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What next in the AFCON?

January 14, 2010

After the first round of matches in the African Nations Cup, The Videprinter crew are left questioning whether their competition predictions are likely to come good. As it stands – after Ivory Coast drawing with Burkina Faso, Gabon shocking Cameroon, and Nigeria being confidently swatted aside by an Egypt team we dismissed as quarter-final hopes at best – there is more chance of Liverpool’s designs on a trophy being successful this season. Well, there’s always the best groundsman’s award.

Anyway, having seen every team (bar Ghana, who open their account on Friday) once, we are left to reflect on the opening games of a tournament that has already surprised, amused, and most importantly: entertained.

One oddity of the tournament so far is the apparent need for a medical crew, replete with stretcher, to come onto the pitch when anyone is down and the referee stops play. This leads to bizarre situations where players are carried off the pitch, sitting up on a stretcher, then running back onto the pitch soon after. Which begs the question: will Andre Bikey, who didn’t feature in Cameroon’s opening game earlier today, put up with the interference of medical staff any more than he did in Ghana in 2008? Let’s hope he plays in their second game and we find out. After all, “He’s capable of doing this at any stage,” said Garth Crooks in psychoanalyst mode two years ago.

Secondly, will we see an improvement in the quality of goalkeeping? Precedent tells us that the answer is a resounding ‘No’, but surely some ‘keepers in the tournament must know when to come for a cross, and how to catch it once they get there. The shot-stopping has been decent on the whole, but the undoubted highlight of Cup so far was this effort from Mozambique goalkeeper Rafael.

Things, as d:ream sang, can only get better.

But, amusing moments aside, the tournament has seen some matches of real quality. Angola’s marauding right-back Mabina linked well with teammates Flavio and Gilberto to provide some excellent football in the opening game against Mali. Can they continue against theoretically weaker opponents Algeria and Malawi?

Mali, of course, came back from 4-0 down to claim a draw against the hosts, and will need to be much better in their next two games.

The Egypt team celebrate their win over Nigeria

Elsewhere the standout performance of the tournament so far came from reigning champions Egypt, who came from behind to beat Nigeria 3-1. The key man was Mohamed Zidan – his range of passing, on a difficult pitch, showed his ability and why his teammates look for him to drive the team forward. It is difficult to see the fragile defences of Mozambique and Benin stopping him and his partner in crime Emad Moteab. Many – The Videprinter included – thought the Pharoahs might struggle without Aboutrika. They’ve already brushed aside the toughest opponents in their group.

The less-fancied sides Gabon and Burkina Faso have already sprung surprises this tournament; their success in the matches against Cameroon and the Ivory Coast respectively was built on a strong defensive base and a well-organised midfield. Can they continue their good starts and advance to the knockout stages, against the odds?

Each match of the tournament is televised live on Eurosport, and coverage will, of course, continue on The Videprinter.

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