Afcon 2013 doesn't show power shift
Everyone says there are no minnows in African football, which is quite true on the evidence of recent Africa Cup of Nations tournaments. However, Afcon 2013 does not indicate a shift in football power, like many would have us believe.
Over a span of several tournaments, that notion may hold true. Favourites have been dumped out by unfancied countries. Twice in a row now, defending champions have been unable to go past the group stages: Egypt, because they could not make Afcon 2012 after winning the previous edition and Zambia because they were kicked out of their group this year.
Not in this Afcon, however.
All 16 coaches of this tournament have made a remark or two about a level playing field – from Stephen Keshi’s insistence that “everyone is a potential winner” to Lucio Antunes’ “demand for respect because Cape Verde are no minnows”.
How true is this?
The evidence – Group A
In group A, Cape Verde’s story has been shouted from the rooftops as being the litmus test for the so-called balance of power. The question is: what kind of ‘big gun’ opposition did they face?
Is it Morocco, the guys who have not reached the second round since 2004? Even on the balance of ranking, Cape Verde were the highest team in their group, so why were they called minnows on current form?
While Angola reached the quarterfinals in 2008 and 2010, they have never gone any further in the tournament.
Is it South Africa, the guys who did a gold-silver-bronze of medals in their first three attempts and have since become quarterfinalists (2002), first round leavers (2004), losers of every game and failed to score a goal (2006) and failed to qualify through proper means since 2008?
I don’t think so. Now, Group B.
The evidence – Group B
Surely you did not expect Niger to go past DR Congo, Ghana and Mali, did you? Ghana and Mali were favourites to go out of the group in a one-two and they did. Case closed.
The evidence – Group C
As for Group C, it can be argued both ways. Zambia have been in the quarterfinals of the tournament since 2008 and culminated it with a win last year. In that sense, they had earned the right to be favorites to go through.
The fact remains that Zambia have never been “heavyweights” of African football, so how does their lack of progress show that Burkina Faso, who took their place, are part of the new order?
Burkina Faso themselves genuinely surprised, after arriving in Mzansi with an embarrassing 17-match winless record at the tournament. Very few would have tipped them ahead of the Chipolopolo and the Super Eagles, or even ahead of Ethiopia.
That’s because the Walyas have, in the past year, shown something the Stallions have not: a penchant for not collapsing at the crucial moment and rising to the occasion. This time the tables turned, with Ethiopia’s immaturity simply boggling. They brought three goalkeepers and two were red carded.
Alain Traore, the man whose three goals – he’s now top this Afcon’s top scorer - made sure that Burkina Faso possessed that edge lost to them for years, has been injured and is out for the rest of the tournament.
I’m certain that Togo will advance ahead of Burkina Faso and, should that occur, Adebayor’s men will have a genuine claim to a fairytale story – with Cape Verde.
The evidence – Group D
Speaking of Togo, their more fancied group mates, Algeria, came with a coach who was expected to turn things around based on his record in the dugout.
In the end, even Vahid Halilhodzic could not score goals for his shy strikers and the second ranked team in Africa deservedly goes home.
Ivory Coast are, again, hotly tipped to win the title. The exit of Tunisia could be said to be shocking, considering how close they were in the last edition and the reputation they came with prior to kick-off.
African football is growing and the playing field is levelling but to say this Afcon has been a microcosm of that fact is flawed. Raw evidence of the gap closing has not presented an open-and-shut case.
A more accurate conclusion, for this tournament, would be that goalkeepers have shattered the stereotype of being poor at this tournament, or that West African football will see its 19-year wait for a trophy come to an end on February 10.
Those have better factual premises to support their conclusions.