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Highs and Lows of 2019 AFCON in Egypt

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NEWS COMMENTARY ON THE JUST ENDED AFRICA CUP OF NATIONS, AFCON IN EGYPT.

The 2019 Africa Cup of Nation, AFCON ended July 19with Algeria ending a 29-year title drought by beating Senegal 1-0 in a closely matched final at the Cairo International Stadium. Algeria’s fortuitous only goal arrived after just 79 seconds as Baghdad Bounedjah created a piece of history with the quickest final goal in the annals of the competition. The 27-year old cut inside from the left flank and saw a powerful strike loop off the lunging Senegalese defender Salif Sane, before dropping over static goalkeeper Alfred Gomis into the top-right corner. It becomes the second AFCON victory for Algeria which last won it in 1990 on home soil.

The Desert Foxes went the entire competition without losing a game and beating Senegal twice enroute. This title win means everything to an average Algerian. It means a fresh surge of optimism for a country that has been in throes following citizens’ revolution this year. Algerians have been protesting in the streets since February, refusing to vote for a new President until members of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s cabinet step down. This AFCON victory may not force the government officials to step down. But what it can do is provide something like solidarity, knowing that the players that won the title were representing and fighting for them.

Indeed, if there’s any avenue that shows the connection between sports, politics and identity, it is international football. For Senegal, the long wait for a first continental crown goes on as Coach Aliou Cisse, the captain of the 2002 runners-up; again fell short in the final. It was also the first title decider to feature two African coaches since 1998. Debutants Mauritania, Burundi and Madagascar pushed the so-called big boys hard and registered some good results. Kenya and Tanzania made a return after 15 and 39 years. Host nation Egypt was a major casualty; the Pharoahs crashed out after losing to South Africa in the Round of 16. The fall-out from that debacle has been massive. President of the Egyptian FA, Hany Abou Rida, sacked the entire technical team after their shock elimination and resigned as well. Head coach Javier Aguirre came in for the hardest criticism for his management of the side with Egypt legend Wael Gomaa accusing the Mexican of having “no tactics or strategy”.

For Ghana, it’s been one controversy to another. Several claims of player indiscipline, disunity among players and technical crew have all come up. Up till now, no official has claimed responsibility or offered any official apology over such a disgraceful output. Interestingly, Coach James Kwasi Appiah whose contract was supposed to have ended at the end of this month has mysteriously changed to the end of the year. Again, the tax payer whose millions of dollars have been expended on Ghana’s AFCON participation is still not told how much money has gone into the competition. The only positive thing a Ghanaian did at the tournament perhaps, is the performance of musical artiste Fuse ODG who was a headline act for the closing ceremony. The ceremony that lasted for almost 15 minutes was highlighted by amazing fireworks that lit the skies of Cairo with almost 60,000 spectators in the stands. The AFCON tournament has been followed passionately all over the continent.

In Ghana, fans gathered round to listen to the captivating commentaries on Radio Ghana, others watched it live on GTV, GTV Sports+ and Obonu TV in bars or at home to see the drama unfold. Yet, apart from the games involving host nation Egypt, the matches have been played in near-empty stadiums. Aside the high rates, the situation was compounded by an attempt to imitate the ticketing system used by FIFA at the World Cup in Russia last year, with individual fan IDs and tickets issued after online registration.

This was the first AFCON to feature a 24-team and also the first to be held in June/July. The Confederation of Africa Football, CAF decided two years ago to move it from January/February as it conflicted with the European club calendar. The tournament has impressed most football fans after an amazing organisation from Egypt even though they had few months to prepare. They have been praised for their excellent pitches and facilities in general. The next hosts Cameroon has its work clearly cut out for them in 2021. Until then we say congratulations to Algeria and ‘ayeeko’ to all other teams that took part in the competition.

BY EMMANUEL ADU-GYAMFI, A SPORTS JOURNALIST.

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