Afcon 2008: Cup of Hope


They were all a part of the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations, but it is a tournament that will be best remembered for the quality of football more than anything else.

When the 2008 Nations Cup kicked off on the opening day on January 20th, the reports the following day reflected the early teething problems at the tournament.

There were the journalists baffled by the accreditation arrangement, a pitch at the main Ohene Djan Stadium that drew an angry blast from Ghana coach Claude Le Roy and protests from some of his players.

But there was also the quality of the opening game, the atmosphere, the colour, the vibe in the stadium and above all Sulley Muntari’s winner at the end of the game to crown it.

That provided the setting for a tournament packed with goals. By the time referee Coffie Codjia had blown the final whistle on the tournament, 99 goals had been scored in 32 games, six more than the previous highest scoring tournament in 1998.

Cameroonian Samuel Eto’o scored five of those goals overtaking Laurent Poku’s record haul of 14 goals to become the tournament’s all-time leading goal scorer.

The Egyptian midfielder Hosny Abd Rabou picked up player of the honour for his work rate in midfield and for the four goals he hit at the tournament.

While the quality of organisation, lapses such as the use of wrong flags for posters, inaudible national anthems left a lot to be desired, the quality of football pleased many people.

Tunisia coach Roger Lemerre called it ‘the best Nations Cup’ he has seen and former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said it provides pointers to how well Africa could do at the next World Cup in South Africa 2010.

For host Ghana it didn’t end the way many of the locals would have wanted it and the country’s long wait for another title will last for at least another two years.

In truth it was the same old problem that has dogged Ghana football since the days of Abedi Pele and Tony Yeboah that came out to haunt the Black Stars: a lack of genuine goal scoring talent.

While Asamoah Gyan’s talent has never been in doubt, he needs too many opportunities to score. Junior Agogo is a willing runner, one ready to put his body in the way and battle for Ghana, but he is limited in many ways that was exposed by the semi-final defeat.

When the Black Stars return to action in the World Cup qualifiers in June this year, the team’s fans will be looking for signs that the goal scoring problem would have been sorted out.

But even without the trophy, Ghana can look back on the tournament with a great deal of satisfaction.

The Ohene Djan Stadium looks much better and so does the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi. There are two new facilities in Sekondi and Tamale which can only bode well for the game here. The numerous training grounds means football facilities in this country is of much better quality than it used to be.

And more critically there is a renewed passion for the game here that has ensured that the country’s stadiums often viewed as death traps in the wake of the 2001 disaster that killed over a 100 people are now viewed as places where families can have a good time.

So while there is no trophy to show for hosting the 2008 Nations Cup, Ghana will go away from this with reason to be hopeful about the future. Hope, though, is nothing without concrete efforts.