South AfricaThe Good Well, it could have been worse. They did at least get out of the group this time, and on top. That is progress for a side some suggested would underachieve on the big stage again. And they ended the tournament unbeaten in normal time after being eliminated on penalties. In terms of players, Thuso Phala looked good on the right, and Dean Furman made an impact when introduced to central midfield in the second game after a nervy opener. Defensively they also looked good with Khumalo and Sangweni making a solid partnership in front of the ever-impressive Khune. The Bad It seemed as if South Africa went into the tournament with Gordon Igesund yet to decide on a first XI and I think it really hindered them. The line-up against Cape Verde had a few surprises, with Mphela, Serero and Furman all on the bench. In fact, the Ajax youngster Serero, marked out as the potential successor to Pienaar, didn't start a single game for the Bafana Bafana. By the time they went out, 4 different strikers had started, one of whom (Parker) ending up replacing the disappointing Tshabalala on the left flank, and by the final game Igesund had switched from 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1 with Rantie up front on his own. Similarly, various combinations of centre midfielders were used to different levels of effect.
The penalties against Mali. 3 out of 4 missed is England-esque, not to mention unacceptable. It ended a campaign that had gradually been gaining in momentum. I would also add an event that took place a few months before the tournament – Pienaar’s retirement. They could have done with his quality, especially had it been combined with an in-form Tshabalala. They might have got further than they did in the World Cup but their performances weren’t as impressive.
The negatives outweigh the positives, but it’s not all doom and gloom. Abdelaziz Barrada added another star to his burgeoning reputation whilst in Issam El Adoua Morocco may have finally found the defender to make their defence more resilient. Further defensive resilience came in the form of the deployment of Abdelhamid El Kaoutari at left back; primarily a centre-back, he did well to bridge the gaps the attack-minded Zakaria Bergdich obligatorily leaves behind during the course of games. Those defensive inclusions were largely why the Atlas Lions bowed out unbeaten with 3 draws. Encouragingly, there seems to be logic in what coach Rachid Taoussi is doing: nurturing a young team which can win the Africa Cup of Nations on home soil in 2015 and end Morocco’s 39-year longueur.
The evanescence of Younes Belhanda, Oussama Assaidi and Nordin Amrabat in the 1-1 draw against Cape Verde. For 70 minutes, the attacking triumvirate did nothing; it was only once they were all substituted that Morocco started playing with urgency and score the equaliser. Belhanda was suspended for the final group game against South Africa after accumulating two yellows from the opening two games, but both Assaidi and Amrabat were axed for the crucial final group match versus South Africa for their non-performances. Taoussi opted to go for a young team with little experience and it backfired when the pressure was on. The exclusion of the experienced and consistent Houssine Kharja still remains unjustifiable, and given the lack of proven goalscorers at this level in the squad, so was the omission of Marouane Chamakh.
Failure to qualify for the knockout stages. Morocco were in the most open group and their glittering attacking talent meant they were in pole position to qualify, but, predictably, they pressed the self-destruct button.
-Salim Masoud Said
Not much good can be said about this Angolan side, really. Perhaps the best that has come out of the squad in this Afcon are the individual talents. My personal highlights are Geraldo (although I have a bit of a soft spot for him for being an Angolan playing in Brazil), right-back Lunguinha, who’s already got a spot in Portugal guaranteed for next season, even though he is a bit better at attacking than defending and defender Pirolito, who only didn’t play for 5 minutes in the heart of backline at the age of 19 and will be interesting to see his development.
The proven talents of Manucho, Djalma and Mateus tried their best but they couldn’t do much to help Angola in their matches. Despite this, it is a squad that is mostly domestic based and that is something to value and worthy of praise towards coach Gustavo Ferrín.
The lack of a proper midfield playmaker was Angola’s weakest point. The balls found themselves going almost straight from defence to attack and, more specifically, to Manucho, who found himself helpless against whichever opposition he faced. The solution to this problem seemed to be in playing down the wings. Geraldo, Gilberto, Djalma and Mateus all played in the offensive laterals, but nothing worked. No goals, not many chances and no spark marked Angola’s presence in this Afcon.
The draw in the first match is understandable due to the nerves and trying not to lose vital points in the first match, but the game against South Africa clearly proved that Angola weren’t capable of doing much this year. Bafana Bafana ouplayed them in every way and the home factor doesn’t even come in to it.
The final match against Cape Verde gave them some hope of qualifying, as they were in second place of the group for a brief period, but their complacency and lack of joie de vivre only helped the Blue Sharks and eventually they managed to overturn the score and, deservedly, eliminate their Lusophone friends.
The fact they couldn’t even score a single goal on their own. It had to be Cape Verde’s Nando assisting them into their only goal of the tournament, which shows you how inefficient this team were. They were in the weakest group, but their inexperienced squad and a coach who is still adjusting to the reality and style of African football proved to be not a surprising and vibrant group, but rather a predictable and dull set of players. This may sound silly, but Angola could benefit from not qualifying to the 2015 tournament, as it will allow them to develop and renew the squad appropriately.
The Blue Sharks proved themselves to be an incredibly hard to beat squad, despite suffering 4 goals during the tournament. A secure goalkeeper in Vozinha, a pair of safe centre-backs in Nando and Fernando Varela, a dynamic and strong midfield with players like Babanco and Marco Soares, and an offensive line with Ryan Mendes and last-minute entry Platini were the highlights of this team.
They showed tremendous solidarity both in defence and attack along with their patience on the ball, which resulted in a very effective and plucky squad, holding two draws against the uninspired South Africans and the struggling Moroccans, beating the dull Angolans and losing unfairly against Ghana.
We all knew that from the moment they qualified for this Afcon by beating Eto’o’s Cameroon that they would be no pushovers. Despite this, they still surprised everyone with their consistent performances. The country with a population of 500,000 (second island nation to take part in an Afcon) were beating countries much bigger than them.
Hopefully from now on Cape Verde can continue to develop their football and not be considered just another team in Africa. Big praise must go to coach Lúcio Antunes, an amateur local man who is clearly passionate about his team and his job. Can’t wait to see more of him and the rest of the squad.
I honestly can’t find many negatives about Cape Verde, but one thing I will mention is the lack of effectiveness in the finishing, both in running play and in set-pieces. This was most notable in the second half of the quarter-finals with Ghana, albeit goalkeeper Dauda impeded the Sharks on several occasions. Heldon and Babanco are brilliant set-piece takers, but the final connection failed to arrive, resulting in plenty of potential goal chances wasted. Platini’s miss against South Africa also springs to mind. If they were a bit more accurate in their chances, they could’ve gone even further.
Will they qualify for 2015, with the regular, group-stage qualification system back in place? They aren’t doing well at all in the World Cup qualifiers, so my fear is that the fact that they qualified for this Afcon was a fluke. Let’s hope not.