The group stages of the 32nd Total African Cup of nations Football tournament holding in Egypt suffered from kwashiorkor of goals despite the presence of Africa’s great footballers. The six groups with four teams in a group, and in 36 matches could only score 68 goals or 1.9 goals per match which is remarkably less than 105 goals scored at the same stage at the world under 20 championship held in Poland a few weeks back. It could not be easily determined whether most of the players in Egypt have reached their old age with diminishing productivity due to that status in football or the youths in Poland were hyper active.
Group C comprising Algeria, Senegal, Benin Republic and Kenya contributed the highest team effort of 16 out of the 68 goals. Mali and Algeria scored 6 goals each to emerge high team scorers. Guinea Bissau and debutante Burundi did not even score a goal at all before bowing out. Four teams namely, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia and another debutante Mauritania scored one goal each but surprisingly, South Africa is still able to make the Round of 16 at that low performance. Its kudos to four teams that finished the group stage with clean slates, that is without conceding a single goal. They are hosts Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and Mali.
Did you notice that the teams with clean slate were North African teams except Cameroon? Why? It is argued that their local leagues are the best organized in Africa; they have more local players and team cohesion is super. Do you also notice that teams that manage to get only one goal are predominantly COSAFA teams, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Namibia except Mauritania? Why are we having these patterns?
Six players are currently high goal scorers with just two goals each. They are Mo Salah of Egypt; Jordan Ayew of Ghana; Abubakar Traore of Mali; M. Olunga of Kenya (out now); M. Yattara of Guinea and C. Bakambu of Congo. Nigeria had two goals through Ighalo against Burundi and Omeruo against Guinea. Her feathers were clipped 0-2 by debutante Madagascar in a match seen as belittling and so shameful for the Super Eagles to lose or even draw.
Avenues to score goals were not that bad. There were 242 shots at goal (that is 6.7 chances at goal per match) from where only 68 goals were scored (that was 1.8 goals per match). That shows that African marksmanship is woeful. Simple. There were 344 corner kicks (another 9.6 chances per match to score through set pieces). But the fouls are astronomical, 1,292 fouls (which is 35.9 chances per match to enhance set pieces. That means the football skills and senses of African footballers generally are low. Where are so good in physical football that we call “Jam body break im bone”; long telegraphic ball passes; losing the ball to opponents carelessly as we saw in Balogun blunder against Madagascar and a professional footballer of his status is still giving excuses? There were 118 offside offences (another added 3.3 chances per match) which is part of reduction of set pieces.
When the youths bagged 117 yellow cards at this stage in Poland U20 world cup, we said it was youthful exuberance but the 112 yellows collected by their uncles at this stage put a doubt on the argument that Africa’s football has grown beyond “if you miss the ball don’t miss the leg”. Most of African football matches are now turning to rugby and the refs will wave play on. There will be changes when VAR is brought in at the quarter final stages. I have postulated severally in my years of sports reportage that the kind of African football we see is why many teams do not progress at world cup stages. We shine at the continent because African Referees will allow some field offences but when we get to global stages, we are stabbed with yellow and red cards as well as officiating that frustrate our known style of football.
Nigeria was not impressive at all. The selection and fielding was bad Good, Nigeria has a character of fumbling and wobbling over the years but the standard of our foreign based players should have changed that. We are also not lucky to have good coaches like Father Tiko, Professor Otto Gloria or Clemence Westerhoff who handled our famous Eagles 94 set. The guy stayed put in Nigeria since and is live in Ilorin, Kwara State. Why should Mikel Obi be lead striker when you have younger players who can run and do better? Playing Mikel for 90 minutes is a misnomer. His performance to the Mikel we know has dwindled. He did not participate at the qualifying stages so why dash him automatic shirt? We should learn how Ghana is playing Gyan their former captain. We equally have problems on goalkeeping. Nigeria is tactless under Rhor.
Let us do a breakdown of stats. There were 242 shots on target. Out of this Senegal has the highest with 22; Kenya – 21 while Nigeria and Morocco had 19 each. The least teams on shots at goal are Guinea Bissau – 3; Mauritania – 4 and Namibia – 5. The higher the shots on target, the better are the chances of scoring. Anything less than 10 shots on target in three matches is poor. The possession is to hold the ball, plan and control the match. Cameroon had the highest possession and that is for Nigeria to note. Senegal had 186; Morocco 180 and Nigeria 175 so you can understand the low performances of Guinea Bissau that has the least with 121, Burundi had 123 while both Mauritania and Tanzania shared 125 each. No wonder they were quickly kicked out.
Uganda has the surprise in corner kicks 44 according to CAF, Congo had 20 and Nigeria 19. Namibia simply had the lowest with 7 then both Tanzania and Tunisia had 8 each. That is on set pieces list. Algeria should forget fair play trophy for they fouled 72 times followed by Kenya 70; Congo 64 and Nigeria 52. Guinea and Madagascar score lowest on fouls with 45 while Mali and Guinea Bissau were on 47. Apart from fines on yellows and red cards, fouls can count when teams tie on points and goals especially at group stages.
Of the 112 yellow cards, four teams were highest with 7 cards each and they are Congo, Kenya, Tunisia and Mauritania. Morocco had only one yellow while Nigeria and Zimbabwe shared 2 each. There are two reds so far for Ghana and Kenya. These cards show individual and team discipline.
By Eniola Olatunji