The 2017 Africa Cup of Nations will take place in Gabon. After the qualifications by various teams to participate in Africa’s top continental tournament, here is the AFCON in numbers.
The Frenchman is the only foreign coach to have won the Nations Cup twice. In Gabon, he would be seeking a third title that would take him level with the Ghanaian C.K Gyamfi and the Egyptian Mohammed El Gohary. Renard’s success came in remarkable fashion with Zambia before he saw Ivory Coast recover from two penalties down to beat Ghana in the 2015 final. In Gabon, he would be relying on another hugely talented squad with Morocco. Given his reputation for a strong work ethic and ability to get the best out of a team, there would be many who would bet on Morocco going all the way with Renard in charge.
Nigeria have not been to the Nations Cup since winning it in 2013 which is inexplicable given the pool of talent they can call on. Zambia, winners a year before Nigeria are also absent after losing too much ground against debutants Guinea Bissau. Then there is Cape Verde who recently had become such a major force on the African continent, rising to the top ranked side in the process.
Libreville as the capital would have two venues, the Stade Omar Bongo and Stade de Agondje. The Stade de Franceville would be another of the venues in Franceville with Stade de Port Gentile the final venue. Stade Omar Bongo and Stade de Franceville were Nations Cup hosts as recently as 2012 when Gabon co-hosted with Equatorial Guinea.
Ghana and Cameroon have been stuck on four trophies for too long and would head to Gabon with ambitions to clinch a FIFTH and close the gap on Egypt. The Black Stars have been close twice in the last six years. They lost out on penalties two years ago and have been semi finalists each time since 2008. There is a feeling though that with a fragmented squad and a lack of big names, Gabon may prove a step too far. The days when Cameroon were considered favourites for every Afcon are long gone but their Belgian boss Hugo Broos would feel he can get the best out of a team that still has some great talent to cal upon.
There are many family tales in the Nations Cup but none of them has gripped us as much as that of the Ayew family. Their father Abedi was an Afcon winner in 1982 and a losing finalists in 1992. His three sons Rahim, Andre and Jordan have all suffered the pain of losing a final too. Rahim played in that 2010 final loss to Egypt, starting at left back while Andre started upfront. Andre and Jordan were then part of the side that lost on penalties to Ivory Coast. As far as goals at the Nations Cup is concerned though, this remains a straight fight between Abedi and Andre. Father and son have SIX goals each in Nations Cup history. Abedi’s six goals were spread over five tournaments but he actually scored in only two of them; three in 1992 including that outrageous effort against Nigeria and three in 1996. Andre’s six goals have come in four Nations Cups. There was one in 2010 against Burkina Faso, two in 2012 and three in 2015. It is fair to say if he plays in Gabon then he would go past his father in the goal stakes.
The record SEVEN time Nations Cup winners are back to the stage that they rightly belong to. Egypt’s dominance of the tournament has been absolute. They have won the most trophies, played and won the most games and made the most appearances even when they failed to qualify for the last three. There is no guarantee they would turn the competition into another one act roadshow as they did between 2006 to 2010 but with an exciting crop of youngsters including Mohammed Salah, Ramadan Sohbi and Arsenal’s Mohammed Elneny combined with the astute leadership of Hector Cooper, you would underestimate them at your own risk.
Gabon 2018 would be a tournament of the big names and the experienced. For starters there is only one debutant, Guinea Bissau which means every country except the new boys would be aware of what it feels like to be on a stage like that even though for Uganda, a a return after 38 years would mean getting used to it all over again. But the real indication of the strength of the gathered teams may lie elsewhere. There would be EIGHT former winners in the draw at Gabon. Egypt, Ghana, Cameroon have fifteen Nations Cup trophies between them. There is Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Congo DR and Ivory Coast both with at least a trophy to their names. The list of former winners also feeds into what is bound to be a running theme in the tournament too; the West versus North rivalry. There are EIGHT West African countries heading to Gabon, a clear sign of the sub region’s power base in Africa football but with Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, the North’s strength may lie in quality more than quantity.
The Nations Cup has had a strong relationship with foreign coaches, particularly French coaches with Claude Le Roy the best example of that. In Gabon, he would be attending his NINTH Nations Cup, a record for any coach. He would be managing his seventh team in the final with one trophy to show for it. His latest team would be Togo who he has miraculously guided to Gabon despite looking down and out in April. It would add another chapter with Afcon that begun with Cameroon in 1986! Incredible.
The Nations Cup has always been a celebration of everything thrilling about African football. The organised chaos, the vibe and music in the crowd, the dancing, the colours and the skill factor that makes African football so unique. That skill factor has been epitomised by the famous number 10s who have graced the big stage either in terms of shirt numbers or purely the amazing play-making skills. Kalusha Bwalya, Abedi Pele, John Shoes Mosheu, Jay Jay Okocha, Raber Madjer. You could go on and on. The Nations Cup has always celebrated that immense playmaker. In Gabon, there would be many to look forward to. Dede Ayew or Kwadwo Asamoah for Ghana, Riyad Mahrez.
Foreign coaches dominate at the Nations Cup these days but historically local coaches have been some of the successful in the history of the competition. ELEVEN have won the tournament. Hassan Shehata won three with Egypt between 2006 to 2010. Ghana’s C.K Gyamfi won three titles too to make the pair the most successful in Nations Cup history. The late Stephen Keshi was the last local coach to win the title in 2013 with Nigeria in South Africa, a triumph which was sandwiched between Herve Renard’s two titles with Zambia and Ivory Coast.
Some countries just love the Nations Cup. Egypt, Ghana and the likes but no one has been as omni present in the last two decades like Tunisia. Gabon 2017 would be the 12th straight tournament they have played in since 1994. In that period they have lost one final in 1996 and won one in 2004. Since then they have become something of quarter final specialist, failing to reach the last eight only once in the process.
If there are no changes in the technical heads of the sixteen qualified countries, THIRTEEN of them would arrived in Gabon with foreign coaches in charge. Ghana, Cameroon, Algeria, Ivory Coast, Togo, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Mali would all come with foreign bosses in charge. Senegal’s Alio Cisse, Florent Ibenga in charge of Congo DR and Calisto Passuwa would be the three home based coaches in Gabon.
Samuel Eto has the most goals in Nations Cup history with 18 goals spread across six tournaments but long before the Cameroonian dominated the scoring scene and Didier Drogba was the star man for Ivory Coast there was Laurent Pokou. He scored 14 goals in two competitions in 1968 and 1970 with six in the 1968 tournament and eight in the 1970 competition. It would be in more than thirty years before Eto’o breaks that record but one Nations Cup scoring record still stands. Mulamba Ndaye’s nine goals in the 1974 tournament remains the most goals in a single tournament by one player.
There are still some FIFTEEN countries yet to savour the thrill of the tournament. Three of those countries, Gambia, Chad and Sao Tome and Principe are in the West Africa sub region. South Sudan is not surprising but Burundi have been around for a fair bit and Gambia is a strange case.
Ivory Coast would look to build up on finally shaking off their underachievers tag while Ghana would be looking to stop the mockery about being the new nearly men. Algeria must prove that they can cope with the Golden Generation tag, same as Senegal who just can’t seem to find a blend between great individual talent and good teams. Gabon 2017 would also be a case of many friends re-united given just how much coaches cross carpets. Milovan Rajevac would attempt to stop Ghana whom he took to the final in 2010. Herve Renard wants a third Nations Cup but would find that to achieve that with Morocco, some of his fiercest opponents would be his former employers Ghana and Ivory Coast. And it would not only be in Africa that the competition would dominate conversations. At least twenty players could depart English clubs in January for the tournament which inevitably means we would have that biennial conversation about the timing of the Nations Cup and whether it must be played every two years. We won’t care. This is after all a great gathering and a massive celebration of all that is good about African football.