Now that Afcon is over and everyone has gone home, I dusted off a short post for Africa Is a Country to put it all in perspective.
These are the opening paragraphs:
There is a metaphor somewhere in Senegal’s first African Cup of Nations (Afcon) championship in its history. The 2021 Afcon, played over the last month because of a postponement from last summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ended on Sunday with Sadio Mane, the Liverpool star, scoring the decisive penalty in the final. With that, a one-month-long festival of football by Africa’s men’s national teams and everything else that surrounded it came to an end. Most of the players now return to their clubs, where some of them are stars, mostly in Europe. There’s a metaphor in that too.
The final itself was a contrast in style: Overall, it was not a spectacle. Very few finals are. This is not unusual. As for the metaphor, it was a contrast in styles that said a lot: Senegal’s relentless attacking versus Egypt playing spoilsport. The latter’s negative tactics and gamesmanship (stalling, over 50 fouls in the game, arguing with the referee, etcetera) began to reflect the tactics of Egypt’s regime; a military junta that incidentally uses football to slow down democracy. Of course, these tactics worked for Egypt in the past—they have seven Afcon trophies, including three in a row in the late 2000s. So this usually works for them, but not Sunday night …
Read the rest here.
Addendum: In the piece, published on Africa Is a Country, I made reference to the contrasts between the two countries’ coaching staff, favoring Senegal’s approach to hiring one of the former national team players, Aliou Cisse, in that position. His appointment was compared to Egypt, who appointed the Portuguese, Carlos Queiroz, as team coach. Egypt has its own now faded history of appointing local coaches (part of the reason why they won Afcon seven times) and most of Egypt’s assistants in Afcon 2021 are Egyptian and or African.
Chris Bolsmann has written extensively on South African football history and is a professor of sports studies at California State University Northridge. Will Shoki and I interviewed him a while back on The Africa Is a Country Podcast about some of his research.
After this post went, Chris reminded me that Queiroz had appointed Roger De Sá, a former South African goalkeeper and a coach of some of South Africa’s oldest professional teams (Wits University and Orlando Pirates), to his coaching staff for Afcon 2021. My point of course was that the current Egypt team is Queiroz’s team and that Queiroz identifies as Portuguese. But as Chris also reminded me, both Queiroz and De Sá were born in colonial Mozambique.
Queiroz migrated to Portugal after Mozambique’s independence in 1975. There, post-university, he started his coaching career managing youth teams for Portugal’s national set up, winning the FIFA Under 20 World Cup twice (1989, 1991). He then embarked on a pretty decent senior coaching career including stops as an assistant coach (twice) at Manchester United (under Alex Ferguson) and as coach of Real Madrid. In-between, he was national coach of South Africa (he took it to the 2002 Afcon where it lost in the quarterfinals to hosts Mali and then he qualified South Africa for the 2002 World Cup but was replaced right before the tournament by Jomo Sono, who as a player was somewhat of a local legend), Portugal’s national team (which, like France, that has an outsized reputation of picking African descended players), Iran, and, most recently, Colombia (where he was considered a failure), before he got the Egypt job.
Which reminded me of another piece of Afcon lore involving De Sá to end this post: He was a squad member of the South African national team that won the 1996 Afcon, the only South African team to win the continental prize and probably the only team that will.