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A shift of power in African football?

The recent round of international fixtures left fans and pundits alike perplexed as former champions and finalists Egypt, Nigeria and Cameroon failed to qualify for the 2012 African Nations Cup.

Togo and South Africa were also among the high-profile exits at the qualification phase.

For many, the failure of Togo to reach the 2012 finals in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea will come as little surprise; Stephen Keshi (pictured) and his side have struggled to cope since the international retirement of former captain Emmanuel Adebayor, following the shooting prior to the 2010 edition of the tournament.

Additionally, South Africa have now fallen at the qualification phase for two consecutive campaigns.

However, the collectively disappointing campaigns by Egypt, Nigeria and Cameroon were met with greater bewilderment, and are perhaps indicative of a shift in power in African football. 

Complacency

One may forgive former Egypt manager Hassan Shehata for slight complacency prior to the qualification campaign; Egypt have been the dominant force on the continent having secured three consecutive continental titles.

This complacency is evidenced by Shehata’s decision to field mostly his Under-23 players in the earlier fixtures of the qualifying campaign.

Shehata’s fate was effectively sealed as Egypt laboured to a 0-0 draw in Cairo against South Africa in June, all but consigning them to an early exit. 

However, all may not be lost for the Pharaohs. The decision to field a largely youthful team in the recent round of internationals may point to Egypt’s intention to look towards their youth to propel them back into the elite of African football once more.

For Cameroon and Nigeria, their respective exits from the 2012 ANC may be more suggestive of an oversight of the changing styles of African football.

Blistering pace

West Africa has typically boasted players renowned for their blistering pace and awesome physical power. Players such as Obafemi Martins, Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto’o come to mind.

It was the sheer physicality of these sides that saw west African teams largely dominate the continent in the 80s and the 90s.

But there has been an increasing trend for African players to ply their trade in Europe. Conversely, there has been an influx of European managers taking charge of African national teams. One of the consequences of this tendency is a more varied style of play visible across the continent.

A more patient and organised approach saw Egypt reign as kings of Africa, while Ghana’s 4-2-3-1 formation that saw them finish as runners-up in the 2010 ANC placed greater emphasis on defence and ball retention.

Cote D’Ivoire’s style remains typically ‘west African’ but they do boast some of the world’s elite players, such as Chelsea’s Didier Drogba and Manchester City’s Yaya and Kolo Toure, albeit in the latter stages of their careers.

Varying style

So aside from reported off-field disciplinary problems in the Nigeria camp, perhaps the Super Eagles’ failure to qualify can be attributed to their inability to adapt to the varying style of football in Africa.

Their 2010 World Cup performance somewhat attests to this notion as well as their 2010 ANC campaign, despite finishing third ahead of Algeria. Coach Samson Siasia now faces an uncertain future as he awaits a decision from the Nigerian Football Federation regarding whether he should stay or be sacked.

The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon appear to be in a transition phase. Long are the days since Jacques Songo’o, Rigobert Song, Marc-Vivien Foe and Patrick M’Boma formed the spine of an accomplished Cameroon team. The current generation of players are still relying heavily on Samuel Eto’o, even in the latter stages of his career. 

Perhaps there is a slight power shift in African football then, whether temporarily or permanent. Les Elephants of Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana will surely be considered as the two favourites for the 2012 ANC following unbeaten campaigns.

The likes of Tunisia, Senegal and Guinea may also be quietly confident of success. The 2012 qualification process has shown that nothing in football is certain.

But the omission of Egypt in Africa’s showpiece event next year in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea means that for the first time since 2004, there will be a new side crowned as champions of Africa.

By Kofi Gyamera-Mensa


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