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Friday, January 22, 2010

The Boys Have Gone Home, Men take Centerstage

So the pigeons in African football have finally been separated from the pigs. But what do I, and perhaps many, make of the group stages of the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations? Pathetic, pariah, dull and lacking the gusto and even a glimmer of panache that has been the Nations Cup in the years past. No impregnable defences, no telephatic understanding between any forwards, no outright midfield dynamos, no amalgams of speed, and no tenacity nor defiance.

Results? The list of quarter-finalists is a no-surprises one as the big guns have all made it through, albeit with a struggle.

But struggles never matter in football so long as you can grind out a result. At the end of the day, losers wallow at the bottom positions of the table, pack and travel home (by air, use road at your own peril, especially in Cabinda), winners move to the next stage, get closer to the coveted title, and, give their coaches the hope of retaining their jobs at least for some more time. Bye bye Mozambique coach Mart Nooij. Shaibu Amodu, you are next my brother. Even if you go past a tricky Zambian side, you are obviously not the right tactician to help the Super Eagles - not Super Chickens - fly in the World Cup mundial.

The quarter-finals shotlist has them though. The impressive Egyptian Pharaohs, the just-about-there Ivory Coast Elephants, the uninspiring Ghana, the labouring Indomitable Lions and... the home team Angola have all but booked a ticket to improve on their sub-standard and less than satisfactory football in the quarter finals. Did I forget any "giant"? Oh, the Super Egos of Nigeria.

No match gives the potency of fireworks than Egypt Versus Cameroon. Although the Pharaohs have so far had what can be the only Roy of the Rovers performance in the African football premier tourney, not the same can be said of the Indomitable Lions who can be accused of complacency. Alexander Song has been brilliant for the Lions, his Uncle Rigobert has been error-prone and Samuel Eto'o has been mediocre, somewhat. Compare to the rocket-speed Pharaohs who have marvelled at orchestrating jaw-dropping moves from their goal-mouth to their opponents', you can't seem to wonder what will happen in the game. Hassan Shehata's side go into the match as favourites, but rule out Eto'o and his men at your own peril.

Ivory Coast versus the Desert Foxes of Algeria will not be a dry affair. But I bet on your money the Elephants will walk their way through the desert without needing any camels.

Angola versus Ghana sounds less exciting. And righfully so. Ghana will be without their inspirational midfielder Michael Essien, who is out of the tournament. Captain Stephen Appiah won't come out of his date with the doctors and Inter Milan midfielder, Sulley Muntari only reminds Ghanaian football officials of the word indiscpline. The home team will be wishing their hitman Flavio will be fit and hungry to bang in the goals and have the golden boot remain in Luanda. Expect a good fight though between the Palancas Negras and the youthful Ghanaian side.

Which leaves us with Nigeria versus Zambia. Nigeria will easily beat the Chipolopolo. In fact, the Super Eagles will slice them into pieces of fours or fives. It is of my sincere advice that the Copper Bullets build something stronger than an eleven-man copper-wall in order to stray the firing from the Eagles, failure to which, they will travel back to Kinshasha with their heads burried in their hands. Such is the confidence and adrenaline rushing through the Nigerian side captained by midfield maestro, the one and only Augustine Jay Jay Okocha. It is thus so hard to contemplate the star-studded Nigerian side even concede a goal. With Julius Aghahowa leading the attack, Tijani Babangida in a sublime form, and Sunday Oliseh unplayable at times, the 1994 Super Eagles side won the Africa Cup of nations and Nigeria has never lifted the trophy since.

I know my football.

So if by know you haven't realized am not talking about the current Nigerian squad, then you must be one of the few looking forward to go back to Angola for tourism reasons.

With the Super Eagles' display always lacking the urgency in a manner commensurate with when such situation arises, I won't be surprised if they bow out courtesy of an earlier Katongo goal for the Zambians. Most Nigerian supporters are chagrined that their status as one of the Kings of African football is under a big threat. An unlikely but not surprising defeat to Zambia will almost certainly confirm their fear.

But if the Eagles improving form is not a hoax and they can fly past the Chipolopolo - without being seen to be struggling - they have the best chance among the "Big Four" to reach the finals. Ghana or Angola, teams which are beatable by Nigeria's expected standards, shouldn't be such a hill to climb en route to the finals. Ghana has an inexperienced side while Angola is not as favourite as the Super Eagles to lift the trophy. If Amodu's charges score and fail to concede against Zambia and Ghana/Angola, they will make it to the finals for the first in ten years.

So forget about all the many wrong offside calls, the goal differences, the head-to-head records, Togo and Cabinda rebels, the searing heat and all the that have marred the group stages of the 27th edition of the African Nations Cup. The masterpiece is getting better, European clubs are watching, the world is watching...

And that's the Steifmastetake!!