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Eight down, eight to go

If you had predicted the teams to be still standing in the top eight at Afcon 2013, which would they be?

Group A would have seen South Africa and Morocco go through, Group B it would be Ghana and Mali, Group C, Nigeria and Zambia, with Nigeria topping the group, while Ivory Coast and Tunisia were the teams to advance in Group D.

The beauty of football has seen favourites like Morocco, Zambia and Tunisia head home early.

Even though my Afcon began late in terms of high quality football, it has really been worth the wait. The second and third rounds of group games were nothing short of exhilarating but I must say the evening of Sunday, 27 January, took the cake.

The permutations of Group A appeared simple before kick-off but the changing fortunes within that 90 minutes were nothing short of thrilling.

Bafana Bafana, as group leaders, looked like they had it in the bag until Morocco scored early on and suddenly things weren’t so black and white. I know South Africa wanted to finish as group winners because that would see them meet the second team in Group B and it would see them remain in Durban, the home of the Zulu – a city full of football crazy supporters. Durban would be ideal for them and it would limit travel to Port Elizabeth where the group runners up would be continuing with the tournament.

Bafana Bafana did not display great football on Sunday but they scored great goals. I guess that’s why Coach Gordon Igesund jumped in glee at the final whistle. He was pleased with the qualification but I highly doubt whether he was pleased with the overall performance. Social media was split in two, with some fans saying the hosts would go all the way and realistic fans saying there was a lot to do before the quarterfinal tie against Mali.

Even though I always believe that a team that qualifies deserves to go through, I feel it was important for the hosts to continue in the tournament in order to retain some spice. Gordon, you’ve got a huge task on your hands if you are to go beyond the quarters.

Cape Verde is a team that deserves the mightiest of “thumbs up”. Every time the commentator mentions that the Island has a population of half a million people, I squirm in my seat. Kenya has 40 million people and yet we can’t put together a squad as talented and feisty and the islanders.

Coming from a goal down to beat Angola 2-1 was a sign of pure strength of character. I am actually lost for words here, only saying that I am jealous. As a Kenyan, I am jealous of Cape Verde!

Zambia’s early exit from the tournament has taught me something. Today you are a powerhouse and tomorrow you must go back to the drawing board.

That brings me to Cape Verde v Ghana, a country whose football has risen to enviable heights in recent years. Right now I’m sure everyone is saying: “Poor islanders; going on to meet Ghana.” I’m saying: “Watch out Ghana and do not underestimate the underdogs. They’ve got this far and it won’t be easy sending them home.”

I don’t believe Cape Verde were in too many people’s predictions when discussing teams likely to make it to the top eight but here they are.

In fact, Cape Verde being in the quarters and Zambia being out of the tournament, is the reason why we watch Afcon. This is not because of those particular teams but because it reflects the notion of “giants” falling and “minnows” shining.

Never underestimate anyone and never feel as if you cannot achieve.

Burkina Faso have been a great, skilled team to watch and it’s no wonder they are ranked No 2 in Africa. They were the last team to know who they would be facing in the quarters, with Togo and Tunisia both able to qualify. I thought Tunisia had the better chance to advance but I guess the North African jinx had to be competed.

With early exits from Morocco and Algeria, and Egypt completely failing to qualify for Afcon, Tunisia was the only hope the north had but it wasn’t to be. Blame the referee if you like but his decision is final.

The clash I am really looking forward to at the quarterfinals is Ivory Coast v Nigeria. I would have expected these two teams to meet in the semifinal stage but I guess Nigeria did themselves in when they failed to top their group.

What this all means is that we go into the last eight with seven West African teams and South Africa still represented.

What does this say about the quality of football in the rest of the continent? East Africa has, for the longest time, failed to impress at all but north has been a force to reckon with.

Zambia represented the south last year but they just didn’t come back into the tournament this year with the same drive to succeed. We all know what drove them in Gabon. Unless Gordon Igesund has a magic wand, I’m afraid West Africa will reign supreme from the semifinal stage.

I may be sulking about this but there’s no denying that – save for a questionable refereeing decision or two – the best eight of the continent are still in the game.

So eight down, eight to go! Aluta continua!

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