Super Eagles soar again
Sport24 columnist Mark Fish (File)
After three weeks and 32 games, AFCON 2013 has come and gone. Nigeria leave local shores the newly-crowned champions of Africa.
For many football fans - myself included - Nigeria were certainly not the odds-on favourites to take the title when the tournament commenced. Although they started out slowly, they grew stronger as the tournament wore on and in the end were the deserved winners of a tense final against Burkina Faso.
I would like to salute Nigeria’s coach Stephen Keshi. On Sunday night he become only the second man to win AFCON as a player and a coach. That really is no small achievement and is deserved reward for a man who stuck to his guns in the face of adversity.
Keshi handled the players expertly throughout their time in South Africa and took them from strength-to-strength both physically and mentally.
After a 19-year AFCON trophy drought, Nigeria’s win certainly exorcises many a demon for a nation that takes such pride in their football team. It will surely also put to rest the tiresome debate of whether or not Nigeria would have won in 1996 had they not withdrawn. We deserved our moment to shine back then and the current crop of talented Nigerians now deserve theirs in 2013.
The likes of John Obi Mikel, Victor Moses and Emmanuel Emenike all shone in South Africa along with a number of lesser-known youngsters. I think for the first time in a number of years their nickname of the Super Eagles proves fitting.
On the flipside, the team that disappointed me most was Ivory Coast. Not winning the tournament once again begs us to believe that they simply cannot handle the tag of tournament favourites. I fear their golden chance of winning AFCON with the current crop of players may now have gone for good.
Staying on the subject of let-downs, for me the biggest disappointment of the tournament - the Mbombela pitch aside - was the standard of refereeing. In fact, the refereeing was so poor at times it looked like some of the officials had taken bribes to further the progress of certain teams. This is very sad and something which I hope is sorted in the near future.
On a more positive note, I would like to commend Burkina Faso for reaching the final. While few may have tipped Nigeria to win the title, no one really gave the Burkinabe much chance of progressing past the group stages.
From not winning a single match at AFCON 2012 to reaching the final in 2013, it just shows how far a team can go when they are prepared to work hard for a coach that believes in them.
I enjoyed Burkina Faso’s game as I feel they tried to play football the way it should be played. Unfortunately, the last hurdle proved too much for them and the loss of their star player Alain Traore was a big blow. I believe he would have made a massive difference in the final.
In closing, a special word goes out to all the South African fans who attended the final. Our showpiece stadium looked awesome and I hope that local fans’ experience of AFCON 2013 will see them once again filling the venue to capacity when Bafana Bafana are next in action.
With Gordon Igesund at the helm, I believe we can begin to dream again of reaching the dizzy heights of 1996. My hope is that when AFCON 2015 comes around the words Bafana Bafana and victory are in the same sentence. Mark Fish, capped 62 times for South Africa, was a key member of the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations-winning side.
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