The 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), which was held in Cameroon, ended with a colourful ceremony on February 6 after the epic final between Egypt and Senegal. The Egyptian Pharaohs were defeated by the Teranga Lions of Senegal by 4-2 on penalties after fulltime and extra time play at Olembe Stadium in Yaounde, Cameroon. The inconsolable Pharaohs of Egypt went home with the silver medal, while the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon claimed the bronze medal having defeated the Stallions of Burkina Faso in the third place match.
For the Teranga Lions, the best team of the tournament, the victory was worth celebrating elaborately after missing it twice in recent times, in the 2002 and 2019 finals in Mali and Egypt, respectively. For indigenous coach, Aliou Cisse, who has been with the team for almost eight years, it was a well-deserved victory. The Senegalese victory is also a victory for indigenous football coaches. While Sadio Mane was voted the best player of the tournament, Edouard Mendy was voted the best keeper of the tournament. However, the highest goal scorer went to Vincent Aboubakar of Cameroon.
Despite criticisms by outsiders about the football event, the 33rd edition of the AFCON tournament, which was very exciting, witnessed the best of African football in spite of some shortcomings. From January 9 to February 6, 2022 the Africa’s football showpiece lasted, attention of many lovers of the round leather game shifted to Africa.
With the level of management of the tournament, the fighting spirit of the teams and the facilities provided by Cameroon, it is certain that African football has really come of age. In all, 24 teams participated in the biennial football tournament organised by Confederation of African Football (CAF). Out of 52 matches played in five cities, a total of 100 goals were scored.
The AFCON 2021 also witnessed many surprises in terms of the outcomes and officiating. The ouster of Nigeria’s Super Eagles at round 16 was indeed one of the surprises of the tournament. Having won all group matches with nine points, the Nigerian side was tipped to win the trophy before their premature exit at the round of 16. Similarly, the tragic death of eight fans on January 24 during a stampede at Olembe Stadium in Yaoundé before the Cameroun and Comoros match was a blot on the tournament. The shocking ending of the match between Tunisia and Mali by Zambian referee Janni Sikazwe in the 85th minute before changing his mind was another drawback of the games. Later, reports emerged that he ended the match abruptly on account of ill-health which required urgent medical attention. The issuance of red cards was abused in some instances as some teams were shown more respect than others.
The 33rd edition of AFCON has also demonstrated that no nation in Africa can be regarded as a minion in football. It was a surprise that Ghana was ousted by Comoros, a debutant in the tournament. The defending champions, Algeria, could not even qualify from the group stage.
We commend the Teranga Lions of Senegal for lifting the trophy for the very first time. Their victory has justified their rating as the best football team in Africa and one of the best in the world. We also applaud Cameroon for hosting the great football event and undoubtedly one of the best on the continent.
For the Super Eagles, the task ahead now is how to qualify for the World Cup holding later in the year in Qatar. They should put their unceremonious exit at AFCON 2021 behind them and forge ahead and win the vital playoff against Ghana, their traditional football foe. With the confirmation of Augustine Eguavoen as the team manager and Emmanuel Amuneke as the coach by Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), all hands must be on deck to ensure that the Super Eagles defeat the Black Stars of Ghana and represent Nigeria at Qatar 2022.
It is only by doing so that Nigerian football fans can still reckon with the Super Eagles and finally forgive them for their shocking exit from AFCON 2021 tournament in Cameroon. The Super Eagles must learn from the resurgence spirit of the Pharaohs of Egypt at the games.