AFCON here again: Continent showcases talents

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African football will take centre stage between today and Sunday, February 11, 2024, when the crème of the continent’s football elite converge on Cote d’Ivoire for the showpiece African Cup of Nations tournament.

 

Originally scheduled for mid-2023 in the same West African country, the tournament has been delayed by six months although it still bears the name 2023 AFCON.

 

For a continent that has turned to football in particular and sport generally to advertise its potential, the AFCON comes as a necessary departure from the issues of political instability, economic downturns and other afflictions that have become commonplace lately.

 

Instead, it will offer a common platform for the continent’s biggest players, most of them based in Europe, in particular, and now Saudi Arabia and the Asian areas to defend their national flags and compete for individual honours that will light up the continent for the next four weeks.

 

Senegal’s Sadio Mane, Egypt’s Mohammed Salah, Ghana’s Mohammed Kudus, Algeria’s Riyad Mahrez, Cote d’Ivoire’s Wilfred Zaha and Nigeria’s Victor Osimhen do not merely represent some of Africa’s finest footballers of the present generation but are highly rated talents on the global stage. These are the players summoned by national pride and patriotism to grace the breathtaking AFCON stage one more time.

 

For us in Ghana, the beautiful kente on snow-white jumpers of the Black Stars as they touched down in Abidjan must be a statement of ambition rather than mere fashion depicting the country’s proud culture.

 

The Black Stars are chasing an elusive fifth continental title since the last triumph in Libya in 1982. Over the period, Egypt and Cameroun have eclipsed the Black Stars’ place as the team with the most triumphs, with Egypt now with seven titles and Cameroun with five.

 

The team’s preparations, including recent competitive outings, have hardly given the desired hope of another famous campaign capable of yielding the ultimate diadem. The final pre-tournament goalless friendly with fellow tournament campaigners, Namibia, in Kumasi last Monday virtually wrote Ghana off as a tournament favourite.

 

It was the least expected output and result after the controversy that surrounded the choice of the team’s pre-tournament training camp. Officials had earlier announced that the team would be camping in South Africa for a tournament happening in next-door Cote d’Ivoire, but the public backlash, given that Namibia, — South Africa’s neighbour — at least had chosen to camp in Ghana for the tournament caused a U-turn.

 

But the Black Stars have shown many times how much they can dig deep to produce results when required. The World Cup game against South Korea, at least, evidenced this resilient character, while the preceding game against Portugal proved a worthy case of a team with enormous potential.

 

Coach Chris Hughton has a job on hand to reverse the recent drab displays of the team into a productive spectacle, a competitive effort and a winning adventure befitting the stature and pedigree of Africa’s once brightest light in football.

 

From a group that contains Sunday’s opponents Cabo Verde, Egypt and Mozambique, it should be relatively easy for the Black Stars to negotiate their way into the knockout rounds simply based on experience, players’ profile and general exposure to big-stage competition.

 

We, therefore, urge the nation to throw its support behind the team as they embark on the attempt to annex the trophy.

 

We will also encourage the tournament organisers and relevant stakeholders to display the highest sense of professionalism in the handling of the tournament to portray Africa’s coming of age in global affairs. We refer specifically to refereeing, match organisation, security, logistics and any other relevant measure needed to elevate the tournament into an eye-catching event.

 

The world may not stop for Africa to finish playing but even those who have made contemptuous comments about Africa’s football fiesta will keep one eye on the AFCON until the curtain is drawn down. We cannot disappoint!

 

Source – Graphic online

 

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