Over the course of the Cup of Nations, I will be covering events with this series of articles aimed at relative beginners to African football, from the perspective of someone who is also a relative beginner to African football – I’ve only been following a few years myself so a lot of this is new to me too. It won’t be too serious and hopefully I can provide some context for the tournament without going into masses of bewildering detail.
So, the Africa Cup of Nations. Not the African Nations Cup. It’s important to acknowledge this frequent mistake Westerners make. And it’s not inconsequential, as they are two different things: the African Nations Cup would be a cup in the possession of African nations, whereas the Cup of Nations implies the nations are integral to the cup. It’s a subtly different slant.
Africa’s premier international football tournament has to deal with Western misconceptions on a regular basis. The overall portrayal of the tournament in the West, and perhaps African football generally, is often as “that cute little thing the backward countries do” – the football isn’t that good, as African football is “behind” in its development, but they make up for it in colour, personality and fun. I think this caricature does an enormous disservice to African football – yes, there are no Messis or Ronaldos, and the atmosphere is often lighter than in the Euros, but to cast it as “the party tournament” is classic orientalism.