SFG’s 2012 Africa Cup of Nations Awards

The hardest thing about football is finding a replacement for it when it's all over because there just  isn't any, especially as we quite simply witnessed one of the greatest major tournaments of all-time. So we decided to do half-review, half-awards bash to cherish what we’ve just witnessed. Tom Legg, East African football coinosseur, is back and he is joined by Steve of Spirit of Mirko, an African football enthusiast, both of these guys have been providing excellent Cup of Nations coverage, Here is the panel for the awards: Tom – Tom is an East African football enthusiast and expert and has produced some fantastic tactical pieces during the Cup of Nations. For further reading of his expert reports and tactical analyses you can visit his blog Eastern Promise and follow him on twitter. Steve – Steve is an African football enthusiast, Cardiff City supporter and founder of the brilliant, Guardian-nominated 100-football-blogs-to-follow blog Spirit of Mirko which deals with football’s trivialities, curiosities and statistics, although has also diversified into African football recently with enlightening pieces like this. You can follow him on twitter. Salim – Editor and co-founder of this humble site, Salim is obsessed with all things football and has been watching the Cup of Nations religiously. James -  Co-founder and writer, video-producer extraordinaire and the strategist behind our marketing ploys. Sagar – Editor and writer, has a fetish for fringe players and is equally knowledgeable in the field of cricket. Amro – Editor and co-founder, his current dream is that Zico will lead Iraq to Brazil in 2014 so he can join the samba party. Joe – Writer,  a recent addition to the team, he has a fine eye for tactical detail and has already done some brilliant pieces of analysis. Kevin – Writer, Kevin is one of the two members on the team who had a native nation to support at the Cup of Nations.  He’s still nursing the wounds of Ghana’s exit but the future is bright for the Black Stars.

Tom and Steve aside, the rest of us are regular writers on this blog and need little introduction. If you’re not familiar with us, you can read more about us here.

Pre-tournament, the majority of us on the panel, except Steve, put our necks on the line and made some predictions. Feel free to view them and know who’s judgement you should trust in the future or laugh at how some of us got it spectacularly wrong.

To the business at hand:

1. Looking back at your predictions – and with the benefit of hindsight – do you have any regrets?

Tom: I don’t have any regrets. There weren’t many people that honestly expected Zambia, at the start of this years Nations Cup, to have the quality to win the tournament. But what we saw at last nights final was a truly inspirational and memorable moment in African football. If I’d had any anticipation of that it would, in my mind, denigrate from the astonishing scenes we witnessed last night. In many ways Ghana did underachieve, from a tactical point of view, as they still haven’t evolved from a reactionary side into a proactive side.

There are positives for Black Stars fans, the continued rise of Andre and Jordan Ayew gives hope that the side can become a more effective attacking force in the near future.

My predicted ‘player of the tournament’, Younes Belhanda, impressed in spells for Morocco, but his individual failing was mainly down to his nations collective unbalance, as Eric Gerets couldn’t find the right balance and strategy for the plethora of creative players at his disposal.

Steve: Like many I was caught in the Senegalese trap. On paper their group looked straightforward and I fully expected them to steamroll their way into the last eight. Maybe in future we should all take a little more time evaluating the whole squad rather than focusing on a set of undoubtedly talented forward players.

Salim: Ivory Coast were unlucky not to win it, their conservative approach led to their downfall in the end, but at least they choked on the penalties and I did predict they’d make it to the final at the bare minimum! Morocco were disappointing, their lack of goals, inexperience and lack of cohesiveness as a team cost them but I was hoping in the heat of the tournament they would finally flourish. I couldn’t envisage Zambia stopping both Ghana and the Ivory Coast, but they did! Ghana did underachieve and I think it was partly because of one of the problems I outlined in my predicitons – the over-reliance on Gyan for the goals, they were wasteful against Zambia. My other predictions were poor, I’ll think a bit harder next time!

James: I did make some crazy predictions, such as Burkina Faso being the team to look out for, A.Traore being player of the tournament and either Ghana, Senegal or Ivory Coast to win! However, I did get a few predictions right, namely the players to look out for (Ramathakwane, A.Traore and Sunzu), as well as getting my prediction that Morocco will fail to impress in this tournament. I have no regrets, I consider this tournament as a lesson and I’ve learnt a lot!

Sagar: I regret jumping on the Senegal bandwagon despite knowing that the AFCON is always prone to a big upset or two. Predictions of Ba being top scorer and potentially lifting the trophy were completely off. Having said that, I did predict Zambia to be the dark horses so let’s just call it even.

Joe:  Ivory Coast and Ghana were my main choices and they were both knocked out by the eventual winners. As predicted, Morocco flopped at the group stage and my underdogs Mali ended the competition 3rd. Any regrets? The obvious answer would be not seeing Zambia as real contenders from the outset, but really it just made it that much more exciting.

Kevin: Picking Demba Ba as the top goalscorer when he didn’t even score a goal.

2. Player of the Tournament and Young Player (Under 23 years of age) of the Tournament?

Tom:

Player of the Tournament; Rainford Kalaba – quick, direct and intelligent winger who’s given Zambia lovely width and balance on the left flank.

Young Player of the Tournament; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – similar to Kalaba, the lightening quick forward was the shining light for host Gabon, with three goals and a string of outstanding performances.

Steve: I think Yaya Toure has been imperious for Ivory Coast and Didier Drogba’s header against Sudan in the quarter finals shows why he’s not only one of the best strikers in Africa but one of the best in the world. Despite these performances I think I’d have to nominate Rainford Kalaba as my player of the tournament who has twinkled his way into most of our hearts these past two weeks.

Salim: The CAF award for player of the tournament went to Christopher Katongo, but for me it was Rainford Kalaba. Whilst Katongo faded in the group stages, Kalaba still showed his quality against some very well-drilled defences. As for young player of the tournament, it has to be Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. He was the driving force for Gabon, his performance in the second half against Morocco was brilliant as he tore left-back El Kaddouri to shreads.

James: Katongo and Mayuka. Both have been absolutely outstanding in this tournament.

Sagar:

Player of the Tournament: Zambian captain Chris Katongo has spearheaded the attack with great efficiency and finished as joint-top scorer. You can see he leads the team well and the younger players definitely look up to him. To say he is Zambia’s very own Didier Drogba would not be an understatement.

Young Player of the Tournament: Gabon’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang looked excellent throughout the entire tournament. He had been the key to everything good about Gabon’s performances, especially in the group stages where he found the net in all 3 games. Yes, his penalty lost them the game in the quarter-final against Mali but that should not overshadow what has been a very good tournament for the 22 year old.

Joe: Katongo for Player and Mayuka for Young Player.

Kevin: My player of the tournament is Yaya Toure. Although his team was on the losing side in the final throughout the tournament in the games I watched he held Ivory Coast together and he was integral in Ivory Coast reaching the final. My young payer of the tournament is Jordan Ayew. Playing at his first major tournament he looked as if he had been playing for years. He looks to have a good future ahead of him and hopefully he can help bring success to Ghana.

3. Discoveries of the tournament (4 players you didn’t know about previously who have impressed you)?

Tom: 1. Stophira Sunzu – Zambia 2. Nathan Sinkala – Zambia 3. Andre Poko – Gabon 4. Juvenal – Equatorial Guinea 5. Youssef Msakni – Tunisia

Steve: I’ve enjoyed watching Ivory Coast’s all-action fullback Jean-Jacques Gosso who I was surprised to see starting for Les Elephants considering the far more experienced Emmanuel Eboue was waiting in the wings. I also liked the look of Guinea’s wingers Traore and Camara and I was disappointed when Mali went through instead of them.

Overall I’ve been delighted with the way in which the African based players have performed during the tournament. Football outside Europe and South America is often dismissed out of hand by most football supporters so it’s very pleasing to see these players doing well on the international stage. So my four are: Youssef Msakni of Tunisia and the Zambian trio Rainford Kalaba, Nathan Sinkala and Stophira Sunzu, with a notable mention to the whole of the Sudanese squad have given very good accounts for themselves and have shown that there’s more to African football than the big European exports.

Salim: Jean-Jacques Gosso, John Boye, Ibrahima Traore and Nathan Sinkala.

James: Mayuka, Mweene, Aubameyang and Mouloungui. Brilliant performances from all 4 of these guys.

Sagar: Rainford Kalaba (Zambia); Javier Balboa (Equatorial Guinea); Youssef Msakni (Tunisia); Mohamed Bashir (Sudan).

Joe: Hadn’t come across Katongo or Mayuka before so they have to make up 2 of the 4, continuing the Chipolopolo theme I’d add Kalaba and Mweene – both of whom could easily have won player of the tournament.

Kevin: Youssef Msakni, Kennedy Mweene, Christopher Katongo, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

4. Coach of the tournament?

Tom: Herve Renard – the Frenchman has been spot on with his teams tactical strategy and emotional tone. They’ve been thoroughly entertaining to watch; compact and disciplined without the ball, but quick and effective on the break.

Steve: It’s very hard to look past the bright white shirt of Herve Renard, who will deservedly draw the plaudits from most commentators once this tournament is over. However, I think it’s important to remember the magnificent job Gilson Paolo did with Equatorial Guinea. He only took on the job two weeks before the side’s first game yet led them to a surprising quarter final place. Similarly Mohamed ‘Mazda’ Abdallah deserves a lot of praise for the way he set out his Sudan side during the tournament. Not only did they defeat Burkina Faso and gain a creditable draw with Angola, they only lost by a single goal to the might of Ivory Coast. They ran out of steam in the quarter finals but I don’t think that should detract from a very impressive Africa Cup of Nations for them.

Salim: It has to be Herve Renard, he didn’t return to Zambia in the best circumstances – with his predecessor being sacked 2 days after qualifying for the tournament – but his physical preparation of the team, which allowed the players to play an intense pressing game, was fantastic and his touchline antics were memorable. Notable mentions for Alain Giresse, Gernot Rohr and Gilson Paulo.

James: Renard tops the list for me. Especially his white shirt, need to get me one of those!

Sagar: Zambia’s Herve Renard. Just look at him! No other manager exuberates such style, such charm; although his antics on the touchline may say otherwise. He’s managed to use the 1993 air crash as a emotional source of motivation which has looked to have worked so far.

Joe: It’s hard to look past Renard but Giresse also deserves heaps of praise for what he’s done with Mali.

Kevin: Herve Renard. To get Zambia to the final when no one gave them a chance is a mean feat.

5. Match of the tournament?

Tom: Gabon 3-2 Morocco – the best game, at an international tournament, for a decade.

Steve: Equatorial Guinea 2-1 Senegal. I’ve rarely been so shocked whilst watching a football match. I generally cheer on the underdog on these occasions and I was hoping with sixty seconds of injury time left that the Nzalang Nacional would hold on for a very creditable (and probably undeserved) point. However, what I didn’t expect was a full-back to join the attack and swerve a 30 yard strike with the outside of his right foot into the top corner. Incredible.

Salim: Gabon 3-2 Morocco. It was just a game of never-ending drama; I was exhausted at the end. Brilliant free-kick by Bruno Zita to win it for Gabon.

James: Tough tough tough. I will pick the final though, just because of the sheer amount of emotion displayed by fans, staff and most importantly the players.

Sagar: Gabon 3 – 2 Morocco. A game full of late goals, twists and turns. All in front of a packed stadium in Libreville where the hosts were able to cause an upset. An emotional rollercoaster, if ever there was one.

Joe: Zambia’s semi with Ghana was fantastic but the final beats it for me.

Kevin: Gabon 3-2 Morocco.

6. Goal of the tournament?

Tom: Emmanuel Mayuka (Libya 2-2 Zambia): on the rain sodden pitch in Bata, Rainford Kalaba drifted a cross into the box from the left flank, as it glided over Emmanuel Mayuka’s head, the striker watched it all the way onto his foot before expertly guiding the ball, with a first time volley, across the goalkeeper and into the net. Fantastic technique.

Steve: For quality and execution I think Agyemang-Badu’s volley against Mali is probably the best goal of the tournament. However, when you consider the impact, repercussions and importance of the goal I think you have to give it to Equatoguinean Kily Alvarez’ 97th minute winner against Senegal.

Salim: Kily’s against Senegal – one of the most emotional goal I have ever seen. Equatorial Guinea looked down and out, making desperate interceptions and tackles. Then somehow they found the energy  to go up the field and Kily found the technique to unleash the swerving, unstoppable shot in the 97th minute to win the game. I will never forget it.

James: Badu vs Guinea. I couldn’t breathe after witnessing that strike!

Sagar: Plenty of great goals have been scored in this tournament, many of them being free kicks. A couple of Msakni’s goals would be viable contenders for the award too…

…but ultimately I have to give it to Kily’s screamer in stoppage time which earnt Equatorial Guinea the 3 points and knocked Senegal out in the process. You can’t write this stuff!

Joe: So many great efforts, Badu’s flick and volley against Guinea would probably be my personal favourite though.

Kevin: Kily Alvarez’s winner against Senegal in the group stages that cemented Equatorial Guinea’s place in the knockout stages.

7. Biggest disappointment (either to do with the tournament or a particular team/individual)?

Tom: The low attendances. This has been the most entertaining international tournament in year and its a shame that more local fans weren’t given the opportunity to attend games, at either a discounted rate or free-of-charge. Of course there is cultural issues, in that there is not a tradition of fans in Gabon and Equilateral Guinea regularly attending football games, but this tournament could have provided an environment for this to change.

Steve: It would have been fantastic to have had more fans in the stadia. However, it’s very hard to weigh up the importance of the tournaments making money and finding supporters who are willing to part with any of their meagre disposal income (if they even have that). It’s definitely something CAF have to look at, however it’s hard to work out a solution that ensures the tournament is self-sufficient whilst packing the grounds out to the rafters.

Salim: The low attendances have been the only case that someone could make for this not being the greatest tournament of all-time. I can understand low attendances for some group fixtures but even in the quarter-finals and semi-finals the attendances were disappointingly low. In the Sudan v Zambia match there were about 2 fans in the stadium. (I may be exaggerating.)

James:

Team: Senegal. Bags and bags of talent, but couldn’t make the most of it.
In general: Pundits and “experts” being quick to dispel teams that don’t have players from big European teams. They need to realise that big names do not necessarily equate to big wins and those teams with “unknown” players are just as good as their counterparts.

Sagar: The attendance at most of the games has been terrible. There could be a perfectly reasonable explanation for this, but personally, I think it comes down to the high ticket prices which have forced supporters out of stadiums. It’s unfortunate because events such as the AFCON provide a chance to change a nation, but it seems as though the opportunity has passed them by.

Joe: Senegal would be my disappointment; I’d hoped to see more of the quality their forwards clearly possess but tactical naivety and dreadful defending scuppered chances of that.

Kevin: My biggest disappointment has to be Ghana not reaching the final and losing the 3rd place play-off.

8. Where does this tournament rank up out of those you’ve seen in your lifetime?

Tom: The best…

Steve: I think it’s been fantastic, a real tournament for the underdog. Zambia’s triumph has been a surprise, reminding me of Greece’s run to Euro 2004 glory, however the Zambians have done it in style rather than via choreographed set pieces. Perhaps if Charisteas could somersault like EmmmanuelMayunka I’d have liked them more.

Salim: The best I have ever seen. It had it all – open football, drama, shocks, comebacks, co-hosts doing well (Gabon could have gone slightly further, perhaps but they were unlucky), attacking flair and a very uplifting story for the winners. No complaints.

James: I think this is the first tournament I’ve followed from start to finish. I usually lose interest half-way in some tournament, so it was nice to actually watch more than 90% of the matches (despite being buried in work!) Also, being allowed to provide commentary on some of the games has made it a very enjoyable experience and I hope to be doing more of the same in the future.

Sagar: It certainly ranks as one of the most exciting – ever. The absence of the ‘bigger’ nations has helped the unpredictability which has run through the entire tournament, from Senegal’s group phase exit to Zambia’s place in the final. Moreover, it is all too common for the hosts of tournaments to be knocked out early and the atmosphere suffers because of it. This has not been the case with good outings from both Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.

Joe: Very highly, so much open attacking football and a fantastic underdog story, definitely up there as one of the best I’ve ever seen.

Kevin: My biggest disappointment has to be Ghana not reaching the final and losing the 3rd place playoff.

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2 Comments on SFG’s 2012 Africa Cup of Nations Awards

  1. Great analysis guys. I’ve enjoyed reading your articles during this tournament, especially as a Zambian supporter.

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