Crucial lessons from Afcon 2012
It has never been easy to host the biennial African Nations Cup tournament but in a continent where infrastructural development has been neglected since colonial times, the tournament affords many African countries an opportunity to refurbish, spruce up and reconstruct their countries.
It is much the same way that we scrape our walls, wash the curtains and give our homes a spring cleaning prior to the festive season.
The airport here in Franceville used to be a run-down structure that resembled an old warehouse that threatened to collapse anytime. The tournament has afforded the government the opportunity to build a new structure alongside the old one. Mind you, an airport is the face of any country. It is the first impression that visitors get about your country and constructing a new structure will go a long way in improving the image of the country.
The roads have been given a facelift and you hardly find the kind of potholes that have become a hazard to the health and lives of ordinary South Africans back in Mzansi.
Anyway, I have been both encouraged and discouraged by the 28th edition of the African Nations Cup. I hope the executive members of the South African Football Association who are here to observe, are casting their eyes in every corner and taking with them the good while casting away the bad, because it is their turn next year.
One of the negatives about this tournament has been the shockingly poor attendances at venues when the host nations have not been in action. I have tried to find out the reason why people did not attend and the responses left me even more confused.
I guess the language barrier also had something to do with it when I tried to put my message across to a French-speaking audience that did not understand the Queen's language while I also had no clue what they were saying in French. I have discovered here in Gabon that the major reason why people are not attending in greater numbers has been the steep entry fee by local standards. The cheapest ticket cost about €8, which is the equivalent of about R80 to R100, depending on the exchange rate on the day.
In South Africa we experienced the same problem when we hosted the 1996 edition and the empty stadiums in Port Elizabeth, East London and Durban were embarrassing to say the least.
At the time, I thought South Africa had tried to spread the tournament far too much in an attempt to please everybody. While the World Cup is contested by 32 teams, you certainly need more venues and it makes sense to spread the tournament across the country but the Cup of Nations is contested by only 16 countries and South Africa will do well to limit the venues to at least six if they do not want to experience the same embarrassing situation of empty stadiums. I am aware that city councils in South Africa are in a bidding war to host the tournament but, realistically, I think four venues will suffice.
At the risk of getting municipalities hurling abuse at me, I think it will be practical to host the games at Durban, Cape Town, Free State and Johannesburg. What will be the point of boasting about the 10 World Cup venues, but during the tournament, watch in embarrassment as few people would bother to attend Mali versus Equatorial Guinea for instance.
How many people can raise their hands and honestly admit that they will not mind traveling to Rustenburg, Peter Mokaba or Mbombela to watch Niger against Morocco? Anyway, I leave those logistical nightmares to the proposed Local Organising Committee.
The 28th edition of the Afcon here in Gabon has reached the quarterfinal stage. Among the teams in the last eight is Sudan. I hope my countrymen are watching how a team composed of local-based players has reached this stage of the competition. The reason is because Sudan do not shun the African Champions League like South Africa, where our teams feel that taking part in the competition is beneath them; like we are doing the rest of the continent a favour by participating.
The team of Sudan is made up of players from the country's two top teams – Al Merreick and Al Hilal. The two are always contenders in the African Champions League and Confederation Cup. In addition, they never shunned the African Nations Cup of Champions or CHAN. They allowed their coach to select the best players and this helped them gain invaluable experience, which they are now putting to good use. They did not withhold their best players and instead send "Machancer-Machancer". No Sir. That is a lesson to be learned.
Botswana was making their debut. Agreed, they received a pasting from Guinea, but that goes with the territory and coach Stan Tshosane was the first to apologise to the nation and admit that they were given a thrashing. Hopefully they took something positive out of their participation and will go back to Gaborone and correct their mistakes and come back better a lot more organised and prepared in South Africa.
Guinea have also crashed out but their coach is rebuilding and has brought countless youngsters that gave their opponents a hell of a run-around. They will be much more prepared in South Africa if they qualify. They out-played Mali and held Ghana to a 1-1 draw after thrashing Botswana, but sadly the loss against Mali was to cost them dearly.
I sincerely hope that my compadres back home are watching this tournament and not just enjoying it while tossing popcorn into the mouth with their arms resting on the shoulders of their girlfriends. Nothing wrong in that of course but I hope they are watching, observing and learning. We have adopted a new playing system called the 4-5-1 system and, while some people are totally against it, I think it can be quite effective.
I have no doubt that if my compatriots have been watching and have realised the importance of carrying the ball to Mphela in the quickest possible time, they will also give a lot of teams problems. Botswana employ a similar system, with Jerome Ramatlhakwana the lone man upfront, and they will be waiting for us in Gaborone in June for the 2014 Fifa World Cup qualifier.
Let's hope by then we have perfected our system, otherwise the Gaborone Stadium is going to be too small for our players.