The first eight - sights and sounds
Okay the 1st Round of Afcon 2012 has come and gone and I must say that both ordinary spectator and avid football fan have not been disappointed. The opening ceremony was tactfully planned and superbly executed. The Light and Fireworks show was something to behold and one must admit it has been nothing but high drama and the epitome of showmanship so far. The bottle of Chanel No 5 bought to allow me watch a certain Channel No 4 uninhibited for two weeks is proving to be a very wise investment.
Anyway here are my random observations - on and off the field.
Game 1 was exciting even without the 1 Million $ incentive to win the game put down by the Minister of Agriculture and Presidents son Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue . All the Lightning needed to do was beat Africa’s newest darlings called Libya. In the end they did, though it took them almost the entire game to do so. Granted they did score early but the Ref - whom I suspect has to be a relative to one of the three blind mice from the poem - ignored that goal. It would be of no consequnce as 'Le Minister' would pay an extra $ 20,000 to both scorers (Javier Balboa approved and Ivan Bolado.
unapproved ) and an entire nation would celebrate late into the night and anticipate better things to come.
In Game Two I separated myself from the rest of the so called experts and pundits by predicting the Zambia win. I had thoroughly scouted them for SuperSport when they played Nigeria in Kaduna and even though they lost 2-0, I saw that this team had bite. Senegal came in playing disjointed and believing all that crap about how nobody in Africa would be able to stop their duo from Newcastle upfront. Well the Zambians don’t speak French and refused to buy any English translations of that nonsense. Rather buoyed by the gargantuan performance of their Captain and the cool calm collectivity of their Coach promptly dismantled the Senegalese experiment and sent them packing. I for one will never forget his French laced "2 menueets more 2 meneets more" tirade from the bench as he begged his lads to hold on.
In Game Three I must admit I could not get past the simply bland Adidas kits to really enjoy the game. Let’s be honest Puma has put more imagination and flair into one solitary sock of say Burkina Faso than Adidas has put into any of her Afcon designs head to toe. Granted while the new Adidas ball does look sexy and seemingly does not wobble like the Jubulani, that’s all these German should be proud of. The other Germans have simply stolen the show. As did Angola. Too much fire power from the Negras and the inability to close space by the West Africans would spell doom for them. Despite looking like a million Pounds and James Bond, the Stallions played a like a million Rupees and Amitabh Basha - no disrespect intended. It was to be expected and I did.
Doom would also arrive for the Sudanese Crocodiles against the much fancied Elephants in Game 4. It came in form of one solitary lapse of concentration allowing Drogba to strike. Thank God for the Ivory Coast who certainly did not look like Africa’s top ranked team and stroked the ball often with no sense of purpose. One seriously has to wonder what would have happened if the Sudanese had replaced individual excursions with basic team play. Frankly speaking I don’t know what made me madder. Their lack of play or Adebayor’s choice of pastel coloured lipstick in his Power Horse commercial.
Game 5 was a tactical chess match with both coaches consulting manuals even from the bench. Nerve racking from A to Z it was a tit for tat affair between countries that know each other very well. It was also played very well and could have gone either way. I stumble for the first time by picking Morocco and lose the points I gained with the Copper Bullets.
And then there was Game 6 and Gabon’s unofficial coming out party. While the atmosphere in the stands a combination of Carnival and Independence day celebration rolled into one, an incentive to win here was a hug from the stunning Presidents wife Sylvia Bongo herself. That seemed to do the trick for them as it would have for me because they played arguably the best game of the tournament with the 36 year old Aubameyang punishing the Niger defenders all day long. Make no mistake Gabon with that performance has many experts revisiting their predictions in that Group.
Game 7 though attractive on paper proved to be another trench war in slow motion. If you could get past the way the Malians looked – more like Canaries than Eagles – you would have again witnessed a game that could have swung either way. At the end of the day the Malians had too many big guns and when they went ahead, Guinea never had enough to bring them back. They were always too short, too slow or too late.
Unlike it Game 8 had it all; both physicality, speed and tactics. In one corner there was Botswana Africa’s team of the Year, and another team I had scouted in Benin when they played the Super Eagles. In the other corner there was Ghana – no more explanations necessary. In as much as neither team had ever met there was no shortage of opinions as to who would win and boy did we hear them. Even the Voice, the now not so famous Juju man from Botswana had his say. In any case on the field it was what we expected as both teams gave no quarter. Even the new ball was damaged during the constant assault- that is how intense the game was. But eventually it came down to both a monster save of the back line by Ghana as well as a Red card earning rugby tackle by Captain Mensah to see Ghana squeak by the Zebras and me lose another point - but not my confidence in Botswana. Mark my word this herd can play.
All good stuff if you ask me and amazingly we have not even gotten to game two of group play yet let alone the knock out stage. You known the part when teams readjust, change tactics, show their true colours and it becomes do or die? Hmmmmmmm, I wonder how much a matching bottle of Chanel body lotion will set me back ? Not that it matters....because with games like this it certainly will be worth it.