2 December 2012

Nigeria/Cape Verde: Afcon 2013 - How Did Cape Verde Do It? - I Am in the Future


It is January 19, 2013. I am sitting inside Soccer City Stadium, Johannesburg, Gauteng.

Beside me in the beautifully laid out State box are a few of my 'friends' - Jacob Zuma, President of the Federal Republic of South Africa; Issa Hayatou, President of the Confederation of African Football (CAF); Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA; Goodluck Jonathan, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; some others, including, of course, yours truly, president of the republic of Wasimi Orile (do not try to look for it on the map of Nigeria).

It is the opening ceremony of the 29th African Cup of Nations, as well as the curtain-raiser match between the Bafana Bafana of South Africa and the Blue Sharks of Cape Verde Islands, Africa Cup of Nations' debutants. It is a most unusual contest between a giant and a giant-killer, South Africa being one of the giants of African football (having won the championship once and played in the World Cup) and Cape Verde, giant-killers with their stunning defeat of the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon some weeks ago.

The Blue Sharks definitely arouse curiosity, suspense, mystery and an exciting challenge. The entire 21 million population of Cameroon are still in a daze of unbelief, unable to wake up from the nightmare that befell them since last October. An 'unknown' island of some 500,000 people defeating Africa's most successful team at the World Cup, a country of some 21,000,000 football-crazy people, is a story that will be told and retold over and over again.

Cameroon have one of the most dreaded national football teams in the world. They are consistent, brutally and physically intimidating, always confident and supremely athletic. Plus that, through the decades, they have always had some truly exceptional players - Roger Miller, Theophile Abega, Joseph Nkono, Ougene Manga, Oman Biyik, Samuel Eto, Rigobert Song, Alexander Song and so on, until the oasis dried up last October. They have also always been one of the most difficult teams in the world to play against, ask all the teams that have ever faced them.

For Cape Verde to have taken Cameroon to the cleaners is, indeed, an achievement of no small dimension.

But how did Cape Verde do it? That is the one million Dollar question.

As we sit here, the kaleidoscope of colours and noises around us, that must also be the question uppermost on everyone's mind as we await the start of a match that promises to be intriguing.

How will the 'Creoles', as the Cape Verde national team are also known, perform here today?

This first match is all-important as morning will surely show the rest of the day.

I am asking the same question myself. How did Cape Verde, a team that had never participated in either the Nations Cup or the World Cup, that had never won anything major in Africa, that is almost unheard of in African football, do it? But there is something about Cape Verde that must not go unmentioned lest anyone under-rate them at their own peril. Cape Verde is the origin of many players that had represented other countries and excelled. Nani, Patrick Vieira (France), Henrik Larsson (Sweden)! So, the team may not be as 'empty' as their records paint. There is something there that the Bafana Bafana must beware of.

This day, therefore, on this lush, beautiful, green turf of Soccer City, there is tension, electricity and excitement , all put together, in the air.

There is also the Vuvuzela - yes, the sound that is almost certain to drown all other sounds and make the Bafana Bafana to fly like eagles! I saw it happen on the opening day of a similar event two years ago on this same pitch. South Africa drew that encounter against Mexico but won the hearts of all football lovers all over the world with their gutsy performance. They roared and soared high above their normal capacity, and on that night played their hearts out. It was their own finals. That opening performance set the tone for the rest of a truly magical World Cup that the world can never forget. It begs for a repeat. That opportunity for that encore maybe is here, now!

I am looking around this magnificent arena. It is, indeed, a theatre of dreams. 800,000 Africans are packed like sardines in a can.

Once again, the South Africans have outdone themselves with an opening ceremony to match their pre-eminence as Africa's most powerful nation.

The cultural display is constructed to further promote the rich traditions and natural endowments that make this part of Africa one of the fastest growing tourist destinations in the world.

Back to the football. 15 African countries are gathered here, joining with South Africa to begin what promises to be a feast of football.

It is time. The two teams are marching out onto the field to the tumultuous welcome of the whole of Africa. In 90 minutes all questions will be answered. Can South Africa top what they did in 2010 at the World Cup? Can they repeat what they did in 1996 at the African Cup of Nations on home ground? Are Cape Verde as good as their victory over the Cameroon prescribes?

I am looking at all the faces around me. Issa is to my left. Goodluck is to my right.

The voice of Zuma from the raised platform is in the air!

'Welcome to South Africa', he says, 'let the matches begin'.

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