AFCON 2019: 11 Talking Points from Cairo

The 2019 Africa Cup of Nations has come to an end with a grand Algerian celebration in Cairo. It wasn’t too lovely to watch the final game between involved the best teams in the tournament, but it was a decent conclusion for a loaded month of African football in Egypt. Here are the interesting points.

1. Ceremonies. It started so impressively. The 2019 AFCON draw ceremony was amazing, the opening ceremony as well and the closing show reminded us that yes - the Egyptians know how to set impressive and mind-blowing stages.

2. No crowds. Yet, the fact that there wasn’t a fully packed stadium in any match besides Egypt’s group stage & round of 16 sucks. The way Egyptian authorities and CAF handled the tickets marketing, the pricing and the selling did only harm to the product that is called AFCON.

3. Cinderellas. The positive side of the 24 team format is that we got great Cinderella stories. Madagascar almost made it to the top four, but Burundi and Mauritania were a real refresher.

4. Bafana Bafana sends Egypt ‘home’. This evening was a shift in the core dynamics of the atmosphere. It’s never fun when hosts are leaving early, but this was even more. The locals lost their interest completely and simply waited for the tournament to end.

5. Amr Warda story. An embarrassing saga of a player harassed women on the social network, that has put a strain on the already ambivalent reputation of this Pharaohs team. The fact that Mohamed Salah and captain Ahmed El-Mohamady stood behind him, made the majority of Egypt fans despise their squad even more.

6. Odion Ighalo. The Nigerian striker has finished his time with the national team as the AFCON qualifications top scorer and the tournament top scorer with 5 goals. He retired from the national team with the bronze medal.

7. Belmadi & Cisse. Two childhood friends, who were born a day apart from one another, who were their national teams’ captains in AFCON 2004, are also two types of coaches and the beautiful face of the professional present, and future of African football. We need more of these two rather than Alain Giresse, Paul Put & Co.

8. Mahrez Winner. If there’s one moment to define this tournament and the way it will be remembered in the history of the game is the 94th-minute free-kick of the Sarcelles-born Manchester City’s Algerian. This moment is why I love football. In the last minute, with a whole nation on his shoulders, straight to the final. 50% per cent of the victory against Senegal was achieved in that free-kick. Simply Perfect.

9. Bennacer MVP. I can’t remember when I agreed on something with CAF, but there is no player in this tournament that deserves more to be called the MVP than the small Empoli’s warrior. Ismael Bennacer was everywhere on the pitch, in every game, played every minute and was vital for the Foxes’ road to glory. If the rumours that AC Milan is up to sign him, then they will enjoy his services indeed. An asset for the future.

10. CAF Politics. Sometimes, in these confederations, you feel like football is only an excuse. Excuse for power games between people who don’t understand the game, don’t understand the fans and do not know what it needs to progress. The CAF Assembly which was held a day before the final draw a lot of attention from the last and actual professional value of it. A big no-no.

11. True champions. I can’t remember a tournament when the two best teams arrived the final, and the best team actually won it, after a big fight, in 90 minutes. Add the past year for Algerians in the political and social level, with the protests against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s fifth term, who saw the 20 years reign of his come to an end, and the unity feelings the tournament has spread among Algerian’s all over the world. Algeria’ second AFCON title was impressive, not all the time mesmerising, but very much deserved.

Cover photo: Reuters