25 January 2013

Africa: Afcon Comes to Life

AFTER days of boring football which saw a couple of opening matches producing goalless draws, the Africa Cup of Nations is finally coming into life.

The opening two matches featuring South Africa v Cape Verde Islands and Angola v Morocco both failed to produce goals but it was all systems go as the the drawn encounter between Ghana and Congo DR produced four goals.

From there on I started enjoying myself as the following matches treated the fans with two goals at least, except for Tunisia's win over North African arch-rivals Algeria coming from a solitary goal scored by M'Sakni in the dying minutes of the bitterly contested encounter.

The highlight of all the matches played so far for me was undoubtedly the encounter between Ivory Coast and Togo during which the Elephants of Ivory Coast ousting their West African neighbours with a last-ditch 2-1 win on Tuesday night.

Despite playing in their opening round match the two nations played with intent and purpose and the poorly attended Royal Bafokeng Stadium fans were treated to top class international football. Despite being the best match of the opening round, which saw only 2 000 fans passing through the entrance gates, the match was full value for the entrance fee and was also enjoyed by television viewers around the continent.

Worth mentioning is that hosts Bafana Bafana also produced an inspired performance against Angola, after they gunned down the Palancas Negras by two goals without reply. Central defender Siyabonga Sangweni and striker Lehlohonolo Majoro were clinical with their finishing during a win which propelled our southern neighbours to the top of Group A and in the process enhanced their chances to qualify for the knockout stages.

Worth mentioning is the fact that it was South Africa's first win at the finals since 2004. Bafana Bafana surely had reason to celebrate the emphatic win especially after their pathetic performance in the tournament opener on Saturday.

By the time you read this column Ghana were scheduled to play Mali in a must-win encounter for both West African countries if they have intentions to proceed to the knockout stage. Niger are squared up with the unpredictable DRC and the former have every reason to be wary of their opponents who held Ghana to a draw. Today defending champions Zambia face a similar situation, as Ghana after they threw away a golden chance to claim their first win of the tournament over a 10-men Ethiopia, who grabbed their equaliser 24 minutes from the end.

Burkina Faso, hosts of the Africa Cop of Nations in 1998 where Namibia made their tournament debut, will fancy their chances against the giant-killers of Ethopia who appear to be the only side in the tournament playing without fear so far.

The Ethiopians will be highly motivated by their stalemate against holders Zambia given the fact that they had to play almost 75 percent of the match with one player down, during a match in which Chipolopolo refused to come out of first gear.

Pre-tournament favourites Ivory Coast will seek to secure qualification for the knockout stage of the event in the opening match of the Royal Bafokeng Stadium double-header which will also feature Algeria against Togo.

All these fixtures promise fireworks because of the prospect of making it to the knockout stages of the competition are looming. One would just sit down and hope that the players come to the party and perform at the top of their abilities.

Let the best teams win!

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