BY DAVID ONJILI
A second-minute solitary goal by striker Boundejah was all that Algeria needed to claim the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) title in a hard-fought win against Senegal. The victory, being the second time the North African nation was lifting the title in its history. And with that, the curtains closed on a successful 32nd edition of AFCON, 102 goals having been scored in the 52 matches played.
Odion Ighalo of Nigeria emerged the golden boot winner with five goals. Two Algerians, Ismael Bennacer and M’bolhi Rais were crowned the most valuable player (MVP) and winner of the Golden Gloves Award.
Soccer fans on the continent also watched some of the bet sons who ply their trade in Europe’s top leagues play. They did not disappoint. Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, Riyadh Mahrez just to mention a few excited and performed very well.
Uganda was the best performing East African nation; they were able to advance to the second round of the competition. Despite losing to the hosts, they went on to beat the Democratic Republic of Congo by 2 goals to nil and secured a 1-goal draw against Zimbabwe. This propelled them to the second round and they came unstuck to eventual finalists Senegal whom they lost to by a solitary goal. Kenya, Burundi and Tanzania all went out in the group stages. While Burundi and Tanzania lost all their three group games, Kenya got a victory, a sweet one, against Tanzania.
Despite registering 3 goals to 2 win over Tanzania, local boys Harambee Stars also made some interesting records. At the end of the group stages of the games, Harambee Stars had soaked in 7 goals, scored 3 and were the most indisciplined team. Collecting 9 yellow cards and 1 red card.
But there were some bright spots in the showing in Egypt. Michael Olunga’s overhead kick goal against Tanzania made it to the top five goals of the tournament. Patrick Matasi despite some shaky performances also delivered some eye-catching saves. A feat that earned him a 55”Samsung television set reward from Naivas Supermarket. Defender Erick Marcelo Ouma left an indelible mark with brilliant displays down the left flank. In defense, youngster Okumu showed that if well nurtured he would be a mainstay in our defense. His calm head was a vote of confidence in that department.
Quite notable were the many empty stadiums especially in games that the hosts were not participating in. Even though the Egyptian government worked hard to ease Visa acquisition to their country. The logistics of travel within the continent continued to wage its ugly head. Not many countries offer Visas on arrival and the process of acquiring them is usually cumbersome thus demoralizing.
The average ticket prices were around Sh1400, and this seemed high for many to afford. Consider that in Kenya, a ticket for a normal game retails for Sh100 terraces or Sh1000 (VIP). And mostly local games are poorly attended, you would not expect most Kenyans to travel to such games, which must have hindered fans from most other participating nations.
Former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi had collapsed and died just four days to the tournament started heightening tensions between the Muslim Brotherhood and the government, security was tight; patrols, searches, and high-level vigilance from government forces ensured the tournament ran smoothly.
The irony of AFCON2019 in Egypt is the fact that Kenya had initially bid to host the competition. Confederation of African Football (CAF) inspectors had on several occasions come to inspect the facilities. The government had also promised that the facilities would be ready in time for the tournament. Nothing was to materialize and the chance to host the tournament was handed to Egypt. To date, Nyayo National Stadium remains a sore site, abandoned completely. The government continues to pay lip service to sports in the country, hosting successful athletes but not aiding their development by failing to provide the necessary facilities.
Whereas the Federation of Kenyan Football (FKF) has put up a brave face to claim that the national team did well in Egypt, many questions have been left unanswered most regarding the exclusion of top and experienced players like Jesse Were and Anthony Akumu both who ply their trade for Zesco United in Zambia. The feeling amongst fans is that the selection of players was not done fairly. One can only hope an audit of the AFCON2019 performance is conducted and moving forward the
nation can learn