What you need to know:
- Perhaps what has inspired pundits to label the Cote d’Ivoire tournament, staged in six excellent stadiums, as the ‘best ever’ has been the breathless drama on the pitch and blurred illusion of Davids and Goliaths.
- Astonishingly, the top five ranked African nations in the world by Fifa -- Morocco (1), Senegal (2), Tunisia (3), Algeria (4) and Egypt (5) failed to get past the round of 16.
There is a growing chorus that the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, now in its semi-finals stage, is the “best ever” in the 67-year history of the continental football bonanza.
Isn’t that the refrain for every major world sports competition held?
To pick a few examples:
The Barcelona 1992 Olympics were considered the “greatest Olympic Games in modern history.”
Then International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samarach proclaimed the Sydney 2000 Olympics as the “best ever”.
American Jeff Ruffolo, who was part of the senior management of the Beijing Olympics and author of the book “Inside the Beijing Olympics” described the 2008 Games as the “greatest Olympics in history.”
Just two years ago, Fifa boss Gianni Infantino unequivocally proclaimed the Qatar 2022 World Cup as “the best World Cup ever”.
I declare here, after covering several Afcons, that the 2006 tournament held in Egypt was/is the best ever.
Egypt had bid to host the 2010 Fifa World Cup in competition with Morocco and South Africa. The winning bid was announced in 2004 and we of course remember the wonderful, noisy football festival in South Africa and how Ghana came so close to writing history for Africans.
Perhaps to show the world what it had missed out, Egypt pulled out all stops to host a superb 2006 Nations Cup.
The stadium facilities were top-notch, the communication infrastructure excellent and the organisation impeccable.
All these were crowned by beautiful football on the pitch.
All the big favourites including Nigeria -- featuring JJ Okacha, Nwankwo Kanu, Obefami Martins et al; Cameroon -- boasting Samuel Eto’o, Geremi Njitap, Rigobert Song et al - and, then reigning World Cup quarter-finalists Senegal, fell by the wayside to the disbelieve of their adoring fans.
Egypt, made up almost entirely of home-based players the likes of stars Ahmed Hassan and Mohammed Aboutrika beat a Cote d’Ivoire outfit bristling with superstars in the frame of Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure, Emmanuel Eboue and Bakari Kone in penalty shoot-outs after a 0-0 draw in open play at a jam-packed 75,000-capacity Cairo International Stadium in the final match on February 10.
A remember that day like it was yesterday, desperately struggling all morning to get to the stadium via traffic-choked roads as everybody else did likewise, before giving up.
If there had been an eclipse of the sun, no one in Cairo would have noticed as the entire humanity in the Giza plateau fervently focused on the impending final.
I managed to write a match report from an unnamed location, but that is a story for another day.
Perhaps what has inspired pundits to label the Cote d’Ivoire tournament, staged in six excellent stadiums, as the ‘best ever’ has been the breathless drama on the pitch and blurred illusion of Davids and Goliaths.
Astonishingly, the top five ranked African nations in the world by Fifa -- Morocco (1), Senegal (2), Tunisia (3), Algeria (4) and Egypt (5) failed to get past the round of 16.
Add to this remarkable heap four-time champions Ghana, and you understand the ‘wow!’ reaction.
Even as fans caught their breath, another shocking outcome presented itself. None of the eight 2021 quarter-finalists, namely, Burkina Faso, Tunisia, Senegal, Equatorial Guinea, Gambia, Cameroon, Egypt and Morocco featured in the last eight of the 2023 editions. Another, wow!
Minnows like Cape Verde advanced to the quarter-finals in style while unfancied Mauritania, who Kenya crushed 4-0 in an Afcon qualifier in 2003, reached the last 16.
The top scorer in the tournament is likely to be former Spain Under-21 international forward/fullback Emilio Nsue from already eliminated Equatorial Guinea, who has five goals.
His closest challengers are Gelson Dala of Angola and Egypt’s Mohammed Mustafa, all on four goals but whose respective teams have also gone home. Nigeria and Atalanta (Serie “A”) winger Ademola Lookman of Nigeria, on three goals, is best placed to fight for the Golden Boot award and has potentially two games to overhaul Nsue.
We have read of the nine lives of a cat, but who would have thought of a wounded elephant repeatedly refusing to die!
Cote d’Ivoire’s Elephants only confirmed their qualification to the round of 16 as the worst placed of the four best placed third place group finishers on the final day of the preliminary round stage.
They equalized against tournament favourites Senegal five minutes to time in their last 16 match before eventually triumphing 5-4 in penalty shootouts.
One goal down, surviving a penalty and playing with 10 men, the Elephants again broke out of jail in the quarter-finals against a solid Mali, drawing level 1-1 in the 89th minute before grabbing the winning goal in the last minute of extra time. Talk about Bee Gees’s 1977 hit song “Stayin Alive”.
The lyrics go: “I’m a dancin’ man and I just can’t lose. You know it’s alright, it’s okay. I’ll live to see another day.”
DNation bodytext: Will the Elephants cheat death again today?
They face formidable DR Congo in the second semi-final from 11pm while Nigeria take on South Africa from 8pm in the first encounter.
Normal service, though, has been restored.
The four semi-finalists have won the continental crown before, Nigeria being the most successful of this lot with three titles, Cote d’Ivoire and DR Congo with two and South Africa proud winners once.
What will be the next twist in this amazing 2023 Afcon tale?