By Gbemidepo Popoola
It has been a blockbuster in motion, with the complete package, stunners, plenty of drama, comebacks, VAR interventions as usual, and a huge amount of late goals, with 13 goals scored in the 90+ minutes of the group stage games; the most, at any minute in the group stage.
NO GREE FOR ANYBODY SPIRIT
Topping it all, most definitely is the “No Gree For Anybody Spirit”, a phrase which loosely translates as “Never Giving In, No Matter Who The Opposition Is”, popularized in the most populous African Nation, and the giants of African football Nigeria.
The phrase was in full flow at different times in the group stages as lesser-known nations with lesser football heritage and player quality such as Mauritania, Cape Verde, and Namibia have gone through to the next round.
In return, sending some big boys such as Ghana, Tunisia, Algeria, and the like home. And, the just about scraping through of some superpowers like 7-time champions Egypt, and host nation Côte D’Ivoire.
COACHES TAKING THE BRUNT
One of the major highlights of the round is also the alarming rate at which the Gaffers have been sent packing or even electing to leave of their own accord.
Coaches are meant to be hired and fired, and more or less in competitions of such a magnitude like the ongoing AFCON innit? But this time, it is been nothing short of shocking and very unprecedented.
In 24 countries that kickstarted the AFCON, 25% are gone. This means, that one-quarter of the coaches have walked; either fired, resigned, or being fired before the 3rd round of games had been concluded in all groups.
That should give you an idea about what I’m talking about!
A major example is the coach of the host nation who was fired, even though his team still had a chance to qualify for the second round (which they actually did, in the end with a helping hand from Morocco).
This means the team will prosecute their round of 16 games with an interim coach, against the current holders Senegal. A baptism of fire for the interim manager.
With a total of 89 goals scored in 36 games (11 penalties awarded, 3 own goals included). There were lots of goals in the group stages, proving that the attacking prowess of our teams are more and more potent.
Many unstoppable goals, and many stunners, while some of the goals were just downright careless mistakes from defensive lineups.
THE RISING OF NEW GIANTS
The giants of Algeria and 2019 Champions have gone, as have 4 times Champions, the Black Stars of Ghana, no doubt, it’s been a battle beyond who’s Jollof Rice is the best at this year’s Afcon.
Not forgetting the once ferocious Carthage Eagles of Tunisia, but on recent showing are rather facing perilous times, nor ignore the fall of Chipolopolo of Zambia, the unexpected 2012 Champuoms of the AFCON, and one-time golden boys of African football.
The group stage has rather seen an emergence of “new powers”, who would rather stop at nothing to add ‘super’ to that word.
Mauling giants in back-to-back AFCONs and delivering some breathtaking football along the way brings keen attention and focus to any team, and that exactly is what Equatorial Guinea is doing at the moment!
They were quarter-finalists last time out, only losing out to the brilliance of the eventual champions Senegal, and they seem to be at it again.
After holding 3x winners Nigeria in the first game, mauled Guinea Bissau 4-2 in the second, and then massacred the hosts Cote d’Ivoire 4-0, they’ve put the continent at alert again!
Whatever comes next, they do deserve their flowers, in all shapes and sizes.
Not forgetting the seemingly ageless Emilio Nsue, somehow leading the charge with 5 goals already, also the top goalscorer of the tournament, by 2 goals Baghdad Bounejah of the ousted Algeria in second with 3 goals.
The Cape Verde Island of less than 500,000 people, finishing top of their group and unbeaten as well would sound like a miracle, in a group that had 7-time champions Egypt, and 4-time champions Ghana.
But, it wasn’t. It was rather pure footballing class and doggedness when it mattered that came through, just like Iceland at the Euros in 2016, but they’d be hoping to go a step further.
With a player Sir. Alex Ferguson of Manchester United once confessing, was the only player he bought without watching. “Bebe”, leading the charge from the front.
If Equatorial Guinea has Nsue, Cape Verde has Bebe and this duo are sacrificing blood and sweat to put their names in the sands of the Afcon time.
Mauritania also qualified for the round of 16 for the first time. Against Algeria, they also obtained their first-ever TotalEnergies CAF AFCON win 8 matches.
THE BEST AFCON EVER?
Akwaba is arguably the best AFCON so far. Football has been the winner, with no controversy, no skirmishes, and no bad energy so far.
It’s been some really good, pulsating, end-to-end action football, and definitely an excellent advertisement for the game on a continent that has been so often overlooked, and undervalued over the years.