The Africa Cup of Nations has been going on for just over a week now, and there has been some exciting football on display at times, but I have also felt that some players have not perform to the best of their abilities. Some matches ended in draws when they had more goal mouth action, and some teams lost matches that they were easily supposed to win. Some teams came into this tournament with high expectations from not only their fans back home, but also the media who have followed them in the previous tournaments and the qualifiers of this edition. Such teams I felt were let down by their big stars who did not produce the goods like they were supposed to. Let me start with a team like Burkina Faso because they were runners up in the last edition, when they lost to Nigeria at the FNB Stadium. In that tournament, a guy like Jonathan Pitroipa was the star and was voted player of the tournament. He performed out of his skin and scored some beautiful goals. In the qualifiers this time around, he was the top goal scorer, and you would forgive all of us for salivating at the prospect of seeing Pitroipa again at this level. However, much to my utmost disappointment, the Al Jazeera man played a very peripheral role for his team, even failing to score a single goal. He’s not the only one who did not live up to expectations for Les Etalons. I also thought guys like Alain Traore and his brother Bertrand, along with the big Aristide Bance would have some sort of impact in this competition, but they too have been below average, hence we have seen them become one of the first countries to be sent packing so early at AFCON 2015.
Next is Gabon, who gave a massive impression in their first match when they dispatched the Burkinabes 2-0. At this point, it looked like their star man Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was going to maybe vindicate his nomination for Africa’s best player not too long ago. To be fair to the Borussia Dortmund front man, he did have some flashes of brilliance every now and then, and in particular in that second group game against Congo. This was a game where he did a lot going forward and created some chances for his team, and looked like they should come out with a routine win, but somehow they ended up on the losing side on the night. Call it the genius of one experienced Claude Le Roy, or just the cruelty of this game we love so much. Anyway my point is that maybe the weight of his team was just too much for him because I don’t think he lived up to the hype around him. A player as heralded as he is should be a match winner on any given day. He was not a match winner for the Panthers and failed to justified the halo given to him by the media.
I think the one team that people will agree with me that their stars have not set the scene alight is Ivory Coast. It is no secret that they are considered to boast some of the continet’s finest talent, some of whom this might just be their last shot at African glory. A lot will have been put on the shoulders of Roma’s Gervinho in Equatorial Guinea, but his silly red card in their first game must have left a bitter taste in the mouths of his teammates, which I suspect is the reason he even came forward and apologised to both them and the rest of the people in his country. Manchester City-bound Wilfried Bony has also left much to be desired. For their primary marksman, one goal so far in the tournament is really not good enough, and will probably want to grab the headlines in their last group match on Wednesday to send them through to the last eight. The obvious man to look at very closely for the Ivorians is the one who will soon welcome Bony to the Etihad, Yaya Toure. Now Toure was always going to attract more attention than anyone at the tournament, having been awarded African Player of The Year for the fourth year in a row on the eve of the tournament. The other reason is that this is the first time at the Nations’ Cup that he is the biggest star in his team, with Didier Drogba having decided he has tried enough times in vain to become an African champion. He too I’m afraid, has been frustrated at this tournament, and has failed to inspire his team like he was supposed to. It is shameful that after two games the Elephants are yet to win, and have only two points to show for their efforts. Going into the last group game, they would have wanted to secure a knockout spot, but will now be playing to win, knowing all the teams in group D can still go through.
Lastly, our very own Bafana Bafana may not have those big stars like the ones I mentioned above, but I think they will feel hard done by the fact that they did not win at least one of the matches they played against Algeria and Senegal. Shakes Mashaba’s team played really good football and had no reason no tot win, except maybe the lack of experience producing some naivety and gullibility at certain times. Looking at the past will not help us, but we can learn from those mistakes going forward. We of course are now depending on the result in the other match to go our way tonight, but we can at the very least keep our part of the deal – follow the script and beat Ghana. I really hope we can be that surprise team in the quarter-finals and the team can give South Africans something to shout about. But let us be grateful for the fact that this team got so far in such a short space of time, and it is because of that success that the nation had high hopes again. If it happens that the boys have to come back home, let us just give them that support and applaud the effort. It will not help us to crush them and make them feel like “a bunch of losers”. Things may be looking gloomy right now, but I and hopefully the rest of South Africa stays positive. Good luck Bafana.