Angola and Burkina Faso.
Former Champions, Tunisia also succumbed to another less fancied opposition, Namibia as The Brave Warrior’s 1-0 victory clipped the wings of the Carthage Eagles, but left just about enough for them to fly back to Tunis empty handed.
In summary, the 34th edition of Africa’s flagship football event has been nothing short of phenomenal all round.
Going forward, the big guns will definitely be wary of the minnows and the upsets they can cause.
Basically, the slogan from this point onwards reads…Go hard, or Go Home!