The African Cup of Nations (AFCON) 2022 kicked off on the 9th of January with 24 out of the 54 countries in Africa being represented. The game which will feature a hand full of international players is expected to be exciting and as always full of surprises. Before we talk about how this year’s AFCON game is going so far, here’s a brief recap of what’s been happening in Africa’s biggest football tournament.
AFCON on a Reel
The first African Cup of Nations game was held 65 years ago in 1957 with only 3 teams participating in the tournament. By 1998, they were 16 teams in the tournament. However, at the end of 2017, the game was expanded to accommodate 24 national teams. So far, 14 countries have won the AFCON championship including Algeria who won the cup in 2019 making them the defending champions this year.
Egypt, the most successful team of the tournament, has taken home 7 titles. This includes the first-ever recorded championship title in AFCON. Coming in second place is Cameroon with 5 AFCON titles. Despite their success, Cameroon is not so lucky when it comes to hosting the AFCON games.
However, 2019 should have been a different year for the Central African country but a unanimous decision by CAF stripped Cameroon of its hosting rights and gave it to Egypt. It was decided that Cameroon should host the games in 2021, but again, this was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At long last, Cameroon gets to host the AFCON tournament. This makes it 50 years since the country last hosted the game. Like many other African nations gracing the game, they have a lot to prove.
Highlights of the AFCON 2022 Tournament: Surprises and Controversies
The 24 teams participating in this year’s AFCON games are divided into six groups of four teams each. We are down to the last group games and there have been so many surprises along the way. With the number of international players participating in the games, expectations are high and so is the pressure.
All eyes are on the likes of Mo Salah, Sadio Mane, Riyad Mahrex, Edouard Mendy (2021 FIFA Men’s Best Goalkeeper) amongst others. But, is having more international players an advantage? One could think so, but as we said, AFCON is full of surprises, and here are some of the biggest we’ve seen so far.
Surprises in AFCON 2022 so far
Egypt’s 1 – 0 Loss to Nigeria
All eyes were on Mo Salah but Iheanacho stole the day. No doubt Egypt had the better team (or so it seemed) in the match against Nigeria. However, Iheanacho’s goal 30 minutes into the game gave Nigerian an early lead. But, rather than being spurred into action, the Egyptian team seemed rather distraught by the goal. This was contrary to what was expected from the African football giants.
On the Nigerian side, Iheanacho’s goal kicked the team into beast mode. Afterward, it seemed as if they suddenly realized that winning the formidable Pharaohs was possible. Doubling up their defenses the Nigerian team kept the Egyptians at bay. Salah never made it far enough to equalize. All it took was one goal to make everyone realize that this is AFCON and anything was possible.
AFCON 2021: Nigeria Defeats Egypt In Its First Match, Stops Their Unbeaten Run https://t.co/SQLlj8XmSe
— Reference Daily News (@referencedaily) January 12, 2022
Senegals’ Goalless Draw Against Guinea
The 2019 AFCON runner-up, Senegal, put up a less than impressive show in their match against Guinea. A similar situation took place at Bafoussam stadium when the Senegalese team faced off against Zimbabwe. But for a stroke of luck that came in the form of a late penalty, the game might have ended a goalless draw.
Since Senegal is among the highest-ranking football team in Africa, their performance in the last two games has been below par. Senegalese coach, Aliou Cisse cites the impact of COVID as one of the biggest setbacks facing the team as most of the star players tested positive. These include star goalkeeper Ed0uard Mendy and defender Kalidou Koulibaly. Nevertheless, the Senegalese team was still expected to put up an impressive performance.
Senegal national team is just a hype with big players bad performance 😄 🤣 😂 😆 😄 🤣 lol
— Joe kai Havert jnr (@Joe77213382) January 14, 2022
Algerias’ Goalless Draw Against Sierra Leone
Perhaps, the biggest surprise so far was Algerias’ goalless draw against Sierra Leone. This was expected to be an easy win for Algeria because Sierra Leone hasn’t participated in the tournament in 25 years. Secondly, Sierra Leone’s team could barely be compared to their Algerian counterparts which had at least two famous players of international repute.
Riyad Mahrez, captain of the Algerian team plays for Manchester City while Islam Slimani plays for Lyon. As it turned out, the Algerian team didn’t capitalize on these advantages. However, with the goalless draw against Sierra Leone, Algeria extends its unbeaten record to 35 matches. As we head into the last round of games, the defending champions will need something special to make it beyond the group stage.
Let’s get your predictions for Algeria vs. Sierra Leone ⬇️
Are we in for a massive upset or will the champions prove their dominance once again? 👀 #AFCON2021
— JABULANI XI (@JABULANIXI) January 11, 2022
Controversies In AFCON 2022
On the 12th of January, Tunisia kicked off its AFCON 2022 games against Mali at the group stage. However, 85 minutes into the game and one goal later, the referee blew the final whistle signifying the end of the match. The error was promptly corrected. However, the referee followed the first error by blowing his whistle a second time, a few minutes too early. This sparked an uproar especially among the Tunisians who were desperately seeking an equalizing goal.
But the drama didn’t end there, CAF ordered the match to be resumed and replaced the referee as well. However, the Tunisian team was nowhere to be seen, and so the result stood. The referee at the center of all this is no other than Janny Sikazwe. Surprisingly, this wasn’t his first time being at the center of a major controversy.
In 2018 Janny Sikazwe was suspended by the Confederation of African Football (CAF). This was because an allegation of corruption was brought against him during the CAF Championship game between Esperance and Primiero Agosto. However, the suspension was lifted after a disciplinary hearing cleared Sikazwe of all allegations.
Sikazwe who hails from Zambia has an impressive record officiating in major games like the CAF Champions League, the FIFA Club World Cup, the Africa Cup of Nations, and the FIFA World Cup. So, what happened during the match between Tunisia and Mali is anybody’s guess, and here are some of the reactions that trailed the event.
Zambian referee Janny Sakizwe is making global headlines for the wrong reasons after mismanaging the Mali-Tunisia game at #AFCON2022 in Cameroon. As the @UPL in Uganda, we must aspire for the highest refereeing standards in the game. A bad whistle kills the game we all love. pic.twitter.com/3GHymlem0C
— Daniel Bakaki (@bakaki_daniel) January 13, 2022
Tunisia vs Mali is finally over after an eventful end after the Mali players returned to the pitch to play the time lost but the Tunisian players refused to play.
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) January 12, 2022
— David Vosh Ajuna R🇺🇬 (@DavidAjuna1) January 12, 2022
The Africa Cup of Nations is still at the group stage and this means more surprises are underway. It seems the Egyptian team is finally warmed up after conceding to Nigeria in the first leg of the group games. With a 1 – 0 victory against Guinea-Bissau, Egypt is up 3 points giving them a better chance of making it to the knockout rounds. But as always, AFCON is full of surprises and while we wait to see what surprises lie ahead, we’d like to know who you think would take home the trophy this year.