The 31st Africa Cup of Nations – or to give it its catchier, 21st century sci-fi name AFCON 2017 – passed by over the past month without much in the way of fanfare. Of course, there were the obligatory biennial complaints from European managers at losing their star players midway through the season, but even these were muted in comparison to recent years. Largely, this is because African football is a fair way off its noughties heyday. The kind of players missing were the likes of Eric Bailly and Mohammed Elneny; not Touré, Drogba and Eto’o. Perhaps the most striking illustration of this decline – and itself a robust reason as to why the Cup of Nations has somewhat disappeared into the background – is the fact that it is no longer broadcast on the BBC. Or anywhere really, for that matter.
But those of us who missed it, missed a bit of a belter. It may not have had the star attraction of a decade ago, but this year that was kind of the point, and no-one epitomised this better than the eventual winners, Cameroon.
Think Cameroon and you think Roger Milla dancing around that corner flag, those World Cup quarter finals, and four-time African footballer of the year Samuel Eto’o wearing that sleeveless shirt. But the Indomitable Lions of 2017 are a different beast entirely. Pre-tournament, their biggest name was Liverpool centre-back Joel Matip, but he like many others refused to honour the call-up. Disputes with the federation – a curse that has blighted African football for a long time – was cited as the reason behind much of the absenteeism, but they weren’t to be perturbed. Even a mid-tournament row over bonuses – another all-too-familiar issue – only served to bring them together.
Much credit for this unlikely victory must go to Belgian manager, Hugo Broos. He, via an unfaltering bravery in his team selection and inspirational man-management, gathered a disparate group of unknown players, from corners of the footballing universe as far-flung as Angola and Denmark, and galvanised them into continental conquerors. Having battled through the group stages, they squeezed past Senegal in the quarters, convincingly dispatched the much-fancied Ghanaians in the semis, and came from behind to beat Egypt in the final. To put this achievement into perspective, Egypt had not been beaten in an AFCON match since 2004. Fair enough they hadn’t participated in the last three tournaments, but that’s still 25 games unbeaten.
Until last Sunday, courtesy of little old Cameroon. Tactically astute, defensively solid, and united in adversity, Cameroon’s fifth title was as impressive as it was unexpected. It’s just a shame not that many of us were tuned in to see it. I suppose underdog stories are becoming a little bit old hat these days anyway. Come on David, give Goliath a chance for once…
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