New Telegraph

Raising the profile of AFCON in Cameroon

Before the January 9 official kick-off of the Nations Cup 2021 taking place in Cameroon, expectations were rife on what to expect in terms of standard and general organisation of the apex football showpiece on the African continent. A lack of goals made the first round of games barely an average watch for the fans. Only Cameroon managed to score two goals in one match and the goals came via penalties against Burkina Faso as the host won 2-1.

They stepped up with a 4-1 victory over Ethiopia in the second round of games. Generally, the pre-tournament teams have been struggling. Tunisia lost to Mali in a hugely controversial match but step up with 4-0 win over Mauritania, Senegal left it late to score a penalty to beat Zimbabwe1-0 and in the second, they were held to a goalless draw by Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire were lucky to defeat Equatorial Guinea 1-0 and defending champions Algeria were unable to score against minnows Sierra Leone in a match that ended goalless.

However, so far the competition’s biggest upset was the defeat of defending champions Algeria by Equatorial Guinea while fourtime winners, the Black Stars of Ghana were dumped out of the tournament after being beaten 3-2 by debutants Comoros. Sadly, the controversy and confusion after the opening five days have overshadowed the football proper.

The use of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) by officials has been poor and inconsistent. Some referees ignore the VAR calls and take decisions even without having a second look, which the system was set up for. Zambian Referee Janny Sikazwe brought the game into disrepute with his actions in the match between Mali and Tunisia.

He sent off El Bilal Traore of Mali when he had used VAR might have reached a less controversial decision. Apart from other questionable calls, the referee twice stopped the match before the end of proceedings. First was in the 85th minute when the assistant had to inform him to continue. He did the same in the 89th minute to draw the anger of the Tunisians. Then in a surprise move, 20 minutes after the game, Confederation of Africa Football (CAF) ordered that the last three to four minutes of the encounter must be played.

The West Africans came out again but the North Africans ignored the call to make a statement. It is a big shame as this was happening at a time the attention of the world was on the competition to either believe the position of people who take AFCON as irrelevant or form another opinion. The official protest of Tunisia was thrown out ostensibly because the Tunisians failed to show up to complete the match as ordered by CAF. As if that was not enough, the Local Organising Committee (LOC) inexplicably failed to provide the national anthems of The Gambia and Mauritania. How this happened is still a mystery.

The players had to verbally sing their respective national anthems after play was held up for over 30 minutes. We make bold to say the role of the officials of CAF is crucial in the success of a competition like this. CAF is expected to take over the operations to ensure efficiency in all areas. The referee that blew before the end of the match should have been ordered back into the pitch by CAF officials of CAF, especially the 4th official at the side lines. Also the way the COVID-19 tests are being conducted for teams is also suspicious as some teams accuse the officials of favouring the home team Cameroon. Test results are not trusted by teams at the ongoing tournament. We hereby charge CAF to step up the operations of the competition in the remaining days till the February 6 final to boost the pedigree and integrity of African football. If the continent can produce some of the best players, it is also good to stage some of the best tournaments.

The main actors, the players, should also step up their game for the world to appreciate the best of African football. The top players currently in Cameroon representing their respective countries should justify their call up to the national team after the club vs. country row which precede AFCON 2021. The continent deserves respect and that starts from staging a damn good tournament in terms of standard and organisation. Liverpool Manager, Jurgen Klopp, tagged the Africa Nations Cup as a “small tournament” apparently because he was frustrated over the reality of losing three key players going for the continental football showpiece – Mohammed Salah (Egypt), Sadio Mane (Senegal) and Naby Keita (Guinea). Klopp’s comments attracted massive responses from far and near. Crystal Palace Manager and former Arsenal Captain, Patrick Vieira, noted that it was important to respect AFCON because African players are flourishing everywhere. Another Arsenal legend, Ian Wright, said AFCON was tainted with racism. He charged those in doubt of the quality of AFCON to monitor the tournament and also wished that there should be a global coverage of the event.

We are happy that the next edition of AFCON slated for next year in Cote d’Ivoire has been confirmed by CAF to be staged in the summer. Going forward, the timing of June/ July should be retained but for now the continent must make the ongoing tournament in Cameroon tick to boost Africa’s bragging rights in global football circles.

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