Africa: Five Key Takeaways from AFCON2017 – All Africa
By Nick Said
( All Africa)- The 2017 African Nations Cup finals are a thing of the past, and Cameroon were crowned worthy winners with their final victory over Egypt on Sunday.
Writing for AllAfrica, Nick Said picks out five lessons we learned from the tournament in Gabon.
1. Teamwork and work ethic is everything
Were Cameroon the best squad at the African Nations Cup? Not by a long shot. In fact, it was essentially a ‘B’ ensemble put together by coach Hugo Broos after eight of his top names decided to stay with their European clubs during the tournament. Many of the team had little or no experience of the Nations Cup finals, or indeed international football.
But they had one thing that many other of the pre-tournament favourites did not – a great work ethic and a real sense of togetherness.
Ghana fought among themselves, Algeria looked like 11 strangers on the pitch and Senegal too looked disjointed at times.
But Cameroon looked up for the battle together, worked exceptionally hard and put their bodies on the line. Makes you wonder whether they would have been so successful had they brought their “egos” from Europe…
2. Poor finishing rather than great defending cost the big guns
All three were gifted massive chances in their knockout games, Senegal in the quarterfinals against Cameroon, and Burkina Faso and Ghana in the semis, but were wasteful in front of goal.
Some of it could perhaps be blamed on the pitch, but in a lot of the cases it was just rank bad play; too wild in the execution and not enough care taken.
This Nations Cup was not won by stout defending, it was because Cameroon’s opponents failed to take their numerous chances and the Indomitable Lions grabbed theirs.
3. Facilities make or break a tournament
The pitches at all four venues in Gabon were below international standard, which at times contributed to some very poor quality play that did not create a great advert for the African game.
Granted, when the rain falls in Gabon it comes down hard, but from day one there were issues with bumpy surfaces that were not conducive to flowing football.
Football is so watchable in the big leagues of Europe not only because that is where the great players are, but also because the surfaces allow them to play.
You could have taken Real Madrid and Bayern Munich to Port Gentil in Gabon and on that pitch I would wager it would be a low quality game.
If CAF want to present African football as a quality, watchable product they have to be stricter on host nations with regards the pitches. Give the players the right surfaces to play on and they will shine!
4. Egypt are a force again
Egypt might not have won the Cup, but a first finals appearance in seven years and a run to the deciding match show they are beginning to re-emerge as a force on the continent.
The political turmoil that came out of the Arab Spring wrought havoc with the country’s football, but green shoots are emerging to suggest that a new era is on the way.
What they need to do now is book a first appearance at the World Cup since 1990. Having started with two wins in a qualification pool that also includes Ghana, Uganda and Congo-Brazzaville, they are well on their way to doing that.
5. Getting fans into stadiums remains the Nations Cup’s biggest challenge
The sight of so many empty seats in key matches in Gabon did not paint a pretty picture of African football.
Getting bums on seats is always a challenge as fans generally do not travel in large numbers to watch games on the continent. Travel is expensive and at times difficult, meaning that at a tournament like the Nations Cup you are relying on the home nation and a smattering of visiting fans.
Gabon’s early exit was a blow, but before that there was minimal interest for even the home’s team’s games. Some innovative thinking is needed before the next tournament in Cameroon in 2019.