Prince Dornu-Leiku is a columnist from Ghana and will follow
the action in Africa leading up to the 2010 World Cup.
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Review: African Cup of Nations 2008
Hello everyone, Prince Dornu-Leiku is my name and I welcome you to my first ever column on this your most distinguished website. I will be writing a lot on African football and in the coming weeks, focus will return to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa, the first on African soil. I live in Africa and I will take you through the qualifiers which kick off at the end of May. As I told you I live in Africa, but precisely Accra, Ghana. And you know that we have just played host to the rest of African football as the 26th Africa Cup of Nations came to town. You also know that we failed to follow Tunisia four years ago and Egypt two years ago to lift the trophy. But we didn't disgrace in placing third, did we? And remember we did it without our ultimate warrior, you know the man, Stephen Appiah. The captain, chief playmaker, heart and soul of the Black Stars continued his miserable luck with the Nations' Cup, injury forcing him out of the competition. Don't forget he was the only big star African player to be absent in Ghana 2008.
But we are not crying over spilt milk in Accra. We are proud to have hosted the best Nations Cup yet - you can't argue with the quality of football showcased. A tournament which produced an all time goal scoring ratio, goals many of which were spectacular and world class, a tournament which saw Samuel Eto'O surpass Lauren Pokou's record of 38 years to become the competition's all-time highest scorer and of course where many young guns were also given the stage to hone their talents. 18 year old Andre Ayew, son of the legendary Abedi Pele, starting for Ghana in the all-decisive Nations' Cup semi finals, is there any other motivation for a budding footballer? Ghana 2008 was about football and the football we saw was world class quality and which is a big plus for Africa as South Africa 2010 comes into focus. For us in Ghana, though we failed to live up to the 'Host and Win' ambition, we are glad to have laid the foundation for a team we believe will be fully built and ready for the World Cup come 2010.
The Pharaohs of Egypt are African champions for a record six times and deservedly so. By beating Cameroon 1-0 in the final, the Egyptians lived up to the form book having dismantled the Indomitable Lions 4-2 to get both sides Ghana 2008 campaign under-way. The Pharaohs continued in the same fashion defeating all other sides - bar a 1-1 draw against Zambia that was even enough - including an overly-fancied Ivory Coast in the semi. The 4-1 victory and the execution manner established the Pharaohs' true credentials in African football today. The draw against Zambia and the narrow - supposedly - victory over Angola in the quarter finals had led many to revise the scripts they had written on Hassan Shehata's men when they demolished the Cameroonians in their first game.
But the draw with Zambia should be credited much to resilience of Chipolopolo captain Christopher Katongo. His goal in the defeat to Cameroon was top class synonymous with Brazilian great Ronaldo's opener against Costa Rica in the 2002 FIFA World Cup. Due to suspension the Denmark based forward was absent for his country in their first game against Sudan. He may have notched a few goals against the Sudanese. But in both games against Cameroon and Egypt - the eventual finalists remember - his talent came to the fore. He is without doubt one of the fiercest attackers in African football and it is a pity, with all courtesies to Kalusha Bwalya and company, he is Zambian. He would have been very useful to Ghana (!!!???!!!).
Katongo aside, Zambia shown to have a team of promise, is attacking-minded and a very enterprising midfield. Felix Katongo, junior brother of Chris, showed glimpses of greatness in Ghana, likewise rasta haired No. 10 Ian Bakala and Jacob Mulenga. If the Chipolopolo have any problem now it is in defence where it was awful how easily they crumbled under attack. Even against the hapless Sudanese, the Nile Crocodiles with a little bit purposefulness, could have notched a few goals themselves. As it came, they couldn't and their 0-3 loss to Zambia was repeated against both of Egypt and Cameroon.
That Cameroon made it to the final despite the opening game setback may be a miracle in itself. As midfielder Jean Epalle said, the Indomitable Lions' 'reputation' was what helped them defeat a more enterprising Tunisia in the only match that went into extra time. As it were, Cameroon held their own again in the semis against the hosts, the partisan and intimidating Ghanaian crowd notwithstanding. Their ability to sustain all Ghanaian pressure and strike back with what was their only clear-cut chance of the game was one reserved for football teams with the mental and historical strengths only the Indomitable Lions can boast of in African football. In 2000, they held their own to beat a very talented Nigeria side in Lagos to win the Africa Unity Cup for keeps. Two years later, the Eagles of Mali, supposedly flying with no inhibition, were shot down 3-0 to earth by Cameroon in the semis before going on to beat a very motivated Senegal on penalties in the final.
2008, it was the turn of Ghana to suffer the mental aptitude of the Indomitable Lions. Earlier, Cameroon had scraped wins over Zambia and Sudan 8-1 to book their knock-out stage ticket, but the results were fluke compared to the performances. Zambia basically gifted Eto'O et al all five goals, it was clear the Chipolopolo were overawed by the mere presence of the much more illustrious opponents. That Eto'O will win the top scorer award as well as setting a new mark for the all-time scorer's tally in the history of the African Cup of Nations was very ironical indeed. The FC Barcelona star, incomparable, audacious, deadly, mighty, god, went to sleep in Ghana. Admittedly, he initiated and classically headed in Cameroon's first goal against Egypt for his Nations Cup goal number 12 but he needed three PKs to catch up and subdue Ivorian great Lauren Pokou's record which had stood for 38 years. But it was clear the prolific goal monger was not giving his all, afraid for injury perhaps. FC Barcelona officials were right here in Ghana following him to every match and may have had a say in his approach. Even his second goal against Sudan which gave him goal number 16, though well-taken, should always be finished as such by Samuel Eto'O.
It was an identical goal Nkong scored to silence over 40,000 Ghanaians at the Ohene Djan Stadium and over 20 million others across the land of gold. Missing influential centreback John Mensah through suspension, the highly effective utility Michael Essien was implored in central defence by Ghana coach Claude Leroy, perhaps with the plot to keep Eto'O at bay. But that was where Ghana lost the plot. Eto'O, as he was throughout the tournament, was quite and would have been no threat had Frenchman Claude Leroy been able to gamble on Ahmed Barruso partnering Eric Addo in central defence for the team to make use of Essien's runs, turns, tackles, break-ups, break-downs in central midfield. Leroy, who turned 60 on the eve of the match, rather chose to play Essien in central defence even when the overly creative Laryea Kingston - having a nightmarish tournament - crashed out with an ankle injury during the warm-up to the game. Essien was very effective defensive cover in the quarter-final magnificent 2-1 win over none other than Nigeria, but that was when the Black Stars were playing with ten men. So was it worth it in the beginning against Cameroon when aside Laryea, regular frontman Asamoah Gyan was also missing through a supposed injury? The younger Gyan had received a lot of bashing from the Ghanaian fans for his wastefulness in front of goal. But how he always gets into goalscoring positions many a times over, must be very commendable and only encouraged for the 22 year old to mature into the world class striker the Black Stars need.
For in his absence, Ghana which had hitherto created so many clear-cut scoring chances struggled to break down the Cameroon defence. Gyan is very powerful in the air and is always first to aerial balls and consequently setting up teammates on goal. Junior Agogo, the English third tier striker, won many Ghanaian converts with his sheer strength and stamina and may have even been the biggest individual winner of Ghana 2008, but Agogo does not possess the natural talent Asamoah Gyan has.
So it comes back to Leroy's tactical failure on the day. Choosing to replace Laryea Kingston with the 18 year old Dede Ayew instead of pushing Essien upfront, the Samuel Eto'O threat notwithstanding, was a big minus for Leroy. He may be the son of a legend and also have the talent, but Dede couldn't be the key man for Ghana's attack in the semi finals of the Africa Cup of Nations. Even Barruso could have done better in the situation. If he wanted Dede on, Leroy could have even marshalled the Marseille youngster upfront alongside Agogo, let Baffour Gyan - senior brother of Asamoah - drop to the bench and bring on another midfielder in Ahmed Barruso - a strategy he will only adopt once Ghana had fallen behind. Without that, all the work had to fall on Sulley Muntari. But as fate would have it, as it was, it turned out to be one of Sulley Muntari's baddest days on a football field. He was invisible and easily deprived of the ball in all 50-50 situations by the hefty Cameroonians. As it were, only the crafty Tony Annan, who despite his miniature size, could do battle with the Cameroonian midfield. So the Black Stars failed to break the Indomitable Lions down and when Samuel Eto'O found Alain Nkong on the left courtesy a quick one-two-three from a counter-attack, the Mexico-based forward shot with precision to silence Accra.
It meant that Ghana's 26 year wait for an African title will continue. Since the Black Stars won their fourth title in 1982, Egypt and Cameroon have now both won it four times each. This tournament was supposed to be the breeding ground for Ghana's renaissance in African football. They may have been dreaming to lift the trophy overall but Ghana did not disgrace. Their coach failed to read his tactics well in the semi finals, just, and it cost the Black Stars badly against a Cameroon side that struggled against their opponents in all six games. But Ghana have bred a quality football team which's attacking potency and slight defensive frailty they have to work on and they can lead Africa's challenge come SA 2010. Leroy have to find a natural left-footed player to man the left side of defence and give Richard Kingson a respectful international retirement. He is good and goalkeepers, like wine, get better with age. But he is not getting any better than the neglected Sammy Adjei who after leading the side to qualify for the World Cup, was dropped to the bench when Kingson resurfaced few days before Germany 2006. Adjei has never had a chance in again and is naturally peeved - he refused to heed the coach's instruction to warm-up when Kingson received a knock against Cameroon.
Goalkeeping aside, Ghana's left side of defence has also been a problem spot for ages with no naturally left-footed player taking the spot for years. Right-footed star Emmanuel Addoquaye Pappoe who led the Essiens, Muntaris and Mensahs to the 2001 World Youth Cup in Argentina, had been doing a very good job on that left side of Ghana's defence for years until Ghana's 0-2 loss to Italy in their maiden World Cup game in Germany 2006. Public outcry led to Pappoe's drop with the inexperienced Habib Mohammed playing for King Faisal in Ghana's second city of Kumasi made famous by another club, Asante Kotoko, was called to duty performing it so well against both Czech Republic and USA. But Habib's move to Norway for a professional career soon after the World Cup has ironically rather left him out of the national team. Why? Only the Ghana FA can tell. Hans Adu Sarpei, naturally right-footed player, has done so well at left back in recent games for the Black Stars, I will put him in that position for my team of the tournament, but the earlier Ghana find the right man to do the job, the better.
Ivory Coast came here the hottest favourites and lived up to the billing whilst it lasted until they were tumbled down to earth by an effective Egyptian hurricane of football artistry at its best. Organization, dedication, mission, cohesion, precision, the Egyptians had it all. The Egyptians dismissed the Ivorians with ease as Didier Drogba and company contemplated revenge for losing the final of Egypt 2006 on penalties to the Pharaohs. So when after winning all three games in the 'group of death' with an average of 8-1 was followed by a 5-0 whacking of a defaced Guinea, many were those who had sworn to hand over the trophy to Monsieur Drogba et al. Apart from the hosts, the Elephants had the most supporting base, Ivorians making maximum use of their proximity to neighbours Ghana. It cost less to travel from inside Cote d'Ivoire to the Elephants' match venues sometimes than traveling from inside Ghana.
But the victory over Guinea had its critics who argue we could have seen a different match had Guinea got their captain Pascal Feindounou back for the quarter final. But CAF, the Confederation of African Football, noted for its inconsistent decisions, ruled the France-based player will miss that game too in addition to having served suspension against Namibia. True, Feindounou was stupid in getting sent off against Morocco when he was calling all the shots but CAF should have been realistic and given him a one-match ban as was done for Ghana captain John Mensah. In banning him for two matches, CAF not only mis-matched the Guinea-Ivory Coast last 8 tie, they deprived the tournament of more show from the man who was perhaps the most creative individual player to play in Ghana 2008. Feindounou lighted the Accra Stadium turf right in the opening game tormenting the Black Stars and even in defeat, he was rightly named man-of-the-match. Then came the game against Morocco which they knew was the battle for the group's second spot, once more his talent came to the fore with the exquisite free-kick from such angle then dictating the entire pitch, creating the second before converting the third from the penalty spot.
Like Guinea, Nigeria, Angola and Tunisia were all gallant quarter final losers bar perhaps West African giants Nigeria who failed to negotiate their way past this stage for the first time since 1982. The Super Eagles were nicknamed 'Super chickens' before Ghana 2008 entered its third day, and they lived up to the moniker. Easily the most disappointing team of the tournament, Nigeria failed to put up any fight in the all-important fixture against old nemesis Ghana even when they played over 30 minutes with an extra man. Former Super Eagles player Austin Eguavon led the team to Egypt 2006 but Nigerian football chiefs felt he need an upper arm to steer their national team to greater heights. In came Berti Vogts, the German tactician who had led his country to EURO'96 glory but is more remembered for failing miserably with Scotland recently. Vogts struggled to beat Uganda in the qualifiers but that is uncomparable to the disappointment he made Nigerians suffer whilst they were here in Ghana.
One journalist from the oil-rich country nearly wept in the Media Centre after their goalless draw with Mali. The fans, many of who had invaded Ghana, had no choice than to pack bag and baggage and head back to Lagos after just two games. Nigeria fans had never lost confidence in their own national team as they did during Ghana 2008. There is no doubt that the Super Eagles, as always, is blessed with many world class players, but how Berti Vogts failed to bring out the good - not to talk about best - in them, says a lot about his ability to lead them in 2010. It is good for Nigerian football that many former players of the Super Eagles, Sunday Oliseh and Daniel Amokachi in the forefront, keep clamouring for a role with the team. But there is no margin for error: The Super Eagles have talents in abundance for a brighter future. So organization will be key.
Tunisia did so very well against Cameroon in the quarter finals - it is still a shock to me why they will not renew Frenchman Roger Lemerre's contract when it expires in June. They are young, talented and as displayed against the Indomitable Lions, are ready to fight. Retaining the man who led them to their only Nations' Cup triumph four years ago, may have been the right thing to do as the World Cup qualifiers start in June. Tunisia really gave it all against Cameroon and for the most were the better team and such show of bravery may have been much to the influence of Lemerre. The Carthage Eagles were not that convincing in the group stages but did what mattered most when Carlos Alberto Parreira and SA came calling. The 3-1 victory not only helped seal their top spot in the group, but also silenced Parreira, who for all his $250,000 a month, couldn't fashion out a single win in Ghana. Why he chose not to include star striker Benni McCarthy in the Nations' Cup party, has still to be explained. But it was not all down the drain for Bafana Bafana.
Though they went out in the first round like two years ago, South Africans can take inspiration as 2010 comes to the fore. They exhibited beautiful modern football at its sophisticated best. It gives the impression that Parreira is bringing the flair associated with his native Brazil to bear on Bafana Bafana. If they continue the same way, and as hopefully they will develop, SA could be ready to shock the world when the World Cup kicks off at Soccer City in a little over two years from now. Scoring may be the problem now but they at least notched in one in every game and are clearly a young team for the future unlike fellow group stage evictees Senegal. The era of Senegalese supremacy in African football may fast be waning and if officials in Dakar don't do something quick, the Teranga Lions may be in trouble come June. El Hadji Diouf swore and cursed that the best African teams were absent at the last World Cup but when his chance came to rebuff the critics, he and his teammates fumbled badly. The worst part was losing out to Angola, one of the teams that represented the continent in Germany 2006.
The Angolans were not only brilliant in the win over Senegal - their only victory remember - but were well organized in every game and look very daring as CAN 2010 steps into the gear. They will be playing hosts and if their 2008 performance is anything, they look dangerous. Though they will be playing at home, they will not be favourites and that may yet be the game plan of the Palacan Negras. Manucho made a lot of difference for them and that surely tells you how terrible it was for Ghana to lose their captain Stephen Appiah. No wonder Kalusha Bwalya confessed how much he missed Stephen Appiah not playing in this tournament. Angola have talent in-depth - did anyone miss (or even remembered) Akwa? - and coach Luis Olivera Goncalves has the support and confidence of an entire nation. And it is such confidence that gives him the strength to grind the axe by substituting and dropping captain Figueirido when he was clearly having an off game. With Manucho's talent set to explode and enhanced when he finally gets to play for Manchester United in the summer, exciting Ze Kalanga, Hardworking Mendoca, rugged defenceman Rui Marques and goalie Lama among others, Goncalves may try a 'Shehata' and beat Africa on home soil to give Angola a shock first ever Nations' Cup triumph. But 2010 is still a long time away.
Fredi Kanoute has been named CAF's 2007 African footballer of the year on the back of his performances for Sevilla in Spain and the UEFA Cup but he failed to set Ghana 2008 alight as was expected. His only goal and also Mali's only goal came from the penalty spot against less-fancied Benin. The Malians, aside Nigeria were also very disappointing so much they broke apart when they needed just a draw against Ivory Coast. Mali have a bunch of talented players but until they can discard their soft nature, they will continue to struggle in African football. Benin were so impressive despite the opponents they faced in Ghana and the number of goals they let in. Razak Omotoyossi has a lot of talent and the soccer authorities in the French-speaking West African country must follow where they strode to nurture him and Benin can be on the rise. This was their second Nations' Cup appearance in three having never qualified previously and we will all be witnesses to what they can do when the race to South African 2010 starts in June.
Morocco were very unlucky to crash out in the opening stage but they never disgraced as they came up against decent opposition in the hosts and a vastly improving Guinea boasting a certain Pascal Feindounou. Even Namibia, whom the Atlas Lions thrashed 5-1, recovered afterwards and gave hosts Ghana a scare before holding Guinea 1-1 in their last game. So Henri Michel can take heart with the performance of his Morocco team in Ghana 2008 despite their early flight back home and plot for the 2010 World Cup qualifiers.
Those qualifiers as I stated earlier, will be the focus of our attention here on Planet World Cup in some few weeks. Ghana 2008 is over but it was worth it despite all the cries of the European clubs who lost some of their best players for well a month. Some of them, like Arsenal, coped so well without them yet others like FC Barcelona missed Eto'O and Yaya Toure. Many players shown par brilliance in Ghana but only eleven will make the tournament team. And I have my own below which following in the footsteps of my great mentor Peter Goldstein, we will have a reserve team too.
GHANA 2008 TEAM OF TOURNAMENT
GK Hassan Al Hadary (Egypt)
RB Geremi Njitap (Cameroon)
CB Wael Gomaa (Egypt)
CB Didier Zokora (Ivory Coast)
LB Hans Adu Sarpei (Ghana)
M Michael Essien (Ghana)
M Abd Hosny (Egypt)
M Kader Keita (Ivory Coast)
M Sulley Muntari (Ghana)
F Manucho (Angola)
F Amr Zaky (Egypt)
GK Lama (Angola)
RB Tony Annan (Ghana)
CB Rui Marques (Angola)
CB Eric Addo (Ghana)
LB Artur Boca (Ivory Coast)
M Mohammed Aboutrika (Egypt)
M Yaya Toure (Ivory Coast)
M Alexander Song (Cameroon)
M Mbia (Cameroon)
F Christopher Katongo (Zambia)
F Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast)
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