The African Cup of Nations, Ghana 2008, which ended last Sunday with the Pharaohs of Egypt retaining the cup they won at home in 2006 saw soccer fireworks from sixteen African nations. It was a thrilling continental three-week soccer fiesta. The opening ceremony in Accra saw a colourful display of rich African cultural heritage and Ghanaian hospitality.
It is worth saying here that the memories of Ghana 2008 will linger for a long time. Memories of above-average officiating, of voodooism, of tall dreams, of hopes and expectations, of soccer as a source of unity in diversity. The four national sides that qualified for the semi-finals were about the best teams that participated in the tournament: Egypt, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Cameroun. Nigeria fumbled and wobbled to the quarter-finals and the Black Stars sent the Super Eagles packing effortlessly.
I had suggested to a friend after the ‘Super’ Eagles crashed out in the quarter finals played against the host nation that the best thing to be done to the Eagles ‘sans’ Super is to have the team disbanded and the NFA management sacked. The squash-loving/playing President Yar’Adua should set in motion mechanisms to re-organise and revitalise our sports in general. The football house is in shambles!
If voodooism is all it takes for a nation to be assured of greatness then Benin Republic, a tiny voodooic country that shares border with Nigeria would not have had any competitor: she would have become the America of Africa! Alas voodooism is a contributor to the human underdevelopment socially, economically and even spiritually. Before the Squirrels squared up against the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire a supposed voodoo priest from Porto Novo was interviewed and he boasted of storming the venue of the encounter in Sekondi/Takoradi with ‘a leg of a dead man’ which would mean that the Elephants would be soundly defeated! In the end the Squirrels were overcome by the Elephants.
Another country that has a spell of marabout is Senegal. Almost every Senegalese believes in the power of marabout. Even the President, octogenarian Abdoulaye Wade has his marabout somewhere in whom he confides and from whom he seeks and takes advice! In virtually every family from Dakar to Ziguinshor there’s a fetish heritage. With minority Christian population and a majority Muslim denizens the country is held hostage by forces of evil. This kind of situation perpetuates spiritual bondage and diminishes mental growth.
The soccer pundits gave Egypt and Cameroun little chance of coming out tops in the ACN Ghana 2008. But the Pharaohs came into the tournament with a strong determination and will to triumph over every adversary. Their first casualty were the Indomitable Lions of Cameroun who succumbed 4-2. But after that humiliating defeat the Lions from Biya-land regrouped and mounted a serious campaign towards conquest.
Apart from Nigeria the other nations who enjoyed pre-tournament high ratings but flopped big time are Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, South Africa and Morocco. The Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire started off well but snapped as the heat got hotter losing to superior Pharaohs in the semi-final and succumbing to the Black Stars in the third-place play-off.
Ivorians were celebrating when the battle was not yet over. From the President (who claimed in a national TV that he had told President Kuffour upon invitation to grace the opening ceremony that he would be coming over Feb. 10 for the cup) to the artisan on the streets every Ivorian believed the Didier Drogba-captained Elephants would bring the trophy home for a second time. But despite the monumental mobilisation and patriotic musical exhibitions ‘Drog’ and co failed disgracefully.
It is instructive to note here that the Coach of the conquering Pharaohs of Egypt is an Egyptian called Hassan Shehata who played for the Zamalek FC and Pharaohs in the early 70’s. The 56-year old unassuming Shehata showed that with a local coach nothing is impossible and triumph is possible with determination, unflinching support of the authorities and co-operation of team-mates. By winning back-to-back the African cup of nations’ shield the Egyptian sweat merchant has demystified the myth surrounding foreign coaches.
Apart from the African Champions few countries came into the tournament with local coaches: Angola, Sudan, Zambia. By hiring foreign coaches with scarce funds that should have been channeled into other pressing areas of societal development these nations including Nigeria should ask themselves crucial questions. Personally I’m not favourably disposed towards the recruitment of foreign coaches to the detriment of local coaches’ potentials. But I know the trend will continue because some of them signed contracts that obliged them to part with some percentage out of their salaries.
That is why I am happy that Berti ‘Volkswagen’ Vogts has been sent back to Germany. Local coaches like Shuaibu Ahmodu, Stephen Keshi, Augustine Eguavoen and Onigbinde should have done better; after all the late Yinka Tella that won gold for us with the Golden Eaglets remained a Nigerian.
Ghana 2008 which climaxed last Sunday showcased African football beauty, talents, power and glory. Dreams were dreamt, some realised and some aborted. New players were discovered by the scouts and old players due for retirement bade farewell to the African Cup of Nations. Nations dreaming of winning the continental shield for the very first time like Angola, Senegal and Zambia had their dreams shattered. And nations that has won the trophy for a record four and five times like Egypt and Cameroun outshone others aspiring to have a taste of it.
In the end Ghana 2008 lived up to the expectation of many and disappointed many as well. What with grinding Accra hold-up and the power outage witnessed early enough as a match was about taking off! What with the tears of Rigobert Song (whose unprofessional mistake
in the 18-yard box led to the Abou Trika strike that ended it all) and his Lions tamed by the Pharaohs in the epic finale! What with the invasion of Ghanaian cities by prostitutes and other shady characters!
Goodbye Ghana 2008! And welcome Angola 2010. Long live Africa, God bless our continent!