The Return of the Super Eagles
Recall that on the eve of the final match of Afcon 2013 I was looking at my crystal ball.
I saw an eagle hovering high up in the sky in majestic splendor, its eyes riveted on a target below – a gold crown.
Suddenly, the eagle dived down, its wings spread out, its two feet hanging menacingly. With powerful claws, in one seamless movement, it lifted the crown and soared back into the sky.
In that same moment, the pounding hooves of a galloping stallion punctuated the scene, its breath a laboured panting, its nostrils flailing, spewing smoke and fire and dripping spittle.
It screeched to a halt, looking helplessly and hopelessly into the sky at the retreating eagle, the prize between its feet.
My crystal ball went blank and then black for the last time. The drama that gripped the whole world is over. The eagle has won!
The sound of trumpets pierced the night in concert with the sounds of the vuvuzela. South Africans are celebrating the success of a great feast of football that set records in attendance and profit beyond expectations.
In titanic battles, the eagles tamed the lions from Ethiopia, dodged the copper bullets of the warriors from Zambia, overpowered the lumbering elephants from Ivory Coast, gave hunting tutorials to the smaller eagles from Mali and then finally outran and outsmarted the stallions from Burkina Faso.
It has been a great fight but the king of birds used its strength, speed and agility to dominate all opposition, rise again and sit on the throne at the summit of African football.
It is a deserved and well-earned victory and even the angels have joined the rest of the world to mark the return of the Super Eagles in the melodic chorus: ‘Fly Eagles Fly’.
Keshi’s experiment worked
The triumph of the Super Eagles was earned. Looking back they were easily the strongest team. They improved from match to match even though they started shakily, which was largely because of the bad pitch they had to play on and the lack of faith openly demonstrated by their own officials and people.
A champion team is one that still manages to win, even when it sometimes plays badly. Keshi knew this and stuck to his strategy to win first and complain later.
Stephen Keshi’s experiment was to build a new team of younger players, of several players from the domestic league and of only professional players from abroad who are playing regularly in their foreign clubs. He shunned old players who were only going to be a source of indiscipline and unnecessary distraction for the team. It succeeded.
Keshi returned the team to the good old days of a calm and efficient goalkeeper; of wingers who are really athletes, running at defenders and tearing up defenses with speed, power and precision shooting; a midfield of tireless runners organised by a maestro (Mikel Obi) and an impregnable defense of big, strong, efficient and hard-tackling players. The Westerhof football philosophy was written all over Keshi’s assembly. He has learned well.
Best team in Africa
After Afcon 2013, the Super Eagles have returned as Africa’s undisputed African football kings. The team will reign for some years to come. Throughout the championship they were never under any threat of a defeat. They did not lose any match. They were not dominated by any team. They were so vastly superior that they outran, outsmarted and overpowered every opposition.
The coach of the championship is undoubtedly Stephen Keshi.
Several teams really impressed. They include Cape Verde Islands, that proved that the size of a country has little to do with the quality of their football; Burkina Faso, that showed that a team of committed and hard-working fighters can go places; Ethiopia, that showed that the Tiki Taka style of Spanish (Barcelona) football is not only a delight to the eyes but is found also in Africa and Mali, that showed what impact one great player in a team can have.
Poor officiating raised serious questions about the integrity, competency and ability of African referees. Many matches were marred by decisions that could be interpreted as incompetency, bias or even corruption.
The television coverage of the matches, the technical analysis on SuperSport and the racy commentaries were a great credit to the development of television broadcasting in Africa.
Overall, Afcon 2013 has been a great advertisement for African football.