As usual, I am writing this on Thursday night, one day after the end of the group matches of Afcon 2013. After almost two weeks of some truly terrific drama and exciting football the men have been finally separated from the boys and the real giants have emerged.
8 weeks ago, I started my series on Afcon 2013, putting my neck on the block by making some predictions about how the various teams might play, and who would win the championship.
Many readers, particularly Zambians, wrote in and called me names, questioning the authority with which I could ever have suggested that
1. Zambia would not retain the African trophy;
2. that I saw the faint outlines of the Bafana Bafana at the end of the championship lifting the trophy;
3. that Nigeria's Super Eagles were still in their building up process, would be hard to beat, would be within touching distance of the cup, but would not win it;
4. that in the absence of Egypt, no other North African team would win the championship not hosted by them;
5. that the North African teams have not mastered how to deal with West African teams and would find them a mountain too high to climb;
6. that the Cape Verde Islands are going to be the real dark horse of the championship; and so on.
Now I guess everyone's doing a reality check and waiting for my predictions to fail. They would still have to sheath their swords as the 'oracle' is still humbly on course.
Let me make a few general comments about what the results so far have confirmed.
With 7 of the last 8 teams left in the championship coming from the same region, it is now obvious that the best football in the continent now resides in West Africa.
This 2013 Zambian national team, the defending champion of the championship, were not even near the same team that won the championship last year. With luck finding a new home in other teams, the Chipolopolo were so ordinary that they were not even good enough to go beyond the group matches! The Zambians (and there were tons of them) that called me names for daring to predict that the Chipolopolo, were not in my radar screen of probable winners of the 29th edition of the African fiesta, should now apologise to me.
Zambia were unfortunate to have played some of their initial matches on the worst pitch in the championship. They played with their hearts as usual, fought and ran endlessly, but failed to show any class this time around. Even the elements deserted them.
Even the current BBC African Footballer of the Year, captain of the squad and its driving force, Chris Katongo, was a complete shadow of his past self.
Now here is my summary of the teams that have qualified to the quarter-finals, followed by my predication
Mali have being one of the most hardworking teams in the championship so far. They have also been lucky. They surely have earned their place in the next round. Keita has been an inspirational leader of the team. It is unfortunate that their next opponents are South Africa who are getting better with every victory, and will be hard to stop with the rising momentum.
Without question, the Bafana Bafana have looked poor in this championship. Driven by their vociferous fans and the dread of losing at home even as hosts, have made the players to play on the edge, to fight like possessed players, and to wear down opposing teams with endless running and a razor-sharp fighting spirit.
Against Mali South Africa's fairy tale will continue!
They have played with their hearts, fighting to win every ball and every match against all odds like a team driven by the taste of unexpected success. They have earned every point in this championship and are the surprise team of Afcon 2013. Their climb will not be stopped by Togo whom they meet next.
Without playing great football Togo, led by Emmanuel Adebayor, that is having his best spell at the Nations Cup in three championships, have made the best of the opportunities that have come their way, ridden on the back of the mother luck that has also shone its light on them, and merited being in the next round.
Their honeymoon is likely to be over when they meet Burkina Faso.
CAPE VERDE ISLANDS.
This team has now confirmed to all that their qualification for Afcon 2013 was no fluke. This once 'unknown' team has proved beyond any doubt that they must be reckoned with as a new force in African football. Their dark horse status remains intact as they continue to defy all predications and expectations.
The Black Stars have been a well-disciplined and well-organized team. Even with many young players in the team they have shown some class and displayed great self-confidence. The team is complete -a good organized defense, a very mobile midfield and a very experienced attack spearheaded by Asamoah Gyan whose nose for goals is still razor-sharp.
The match between Cape Verde Islands and Ghana will be a cracker with Ghana's well-oiled overall team organization providing the winning edge.
The Super Eagles have been anything but super. With a bad pitch to play on in their first two games, and very unfavourable officiating, they have done well to even qualify for the next round without playing great football and displaying good organizational discipline. Only in the last group match did Victor Moses lift his game at two critical moments to change the course of the match and establish himself as Nigeria's most authentic class act.
But do not be deceived, when the Eagles meet the Elephants, it will be a completely different ball game, undoubtedly, the final before the final!
Any team that parades the quality of players in the Elephants cannot but put up performances that would justify their rating as most people's favourite for the coveted trophy. With Yaya Toure directing affairs in the heart of the team, they have been unstoppable. The team has class, style, organisation and experience.
But unfortunately, they now face their greatest challenge, a great foe that cannot be under-rated or taken for granted. -Because of the maturity of the two teams, in a match that will be won tactically by the coaches, the Super Eagles are likely to play their best match so far in Afcon 2013. They can even create a great upset.
Cote D'Ivoire, in terms of players quality and team organization. have the slight edge but this is a match that can be settled via penalty kicks in which case the elements take control.