Tumo Mokone

AFCON final, a study for SA

2010-01-29 14:23
Sport24 columnist Tumo Mokone (File)
Tumo Mokone

South African football must do itself a favour by watching the Africa Cup of Nations final on Sunday.

I am a satisfied man that the two deserving teams, which I also punted before the start of the tournament, will be contesting the championship match.

I call on the local soccer fraternity – players, coaches, administrators and fans alike – to follow the final match with a studious eye. I agree that for many the game on Sunday will serve merely as entertainment value. However, for South Africa, the final between Ghana and Egypt provides a good opportunity to observe a live demonstration on all that is good about the two countries’ game.

Late last year I was slated for the column in which I punted Ghana to be used as a case study to revive SA’s wobbly youth structures. I even suggested that the local federation, SA Football Association (SAFA), should get in touch with their Ghanaian counterparts to propose an exchange programme involving youth coaches of both countries. The usual response from my critics was that I was crazy.

If I am nuts about what Ghana has achieved after their fall in fortunes in the mid-1990s, then I am happy to be mad about their recovery. The last time Ghana reached the AFCON final was in 1992, and before that they were the record-holders with the highest numbers of titles - four. That honour has since shifted to Egypt, who are now seeking their seventh title on Sunday – and an unprecedented third in a row.

From 1996 until 2003, Bafana had the beating of Ghana until all that changed during the qualifying matches for the 2006 World Cup. The Black Stars players who unleashed untold damage on Bafana, winning both home and away qualifiers 3-0, consisted of the squad that did duty in the 2001 FIFA Under-20 World Cup. The exceptions were captain Steven Appiah and a few others. But the likes of Essien, Muntari and Mensah were in that 2001 Under-20 squad which lost 1-0 to hosts Argentina.

While it took three years for Essien and company to become the core squad, Ghana’s Under-20 class of 2009 is in the thick of things in Angola, just four months after winning the FIFA Under-20 World Cup.

It is now the staff of fairy tales that chaps like Andre Ayew are in another final of a major tournament. And five months from today, Ayew and some of his Under-20 team-mates will be in South Africa to do duty in the ultimate – the FIFA World Cup. It must also be noted that these youngster will still be eligible to play in the London 2012 Olympics, if Ghana qualifies of course!

It’s my wish, therefore, that PSL-based Bafana hopefuls and other SA players, especially the juniors, watch the Ghana team on Sunday with the keenness of students. They must assess and evaluate the strategy and its execution, temperament, leadership, tactical and technical discipline – all the factors which go into a plan for a football match at this level. 

While Ghana offer many useful lessons about all that’s good about having a working development programme, Egypt’s shine is its league.

South Africa may brag about having the richest league on the continent, but the Egyptian premier league should be proclaimed the best in Africa as it has produced and sustained such high quality for such a long time.

Several teams

Once again, the current Pharaohs squad is dominated by players based in Egypt. And even better, the domination of Al Ahly has dissipated as the team in Angola is made up of players from several teams. This means quality is evenly distributed, despite the domination of league honours by Al Ahly. In Angola there are players from Ismaily, Zamalek, ENPPI and Arab Contractors – all big clubs in Egypt.

Like Egypt, South Africa relies on its domestic league for national team players, but that’s where the similarity between SA and the north African country end. There is no doubt that Egyptian players are world-class material, and play the game at a higher intensity and thrust. The Egyptians are more confident on the ball because they know they are super-fit and can close gaps quickly if anything goes wrong.

I must also add that they are more loyal to the national cause, far more than Bafana players who will casually walk off the field after a defeat. National pride is what drives most African countries, as was seen when Asamoah Gyan, the scorer of Ghana’s only goal as they edged Nigeria in the semi-finals, continued to shed tears long after the final whistle had gone. Gyan wasn’t crying because he was happy personally for scoring the winner, he said he was relieved that Ghana had finally reached the AFCON final after 20 years.

Just as SAFA owes itself a conference with Ghana, the Premier Soccer League needs to visit the Egyptian league on a fact-finding mission. We know their players are more dedicated professionals and that they take personal discipline seriously, but there's surely a lot more that makes the Egyptian league tick.

We must avoid repeating mistakes that Nigeria commit all the time at AFCON. They bring uninspired, injured, unfit and off-form players to the tournament just because those players are contracted to famous clubs overseas. Nigeria have more able and hungry players but, unfortunately, those players’ 'problem' is that they play football in Africa.

The Nigerian FA, who manage the work of national coach Shuaibu Amodu, do not see value in all the Nigerian stars who ply their trade at home, and in places like Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia and South Africa. In the past raw talent from Nigeria used to mesmerise the world, prompting scouts from top European teams to fall over each other trying to secure the signatures of rising Super Eagles. From the tournament in Angola what would one say about Nigeria’s contribution? Zero.

Closer to home we've seen some progress. The nine-goal haul against Swaziland and Zimbabwe combined was a good exercise, but Bafana still need a good test, against tougher opposition of varied football styles ahead of the World Cup kick-off against Mexico on June 11.

Ours is a race against time; what our team needs right now is big match temperament. This at least will make us look good on the big stage. Other things which are bad in our football can be taken care of after the World Cup when we start preparing for the 2012 AFCON in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.

Meanwhile, the final for Angola 2010 is a dream match – west African flair against north African technique. I like both teams, but my money is on Egypt, simply because they know how to win. I will still celebrate Ghana’s hard work, results notwithstanding.  

Tumo writes exclusively for Sport24.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.


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