AFCON 2013 final will make history
History will be made no matter who wins the 29th edition of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) on Sunday.
A number of talking points are also bound to occur in the final just as it has happened right through this tournament, more especially in the knockout stages.
A Nigerian win will see the claim their third title since they won the competition as hosts in 1980 beating Algeria 3-0 in the final. They also claimed it in 1994 in an emotion-filled 2-1 victory over Zambia.
The final was very emotional with the crowd that included the world’s best footballer ever Pele, giving Zambia a standing ovation at some stage after star player and captain, Kalusha Bwalya, was robbed by the upright from grabbing the equaliser.
The match was highly emotional as Zambia had beaten all the odds to get to the final after losing their entire squad of 18 players – save Bwalya – during the qualifications. The players perished in a horrific air-crash off the coast of Gabon on their way to a World Cup qualifying match against Senegal.
Coach Stephen Keshi was the captain who lifted the trophy in 1994 and now stands on the threshold of claiming it as mentor to the young squad he has assembled.
They came close again in 2000 when they co-hosted with Ghana but were defeated 4-3 by Cameroon in a penalty shoot-out following a 2-all stalemate after extra-time.
For Burkina Faso, this is unchartered waters as they are in the final for the first time. Their best finish was coming fourth in the tournament they hosted in 1998.
Had Burkina Faso lost in Wednesday’s semi-final against Ghana, they would have had every right to scream “We wuz robbed!”
This following the atrocious manner in which Tunisian referee Slim Jdidi handled the match.
It appeared as if he had no intention of seeing The Stallions proceed to the next round. Not only did he award Ghana a soft penalty from which they scored, he denied Burkina Faso a clear penalty when Jonathan Pitroika, one of the best players in the Burkinabe team, was fouled inside the penalty area.
Not only that, he booked the speedy Pitroika for the second time, meaning that he is off for the next game.
CAF did the honourable thing and at least showed that they had nothing to do with Jedidi’s jandiced eye by rescinding the red card on Friday afternoon meaning the talented player will be available for selection on Sunday.
Jdidi’s handling of this match followed the appalling performance of South Africa’s Daniel Bennett in the match between Togo and Tunisia.
These, have left a black eye in the officiating of this tournament.
The less said about the pitch at the Mbombela Stadium, the better. It was no surface to play matches of such a high level tournament.
While the final takes place on Sunday, South Africa will not be licking its wounds but will pondering a number of questions.
Where to Bafana Bafana?
Was it worth the country’s while to host this event?
Are Bafana Bafana capable of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil?
These are serious questions that need to be answered by the South African Football Association (SAFA).
Answers to these questions will determine the way forward for our football.
But one thing that this tournament has emphasised – not proved as we have always known this – is that our football is far from reaching not only its pinnacle but realising its true potential.
Once more, West Africa’s dominance of the continent’s football was evident as all four semi-finalist Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Mali, were from this region.
So no matter who win s today, the trophy will go to West Africa for the 12th time since the AFCON inception in 1957 and out of 29 editions.
Southern Africa has just two, South Africa in 1996 and Zambia last year.
Should Nigeria win it, they will get more bragging rights over South Africa as they have always claimed that the only reason South Africa won in 1996, was because they did not participate in the competition following a spat between the two countries’ then presidents Nelson Mandela and General Sani Abacha.
S’Busiso Mseleku is regarded as one of Africa’s leading sports journalists and an authority on football. He has received some of the biggest awards in a career spanning well over 20 years. He is currently City Press Sports Editor.