Africa’s football tournament lets smaller teams shine - Monocolumn | Monocle


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6 February 2012

You heard it here first. The next big name in African football will be Bruno-Zita Mbanangoye. The Gabonese number 13′s spectacular free kick in Tuesday’s match against Morocco saw the Panthers through to the last eight.

This year’s African Cup of Nations has been a dream come true for the European agents who stalk the competition for new talent. The big teams – Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa – didn’t qualify. So the field has been left open for the likes of Gabon and Equatorial Guinea who have the home advantage of being co-hosts, but minnows like Sudan and Zambia have also been in the spotlight.

They say that to coach the Nigerian Super Eagles is the most difficult job in the world. This is because every Nigerian fancies him or herself as coach. And there are over 150 million of them.

In my Lagos hotel, I sat down in front the television with one. Barman Chidi Emmanuel reckons this has been one of the most exciting AFCONs ever. He told me, “Most of the smaller countries have really shown great improvement unlike the big teams. Most of those players ply their trade in Europe. They seem to put their clubs abroad before their own country.”

Ivory Coast star Didier Drogba is one of the players who seems to lose his form as soon as he is out of his blue Chelsea jersey. It was the same in the 2010 World Cup. But at least at this tournament he has scored – on a header against Sudan.

So far it has been an African Cup of Nations unlike any in recent memory. Great play from small teams full of passion. And one other thing that is new to African football: referees making the right decisions.

Now, with a week to go until the final, let’s hope teams, referees and fans can keep their nerve.


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