AlgeriaThe Good ‘Algeria must be the only team which dominated both its games and have nothing to show for it!’ said an exasperated Coach Vahid Halihodzic after two matchdays. Despite their dismal showing, most Algerians were proud of their team’s performance during the Cup of Nations. Former captain Rafik Saifi claimed that he, ‘never saw an Algerian team dominate like (that)’. Only a lack of experience and efficiency duped the Algerians from further progressing in this edition of the Cup of Nations. The encouraging aspect is that Vahid’s progress is palpable and his team is bursting with potential. The Bad Coach Vahid’s squad selection. He had his reasons for leaving Rafik Djebbour at home, but one wonders if he made the right call. Djebbour, the Greek Superleague’s top scorer, possesses bundles of experience in Africa. Leaving Madjid Bougherra at home for Ali Rial was another bizarre decision. Neither had played in a long time, but Bougherra’s brotherly influence on the group might have been vital. Coach Vahid must assume the responsibility for his squad selection and he does. It is an aspect he will have to improve in the future.
Another failure at a major tournament for this new generation of Algerian bandits. They failed to qualify for Gabon/Equatorial Guinea 2012. This was yet another missed opportunity to prove they have the steel to qualify for the World Cup in one year’s time.
The age of the Carthage Eagle’s top performers. At 22, Youssef Msakni added Algeria to his checklist of rivals he’s Msakni’d on the continental stage. At 21 Ben Cherifia finally brought some assurance to Tunisian goalkeeping; the Esperance shot-stopper should be the country’s number 1 for years to come. Bilel Ifa participated in his 3rd Cup of Nations at the age of 22. His experiences will prove vital in the coming years.
Toothlessness in attack. Tunisia’s only scored one goal from open play and it was a Youssef Msakni wonderstrike. Harbaoui looked sterile when he got his opportunity and Issam Jemaa’s time to step away may have finally come.
Performances. Coach Sami Trabelsi has been sacked and this was the main reason. In none of their three matches did the Tunisians show that they were thoroughly deserving of three points. Msakni’s genius saved them in their first match, they took a shellacking from Cote D’Ivoire in matchday 2 the second one, and Togo pipped them as runners-up in the final match of the group stage. It was an anemic tournament for Africa’s tiny giants.
Gervinho. The Arsenal man may have been back to his anonymous worst in their quarter-final loss to Nigeria, but he was one of the players of the tournament and the main reason why Ivory Coast had sealed their path to the knockout stages after two games. In the more tight-knit and supportive environment of the national team, the winger cemented his status as one of Les Elephant’s key men.
The defence. In a tournament where defensively rigid sides flourished, the openness and cumbersomeness of the Ivorians proved to be their downfall. The warning signs had been there against Togo when the pace and power of Emmanuel Adebayor and the quicksilver wingers Serge Gakpe and Floyd Ayite caused Ivory Coast’s whole backline problems throughout. Kolo Toure, the worst performer in the opening game, was subsequently dropped with Didier Zokora drafted into his position. Would Coach Sabri Lamouchi have persisted with the Man City defender instead of disrupting the back four in the heat of the tournament? We’ll never know, but what we do know is Zokora being left rooted for Sunday Mba’s winner will be one of the iconic images from this Cup of Nations.
The fact that not only did they leave with zilch but, in exiting in the quarter-finals, they came nowhere close to winning Africa’s centrepiece. Whilst the majority of the squad should be around in two years, the players will be carrying psychological scarring that no therapy could provide the remedy for and Didier Drogba, if he’s still around, will most likely be fully in his dotage.
Togo had the benefit of one of the most exciting attacking forces in this year’s Cup of Nations. Emmanuel Adebayor wasn’t at his brilliant best but still caused problems for defenders, but Ayite brothers and in particular Serge Gakpe impressed on the flanks. A quality and lack of depth beyond that, though, was their undoing. Similarly, defensively they were good, particularly again Algeria where they were resolute under pressure. Serge Akakpo had a good tournament, making up for missing out in 2010 when he was injured in the bus shooting.
I find it difficult to single out one bad thing in particular, the problem for Togo is that they don’t have more than 1 brilliant player, and even that brilliant player is very erratic. They have a host of reliable names who are capable of performing well at Cup of Nations level, as they demonstrated in this tournament, but there is little in the squad to suggest they can go on to bigger and better things. In the end, the match against Burkina Faso could have gone either way once it reached extra time, but they never really looked like winning the tournament. It’s something to build upon but you get the feeling that, to a certain extent, they are a one-man team, as suggested by poor performances during Adebayor’s brief “retirement”.
Their tournament began with a(nother) pay dispute and ended with a refusal to leave their hotel after elimination. They really need to sort themselves out to avoid becoming the laughing stock of African football.