09 February 2006

ACN: It's Egypt and Ivory Coast

We've not been covering the African Cup of Nations in much detail. That's mostly because we just can't see it. There's probably some way to watch it online, via a Saudi internet feed or something. But there aren't any broadcast options for the usual US viewer, and so paying attention is difficult.

Which is a shame because it's been a fascinating tournament. Africa as a region is probably more competitive than just about any other save Europe. The World Cup qualifying provided just the latest examples of this, since four of the five African qualifying teams are newcomers to the finals, while powers like Nigeria, Cameroon, and Senegal will stay home. So the ACN has provided a pre-WC reality check. Are the newcomers really that good? Are the older powers in such a decline?

The answers have been a bit mixed. The traditional powers have done reasonably well, but none are in the finals. Both Senegal and Nigeria lost in the semis, so they both came close. Cameroon lost in the quarterfinals, though it took penalties to make the difference. All three teams performed well and went out by thin margins. The only real disappointment is South Africa; they lost all three of their group games without scoring once. South Africa is hosting the World Cup Finals in 2010, and they'll have a lot of work to do to make the team respectable before then.

The World Cup teams have been mixed too. Leading the disappointments is Togo, with losses to DR Congo, Cameroon, and Angola in the group stage. Ghana only had one win, but that was over Senegal; they lost to Zimbabwe and Nigeria. But they only missed the quarterfinals due to goal differential, so they might chalk it up to a tough group. Angola had four points, from the win over Togo and a goalless draw with DR Congo. They too lost out due to goal differential. Tunisia, like Cameroon, made it to the quarterfinals, and only lost to Nigeria on penalties.

Ivory Coast has been the big winner. They went through the group stages with little trouble, winning over Morocco and Libya and losing only to Egypt. They followed that with wins over Cameroon in the quarterfinals and Nigeria in the semifinals. The team has been impressive, and Yaya Toure (Kolo's little brother) has had a real introduction to the world stage. He'll be leaving Olympiakos for a big club this summer; the only question is which club.

Ivory Coast will be facing Egypt in the finals. Egypt have been a real surprise in the ACN, probably due to thier status as the host team. In particular, there were elements of controversy in their semifinal win over Senegal. In the 90th minute, with Egypt leading 2-1, Ibrahim Said took down Diomansy Kamara in the box. The referee ignored the incident, signaling a goal kick. Commentators have speculated that the referee feared to whistle a hugely unpopular penalty among a rabid home crowd (the match was played in Cairo). Further controversy has broken out after the match, as the team has suspended Mido from the squad. He was subbed out of the Senegal match at 79', and reacted by furiously berating coach Hassan Shehata. Shehata responded by sending Mido back to London. The irony is that Mido's replacement, Zaki, quickly scored the goal that put Egypt on top.

The contoversy has stained an otherwise impressive run by Egypt. Despite the home-field advantage, they were not a prime candidate to reach the finals. Yet they impressively won their group, with wins over Libya and Ivory Coast and a draw with Morocco. They easily handled DR Congo in the quarterfinals, winning 4-1, and followed that with the win over Senegal. It's been a quality run through the tournament, and it's unfortunate that it may be remembered for one dodgy refereeing decision.

The pointless third-place match is today, as Nigeria take on Senegal. Then the final will take place on Friday, as Egypt and Ivory Coast square off. The final is a rematch of the group-stage match, which Egypt won 3-1. That match may be a bit decpetive, as Ivory Coast had already qualified for the knockout rounds and rested key players. It's disappointing that US viewers won't be able to see the match, unless they have 3A Telesud (French commentary) or ART Global America (Arabic commentary) via the DISH Network. I may have to do some Googling to see if there's a live broadcast I can find.

And who am I rooting for? Until now, I've been hoping for Ivory Coast to lose, so that Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue can return to the depleted Arsenal back line ASAP. But now that they're in the finals, I'll be pulling for them all the way. I'm no fan of Didier Drogba, and it pains me a bit to root for his team. But Kolo is an absolute favorite of mine, and I'd love to see him take home some hardware. We'll see what happens.

Great post. As for watching these and other matches, those wonderful folks at Big Soccer have some tips getting access to a stream. There's an entire community devoted to discovering and sharing information on soccer streams. I love the web!
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