Africa Cup of Nations 2013: SFG writers’ verdict

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

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Paul Sarahs: Choosing Drogba as top scorer. Hadn’t played a competitive game for so long and was clearly rusty.

Maher Mezahi: I am quite proud of my predictions. Despite their early exit, Algeria dominated most of their matches. I predicted Zambia to disappoint, Ethiopia to excite and South Africa to exceed expectations. The predictions I was most disappointed with were the emergence of Christian Atsu, and Didier Drogba as top scorer.

Salim Said: I probably overrated the Ivory Coast, defensively they were abysmal for a side of their calibre – and it was foreseeable in their warm-up friendly versus Egypt, the play-off tie against Senegal and since Lamouchi’s appointment, really.

James Bennett: I’d like to think I got most things right. OK, so my main prediction of South Africa winning was a bit wrong. And I did predict Togo to underachieve. And I picked Dikgacoi as one of my players to watch just before he got injured in the first half of the first game…OK so they weren’t very good predictions generally. But I did pick Burkina Faso out as a surprise package (and that they’d edge Zambia out in Group C), and did suggest Ghana and Morocco would underachieve. That I got something right is a bonus.

Sam Crocker:

The predictions I gave before the tournament were most certainly a mixed bag in terms of success. Probably my biggest disappointment on a personal level was the underperformance of South Africa. The high proportion of host success at AFCON and the reasonable performance they put in at the World Cup in 2010 means I think it made sense at the time, but the lack of cohesion they showed throughout the whole tournament was mind-boggling. Atrocious to watch, no creative spark, and just showed that they are still not at the level they should be for a country like themselves.

Obviously Nigeria’s triumph when I predicted their downfall too didn’t work out as I thought it might. A rare sign of squad cohesion lacking too many big egos under Keshi’s tenure was a joy to see, and they were by far the most deserved winners I feel, not only by the way they played but also the convincingness of it, in a tournament that generally lacked quality. It was a pleasure to see them defy my expectations.

It wasn’t all-bad though. Burkina Faso were one of my dark horses for the tournament, and certainly did not disappoint, remaining an absolute treat for the eyes when they played and surpassing all the expectations of mediocrity. I also think Democratic Republic of Congo were not too far away from having the potential to do the same, just lacking that one creative midfielder to create the chances, with their downfall being reliance on penalties to get through.

Alex Queiros: Possibly picking Angola as surprise of the tounament. They were inexistent and need to continue developing under coach Gustavo Ferrín. No goals scored (the own goal they got against Cape Verde doesn’t really count) and an unxperienced squad never really works in a tournament in despite being in a somwha accessible group, they just didn’t have enough.

Sagar Patel: Should’ve known better than to predict Ivory Coast as winners!

James Eugene: Not at all. I predicted that Cape Verde may be a potential surprise package and will progress to the knockout stages, which they did. I also mentioned that Victor Moses will be a key player to look out for in the tournament. The only major mistakes I made were that Ivory Coast would win and that Drogba/Katongo would be top scorer. I’m not that bad at predicting things it seems.

Amro Alkado: Choosing Issam Jemaa as possible top scorer, injured in the first match then Tunisia exit early in shocking style.

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Best Player

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Paul:  John Obi Mikel. Released from his defensive duties at club level, he flourished. Outstanding.

Maher: Any of Nigeria’s front 5. Actually, since they played as a unified body, I’ll just combine them into a single entity. Congratulations MusEmenIdeMosMba for being the AFCON’s best player!

Salim: John Obi Mikel. Completely changed my – and many peoples’ – perception of him during the tournament. Closely followed by Seydou Keita.

James B: Alain Traore. Even though he only played in 2 and a bit matches, he was still the player who lifted this tournament from the group stage gloom.

Sam: Sorry to be dull, but I’ve got to say Jonathan Pitroipa. In a tournament in which creativity beyond the “long ball” was desperately lacking, he was a sight for sore eyes with his positive, forward thinking play in the final third. His ability to run at players, pass, cross and shoot really was wonderful to watch, and I feel that having a fit Alain Traore to link up with in the middle may have edited the final scene of the AFCON script.

Alex: It’s really hard to pick just one player, so I’ll split them into where they play.

Best foreign-based player would probably be Mali’s Seydou Keita. Even though Mali are as exciting as a 2-hour lecture on how paint dries, Keita managed to give it some spark, scoring vital goals and pushing the whole team forward. How no European team bought him in the transfer window is beyond me.

Best domestic based player would be Fatawu Dauda. Amazing shot-stopping capabilities, somewhat young and with a face to scare the most fearless of strikers, Dauda helped Ghana through the group stages with consistent matches and providing crucial saves. Much like Keita, European teams will be all over him in the transfer window.

Sagar:  Seydou Keita

James E: Pitroipa for Burkina Faso in my opinion. He just about beat Victor Moses to it.

Amro:  Victor Moses really impressed me throughout.

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Discoveries of the tournament (3 players you didn’t know about)

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Paul:

Stoppila Sunzu: Best defender in the tournament. I had heard a lot but hadn’t seen much. Can’t wait to see him more regularly.

Efe Ambrose: A moment of genius in an otherwise pretty drab final.

Dean Furman: A strange choice, maybe, but he was excellent for Bafana Bafana

Maher: Molla Wague, Dare Nibombe and Ben Cherifia. The latter especially impressed me between the sticks, he’s got a bright future with the Carthage Eagles.

Salim: Charles Kabore (knew him prior to the tournament but didn’t know he had so much more to his game), Paul Koulibaly and Molla Wague.

James B: Traore is one – I don’t follow French football and had no idea the guy was seriously good. Similarly, Pitroipa has been impressive. Lastly, I’ll go a bit left-field and say one guy who has impressed me every time I watched him was Mamadou Samassa (the striker) of Mali, who always seemed busy and created a lot of chances for himself.

Sam:

Adama Tamboura (Mali) – Having covered Mali for most of the competition, Tamboura certainly came closer than anyone to being on the same level as talisman Seydou Keita. Despite playing at left-back, he was arguably the country’s most creative player, showing an incredible capacity to get forward and make things happen in the opposition box. No slouch with the ball at his feet, his consistent ability to get to the byline and pull it back was very impressive, whilst also showing the responsibility with regards to his defensive duties as well, which he performed to the highest standard.

Paul Koulibaly (Burkina Faso) – Despite the masterclass that Pitroipa and Traore were performing at the other end of the pitch, the real quality of the finalist’s play was at the back, with Koulibaly’s relationship with Bakary Kone in the centre of defence absolutely sublime. There is no other way to describe this man’s time on the pitch in South Africa than “solid”. Batting away any attack that came his way, whether it be battling in the air or cutting out with his feet, he was as cool as a centre-back can be, and should be praised by his teammates for the consistency he provided in defence.

Moussa Mazou (Niger) – Though quite clearly a big fish in a small pond, Niger’s number two provides my slightly leftfield choice for one of my discoveries of the tournament, as he carried his Niger side largely on his own who arguably deserved more. Going for the tactic of remaining staunch and solid at the back, the Niger striker showed an endearing tenacity and flair in the half of the pitch where his team really lacked any real possession. A man who has been at many clubs at the relatively young age of 24, AFCON 2013 showed why so many were willing to take a punt on him across Europe, as he battled consistently despite minimal support from his teammates to find a goal for his country.

Alex:

Adane Girma – I saw the match that gave Ethiopia the right to be in this Afcon live, but I had no idea of who was who, so when the match with Zambia came, I was delighted to see such a good player in their squad. Scored their only goal of the tournament and was fundamental in that match. Such a shame he got himself injured early on in the second match.

Fatawu Dauda – I have to pick Dauda. If it wasn’t for him, I’m sure Cape Verde would’ve at least equalized in the quarter-finals and Burkina Faso probably wouldn’t need to go to penalties in the semis. Amazing shot-stopper and yet another proof that African goalkeepers aren’t all that bad.

Nando – He may be 34 and has already retired from international duty, but the Cape Verde captain was absolutely vital to secure the Blue Sharks’ defensive security and cohesion. He has an own goal to his name, but I bet he’s pretty proud of what he did on this Afcon.

Sagar: Tamboura (Mali), Emenike (Nigeria), Neves (Cape Verde)

James E: Emmanuel Emenike, Wakaso and Sunday Mba

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Best Coach

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Paul:  The irrepressible Mr Keshi. Made a few pre-tournament decisions that seemed strange (Ameobi, Shittu, Odemwingie) but winning the Cup the ultimate vindication.

Maher: It’d be hard to look past Keshi, but I’m going to give it to Paul Put. He took a Burkina team who had the penultimate worst defense in Gabon/Equatorial Guinea and solidified it. They only conceded two goals in open play this tournament, both to Nigeria.

Salim: Stephen Keshi. He talked the talk and walked the walk.

James B: Stephen Keshi has done a remarkable job. His stance on ditching the experienced players in favour of home-based youngsters has been totally vindicated.

Sam: I would say Paul Put or Steve Keshi, but considering the circumstances of his employment, I’m going to go for Didier Six. For a man whose only previous managerial job was a brief spell at Strasbourg in 1986, quite why he was hired in the first place still baffles me slightly. Nevertheless, I thought his Togo team were excellent in the tournament, striking a glorious balance between defensive solidity and flowing attacking play. The use of Gakpe and Ayite on either wing was great to watch, and didn’t fall into the trap of relying solely on Adebayor’s presence in the air to get through matches as a lesser manager would have done.

Alex:  Stephen Keshi. I predicted Nigeria to be the dissapointment of the tournament, along with plenty others, and he gave us a middle finger and a white gloved slap to the face, taking a young and inexperienced squad to victory, with a very creative and technically gifted side, playing attractive football, but still being hard to beat. Keshi proved, without a doubt, that local coaches are as good if not better than foreign coaches.

Sagar: Stephen Keshi.

James E: Stephen Keshi. He has now won the African Cup of Nations as both a player and a manager. What a wonderful achievement!

Amro:  Stephen Keshi – he won it, didn’t he?

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Best Match

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Maher: I liked Ethiopia’s opener against Zambia. It had emotional and entertaining elements to it.

Salim: Zambia v Ethiopia – End-to-end football from both sides, Ethiopia played much of the game with 10 men but they did remarkably well to play some fine football, particularly after the entrance of Addis Hintsa. There was also the carnival atmosphere from the Ethiopian ex-pat community in South Africa – it must have felt like a home match for the Walya Antelopes.

James B: By far and away the best action came on that last day of Group A action, particularly the second halves. I watched both matches at the same time and it was thrilling to see the state of play changing so dramatically in the last 20 minutes. So it’ll have to be Morocco vs South Africa from that day.

Sam: South Africa vs. MoroccoIn an evening which really exemplified the ways in which international tournaments are so wonderful, South Africa’s game with Morocco provided some of the best twists and turns that made the SFG Twitter feed use the phrase “AS IT STANDS” more than Geoff Stelling on the final day of the season. It has everything. Centre backs scoring. Terrible tactical decisions. Confusion about the substitute’s name. Great stuff.

Alex: I must admit I didn’t watch every single match (shame on me), but the second half of Ghana v Cape Verde was incredibly exciting, thanks to Ghana’s undeserved penalty and Cape Verde’s reaction to it.

Sagar: Ivory Coast 1-2 Nigeria

James E: Morocco 2-2 South Africa AND Cape Verde 2-1 Angola, with both matches being played at the same time. The table changed throughout the game, which made things even more interested. A comeback from Cape Verde, which included an injury-time winner, combined with a late goal from South Africa ensured both teams progressed to the next round.

Amro: The final day of group A was simply amazing. Drama after drama, so 2 games were involved but it was my highlight!

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Highlight

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Paul: Alain Traore’s match-winning performance against Ethiopia.

Maher: Aristide Bance’s semi-final performance.

Salim: Nigeria winning the Cup of Nations. It’s great to see one of Africa’s powerhouses finally delivering success again and with a young team – hopefully they can build on this on the world stage.

James B: In terms of a single moment, Burkina Faso’s late equaliser against Nigeria was great at the time, and now looks even more significant.

Sam: Aristides Bance’s panenka in the penalty shoot out vs. Ghana. Absolutely fantastic.

Alex: Clear Portuguese bias, but Cape Verde was the highlight of the tournament. Not many people thought theat they would go far, but they fended off a sleeping South Africa, suffered a late goal against Morocco, shellshocked Angola and deserved more against Ghana. Lúcio Antunes, air traffic controller by day, international coach by night, picked a stellar squad, playing their game with humility and solidarity and turning Cape Verde into a country to look out for in future tournaments.

Sagar: Burkina Faso’s underdog story

James E: Two of the main highlights for me:
1) Enyeama trying to lift the referee up onto his shoulders when he blew the final whistle in the Final (and eventually giving up)
2) The amount of fans on Twitter and Facebook. I knew there were a lot of fans, but the passion that every single one of them showed was incredible and made it more of an enjoyable experience for me.

Amro: Nigeria making it back to the big time, wonderful.

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Lowlight

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Paul: As always, the refereeing.

Maher: Moths, fungi, and poor attendance.

Salim: The cagey football earlier in the tournament, Cheick Diabate failing to register a solitary goal, and the Mbombela Stadium pitch.

James B: The first day as a whole. What a massive let-down. For me, I don’t think the tournament recovered from that.

Sam: DR Congo v MaliAfter I built this game up in my head quite a lot, the dungheap of a game that followed was honestly absolutely atrocious. Epitomised the worst aspects of this tournament, as the referee’s liberal use of the whistle  and just general incompetence in front of goal meant this one petered out into being about exciting as one of my Grandpa’s war stories. Ugh.

Alex:

The Organizing Committee. It is understandable that it is a logistic nightmare to move a set of teams from one city to another, but I’m pretty sure the Mbombela pitch debacle could’ve been avoided if the committee had had a bit of hindsight. The pitch didn’t turn bad overnight, it was bad before the tournament began, and yet the matches were still played, even though the pitch was more sand than grass and the grass that did exist looked like it had been painted green.

There are 2 stadiums that were used in the 2010 World Cup within a 300km radius of Nelspruit, Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane and the Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria. How hard can it be to take the teams there and find appropriate accommodation before the competition began?

Add that to the poor attendance figures in the matches South Africa and Ethiopia weren’t involved and lack of PR, and you have a very ambient-less tournament. Again, they had little time to organize everything, but some things could’ve been avoided.

Sagar: Ivory Coast falling short yet again.

James E: I have three: 1) The lack of goals in the two opening matches 2) Alain Traore’s injury 3) The Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit

Amro: No North African teams making the knockout stages, really disappointing.

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Team of the tournament

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Paul: Enyeama, Sunzu, Bakary Kone, Omeruo, Pitroipa, Seydou Keita, John Obi Mikel, Wakaso, Alain Traore, Emenike, Moses.

Maher: Enyeama, Ambrose-Nando-Sunzu-Tamboura, Mikel-Keita-Kabore, Moses-Pitroipa-Emenike.

Salim: Enyeama; Ambrose, Nando, Koulibaly, Tamboura; Mikel, Kabore, Keita;  Moses, Pitroipa, Emenike.

James B: Enyeama; Paintsil; Bakary Kone; Nando; Kwadwo Asamoah; Kabore, Mikel; Emenike, Keita; Pitroipa; Alain Traore.

Sam: Enyeama; Echiéjilé, Kouilbaly, Vorsah, Tamboura; Kabore, Mikel, Wakaso; Moses, Traore, Pitroipa

Alex: Itumeleng Khune; Nando, Isaac Vorsah, Adama Tamboura, Bakary Koné; Dean Furman, Seydou Keita, Victor Moses, Jonathan Pitroipa; Emmanuel Emenike, Alain Traoré

James E: Kind of hard to argue with the SFG 2013 AFCON team, but here it goes: Enyeama, Tamboura, Ambrose, Nando, Vorsha, Mikel, Moses, Pitroipa, Kabore, Wakaso and Emenike.

Sagar: Enyeama (Nigeria); Ambrose (Nigeria), Kone (Burkina Faso), Koulibaly (Burkina Faso), Echiejile (Nigeria); Kabore (Burkina Faso), Mikel (Nigeria), Keita (Mali), Pitroipa (Burkina Faso); Moses (Nigeria), Emenike (Nigeria)

Amro:  SFG Afcon team

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