PART SIX: A Cup of Nations – Africa 2004

PART SIX
A Cup of Nations: Africa 2004

The Northern Giants

West Africa’s dominance of the Nations Cup had come to its end, Cameroon the champions of 2000 and 2002 were no more – dispelled by fellow West Africans in a quarter-final duel – as Africa was to see the shifting of power from the west to the great north of the continent. A nation from the sub-sahara would have the opportunity to re-claim the coveted crown some 6 years after Egypt last claimed the prize in Burkina Faso 1998, and Algeria in 1990. The giants from the region had made a comeback and had taken over this 24th edition; the hosts, the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia to line-up against its neighbours from Morocco, the Atlas Lions, last crowned champs in 1976, this at the Tunis stadium for the first ever all-North African final.
Tunisia had sought to successfully ride a tidal wave of expectation and optimism as they searched for their first African nations triumph; they were the only major North Africans yet to win the continents big prize and were hosting the tournament for a third time. The last occasion exactly 10 years ago proved to be a disaster after they lost their opening match against minnows Mali – they sacked their coach and were eliminated before the second stage.
There was nervous anticipation before the finals started, expectations high given the resources ploughed into the side with pressure on Tunisia to finally deliver an African nations victory immense. Roger Lemerre, the high profile former France coach, had been roped in to conduct the campaign and the preparation which was a model of professionalism and thoroughness. Undeterred by history he made many changes during his short reign, but most gradual and measured as he took steps to building a side opponents would find hard to beat. He chased a unique distinction of his own of successive continental championship wins on different continents – it would be a first after winning Euro 2000, with France. He warned Tunisians not to expect a comfortable ride in the group stage, recalling what happened to France at 2002. The last Frenchman to coach the side Henri Michel was sacked after Tunisia’s poor performance in Mali at the 2002 African Cup of Nations. Slim Benachour was expected to provide the creativity while recently naturalised Brazilian Francileudo dos Santos the goals.
The tournament had a fresher look about it beforehand, new faces, but ultimately the older faces had been expected to dominate the three-week event with primary focus on Cameroon, Nigeria and Senegal – the three favourites.
Ivory Coast and Ghana failed to qualify and could have expected to have been among the serious contenders.
Cameroon and Egypt with 4 wins had the opportunity to extend the record of all-time African Nations Cup wins to an unprecedented five.
The Indomitable Lions epitomised the image of African football ever since the Roger Milla-led assault on glory at 90 finals of Italy; the colourful kit, flowing dreadlocks, cavalier defence and pacey attack that make them eminently watchable – these days with an arrogance, fuelled by a strong belief and refusal to be intimidated by major powers in world football. Commonly agreed that they was the continents No.1 team they were also chasing a unique feat of victory in three successive African Nations Cups – Lagos 2000, Bamako 2002; achieved after penalty shootouts.
Cameroon’s qualification as holders left them without much competitive match practice, limited to a series of friendlies and training camps under coach Schafer. The death of Marc Vivien Foe, at the Confederations Cup the previous June, had robbed the side of a midfield engine. Patrick Mboma returned after being ignored for a year and was originally left out of Winfried Shaefer’s squad but was recalled after President Paul Biya intervened. He has had his differences with the national association in the past and refused to play in the Confederations cup last June citing poor administration of the team. The former African footballer of year was expected to form a potent partnership with Samuel Eto’o.
Mboma made his debut for the Indomitable Lions in 1994 and became a key figure, helping his side to two cup of Nations wins in 2000 and 2002 and an Olympic gold medal also in 2000. The 34-year-old had scored 30 goals in his 57 appearances for the national team. There were concerns over eccentricity of Rigobert Song in a defence without Lauren, who brought a premature end to his international career as stalwarts Raymond Kalla and Pierre Wome remained.
Egypt were the last North African winners in Burkina Faso 98; a comfortable 2-0 victory over South Africa. They had the most experienced side on view, also the oldest in a solid if not awe-inspiring team. Though they had won it 4-times, the same number as Cameroon and Ghana, no side could match their record since this was their 19th nations tournament appearance, the most of any country.
Coach Salah kept faith with old guard, counting on the experience of around 5 players from the last triumph, but looked to Ahmed ‘Mido’ Hossam for inspiration. The team scored 13 goals in last two qualifiers after a shock defeat by Madagascar.
Senegal was runners-up at the last event and six competitive matches later reached the World Cup quarter-finals. Eighteen months later half of the squad returned but without the magnetic personality of coach Bruno Metsu, who did much to mould the side into a winning combination. His successor Stephan Guy came from the top structure of the French federation, but had been unable to emerge from the shadow of his predecessor and had not got the spark going during a period far from comfortable for the Lions of Teranga. The form of Diouf and Camara had been indifferent, while Fadiga’s absence because of a potentially life threatening heart defect was a major blow – he had been the driving force at the last Nations finals assault. Gone was Senegal’s surprise element, since the core of the World Cup team was still in place, despite qualification being easy.
Nigeria, under enormous pressure to succeed, had wanted to dispense with the services of Christian Chukwu in the months leading up to the finals, but changed their mind after the choice of Bryan Robson drew much criticism. Chukwu remained in the hot seat, only after having fought long and hard to stay, and he was one of three coaches at the finals that had won the Nations Cup as a player; captain of the victorious side of 1980. With all the talent at their disposal Nigeria had been expected to make a strong challenge but uncertainty over the coaching position, administrative incompetence and inconsistent team selections (a squad subject to intense speculation) could become a thorn in their challenge. Okocha returned to the country where he first emerged as an international star a decade ago, and was the only remaining member of the Nigeria team that won the tournament in 94, the last time the Super Eagles were winners.
Mali’s progress to the last Nations Cup semi had much to do with their hosting the event. But they had the ability to reach the knockout phase and had reached at least the semi-finals in all their three previous tournament appearances of 72, 94, and 2002. There had been two coaching changes since 2002, but most of the best players remained. Spurs French striker, Frederic Kanoute, after stating that he wanted to play for the country of his father’s birth, caused a row with club, desperate for him to stay to help their battle to avoid relegation. Coach Henri Stambouli, no stranger to the African coaching circuit had replaced French compatriot Christian Dagler – who had steered them through qualifiers – shortly before finals got underway.
Since winning the African Cup of Nations at their first attempt on home soil in 1996, South Africa’s fortunes have been on a steady but gradual decline – having fallen behind the pace a great deal. Handicapped by a lack of forwards, having no strikeforce of note, Bafana Bafana, a team desperate of firepower, had been expected to struggle from their group. The club versus country battle led to a major rupture in South Africa’s plans ahead for the finals. Coach Ephraim Mashaba’s uncompromising attitude – backed by federation – had insisted on players attending a-finals training camp, promoting Fish to withdraw; Quinton Fortune already no contact with football association since the previous April while Bartlett and McCarthy announced their retirements last year – a group of players with 200 cap and 50 goals. The coach was promptly dismissed on the eve of the finals as April ‘Styles’ Phumo took charge of a team that he didn’t choose.
South Africa had employed 10 coaches in the past eleven years; three of those coaches – namely, Clive Barker, who led the side to the 1996 title, Mozambique-born Carlos Quieroz and Ephraim ‘Shakes’ Mashaba – had all been sacked on the eve of major tournaments.
Benin, Rwanda and Zimbabwe would be making long awaited debuts, while Guinea and Kenya returned after a long time out of the limelight.
The ‘Squirrels’ of Benin had finished top of their qualifying group and proved to be quite an ambitious outfit in the last 2 years, despite having played no significant football because of suspension. The discovery of a host of new expatriate players also boosted the cause.
Rwanda’s qualification was particularly poignant given less than a decade ago the tiny east African country was embroiled and torn apart in unprecedented bloodshed and brutal genocide that killed close to a million. The success of the national team has done much to heal divisions between the warring Hutu and Tutsi tribes, with Rwandan patriotism coming to the fore. Their shock defeat of 4-times winner Ghana in the final qualifiers was arguably the biggest upset in Nations Cup history. It ended the almost automatic rite of passage of the Black stars and sent in their place a team of unknowns who until a decade ago barely played international football – Rwanda now amongst the elite. The transformation has had much to do with the enthusiastic support of the game of state president Paul Kagame, who used government money to get the team going. Serb coach Ratomir Djukovic, who formerly worked with the Yugoslav federation, was brought in to develop the side and has surpassed even his own expectations in getting them this far. The team included only a handful of overseas-based players, mainly in Belgium.
Zimbabwe, a country on the brink of economic and political collapse, saw its team finally come good, qualifying for its first Nations Cup having sealed its place as best runner-up – after a stuttering campaign that saw them lose to Seychelles. Zimbabwe’s ability to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in its campaign has been well documented. Stout defence and Peter Ndlovu’s huge influence upfied had been the key to their hopes in Tunisia. One still was not clear whether the administrative turmoil had been finally resolved or not, players had not been paid promised bonuses and match fees for months.
The ‘Harambee Stars’ of Kenya brought East African back into the continental footballing mainstream for the first-time since 1992, when they last made an appearance. Inspirational coach Jacob Mulee oversaw an impressive qualifying campaign, topping the group ahead of Togo. Off-field fighting and back-stabbing was what the team had to contend with as government and federation clashed – threatening to derail the campaign in the qualifiers. The coach also clashed with federation over the issue of overseas players.
In the mid-1970s Guinea was a powerhouse of African football, though its time at the top did not last too long, they were low-key profile but still had talent and ‘Syli Nationale’ topped Group 2 and would fancy chances of progression under Frenchman Michel Dussuyer.
There had not been too much ambition around the current Morocco team, with coach Badou Zaki preferring to talk about building a team capable of winning a place at the 2006 World Cup. After their early exits in 2000 and 2002, the country’s confidence in the team was at an all-time low. Since Zaki took charge 2 years ago many fans were now looking at his young team as possible successors to the legendary side of the 1980s and restore the lost glory of the Atlas Lions. No side had been able to emulate the achievements or reach the standards set by former stars Mohammed Timoumi, Merry Krimau, Aziz Bouderbala and Zaki himself. A new look side was drawn from all over Europe, where Zaki spent much more time seeking out players with an emphasis on second generation Moroccans born abroad. This had brought the coach much criticism back home, where fans were angry at his exclusion of locally-based players. They made light work of the qualifying group – Sierra Leone, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea – dropping only 2 points in 6 games and without conceding a goal.
Burkina Faso, once unable to put a side together for Nations Cup qualifiers, were now
participating at a fifth consecutive finals. Only once had they progressed from the first round,
during the era of Philippe Troussier that remains the glory period of Burkinabe football, when as
host they rode a tidal wave of support. French coach Jean Paul Rabier was confident his side
could qualify from the group.
The former Zaire, now the DR Congo had an identity change and, these days, were known as the Simbas (lions) – having been previously nicknamed the Leopards. Robust, strong and highly motivated, they were once the standard bearers of African football. The country has been wrecked by civil strife and horrible atrocities in recent years. The chaotic nature of their football, particularly the administration and preparations, persisted, retarding the vast country ever living up to its enormous potential. A complete lack of money after decades of corruption meant the federation was dependant on the government; planning or keeping a consistent team was difficult and as always the Congolese scrambled to get everything ready at the last minute. Unheralded Englishman Mick Wadsworth was appointed just two months before kick-off, this as new players with Congolese connections were sought out from the leagues of Europe to bolster the side. There was no disguising the loss of leading striker Shabani Nonda to a long term injury. With the Monaco man out the nation looked to Newcastle’s striker Lomana Tresor Lua Lua for goalscoring inspiration.
Despite depressing conditions within the country, Algeria was a nation desperate to regain past
glories. Algeria’s image as a force to be reckoned with has progressively diminished during the
14 years since their only triumph under Rabah Saadane, back for a second spell as coach. He was
less inclined to ignore local talent than his predecessor, Rabah Madjer, who coached the team at
the last African Nations. Algeria were one of the several countries actively seeking players born
in Europe to African families to take advantage of the better coaching and footballing
infrastructure that the players had been exposed to. There were doubts however about whether
the squad had enough strength to get out the tough group.

Tunisia, the host were far from convincing in the tournaments opening clash with rookies Rwanda, who made it a contest of equals; a 2-1 victory the unflattering scoreline, this after most observers had forecast a tough baptism for the Central Africans amidst the hostile atmosphere of the newly-built Rades Stadium. A curled free-kick, not the kind expected of minnows such as Rwanda, had surprisingly cancelled a Tunisian lead as the match began to look like the siege the home side had worked hard to avoid. The eventual win was hard-earned for Tunisia’s Carthage Eagles. The contest with DR Congo was only put beyond doubt and brought to its conclusion after Lua Lua had been dismissed; Tunisia to run out convincing 3-0 winners to confirm its entry into the knockout stages. Guinea seeking the point required, escaped the final group game against the host with its draw (1-1) and proceeded as the runners-up at expense of Rwanda. Titi Camara, one of Guinea’s key players, with three goals to his name, had arguably, scored his most important strike for the team in the dying minutes against the hosts.
In comparison to the unconvincing start for the hosts, opponents Morocco opened by stunning second favourites and the too ever complacent Nigeria 1-0 in Monastir. They did not rest on their laurels as Benin got crushed 4-0 in Sfax as South Africa, clinging for dear life in its quest for qualification, were unable to get the result required to even give them an outside chance in Sousse, against the already qualified group winner.
A quarter-final confrontation with Senegal, famed for a fairytale run at the World Cup finals in 2002, brought the best out of the host in a thrilling controversial clash in Rades.
With nearly 60,000 fans cheering them on, Tunisia began the quarter-final tie with a desire to secure an early goal. But despite the jeers of the intimidating crowd, it was the Lions of Teranga that could have claimed the opening goal of the tie, the roving Pape Malick Diop’s header from a Henri Camara free-kick only missed the post by inches. Shaking off that early scare, the home team turned the pressure on the Senegalese, but with the evening mist creating poor visibility on the turf, play in the second half became a scrappy affair. However, the Tunisians broke the deadlock in the 65th minute when Mnari, connecting with an inventive bicycle kick by Ziad Jaziri from the right side of the penalty area, nodded the ball home; defender Lamine Diatta failed in a last-gasp effort to head the ball off the line. The goal was only half the story as members of the Senegalese squad invaded the pitch immediately after the goal, in apparent protest against Busjaim’s failure to award a free-kick for Khaled Badra’s challenge on Diouf earlier in play. Ten minutes of second half stoppage-time were added following a number of injuries and skirmishes in which Diouf had a running feud with referee Ali Bujsaim and had to be restrained at the end of the game. The striker had his ban (received afterwards) from international football increased from three to four matches; his wild antics meant he was suspended for Senegal’s next four World Cup and African Cup qualifiers. One of Senegal’s stars in the 2002 World Cup he was dimming from the international spotlight as rapidly as he rose into it. He no longer scored goals, had a petulant, provocative temperament, and clashed continually – and often needlessly – with officials. The 2-time African Player of the Year had not scored a competitive goal for club side Liverpool or Senegal since March 2003.
Technical staff members Amara Traore, Abdoulaye Sarr and Doctor Fallou Cisse were also banned from the touchline for a year; Sarr’s ban would be increased to 18 months. “These measures have been taken due to Senegal launching an appeal instead of asking for clemency,” said Amadou Diakite, a member of the CAF executive committee. The suspensions came into effect from the start of the 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign which was due to get underway in June 2004.
Extra-time goals from Youssef Hadji and Jaouad Zairi booked Morocco a semi-final place after a dramatic clash with Algeria at the Taieb Mhiri stadium in Tunisia’s second biggest city. The overwhelmingly Algerian crowd did its utmost to unsettle the Moroccans, jeering their every touch of the ball and throwing the occasional missile onto the pitch; and in keeping with the nature of a North African derby the referee was a busy man and booked 3 players inside the first 15 minutes. But in the face of such extreme provocation, the Atlas Lions remained calm and took the game to the Desert Foxes. Underdogs Algeria looked to have stolen the tie when Abdelmalek Cherrad headed home Hocine Achiou’s cross on 81 minutes. But Morocco deservedly drew level four minutes into stoppage time as Marouane Chamakh (pulled the game out of the fire) lashed home unmarked from Mohamed Yaacoubi’s run and cross. It would have been an injustice to Morocco had they failed to take the game into extra-time, as they were in complete control from the first shrill of Libyan referee Hakim Abdul Shelmani’s whistle. Substitute Hadji then fired in from a tight angle before Zairi sealed victory with a late breakaway goal. The turnaround saw the Atlas Lions secure their first appearance in the semi-finals of the Cup of Nations since hosting the tournament in 1988; the late intervention of Hadji and the impressive Zairi deservedly set up a showdown with Mali.
Semi-final results couldn’t have been more contrasting, Tunisia yet again to again face West African opposition – a Nigeria team already defeated by Morocco.
It was a contest that would go right to the death after 120 minutes could not separate the sides.
Both teams created very few clear-cut chances, Nigeria played pretty football without being a potent threat while Tunisia were happy to fire long balls for striker Francileudo dos Santos, without much success. After the interval the same tense battle resumed until the 65th minute when the match came to life, Kanu broke into the penalty area and was brought down by Hagui. Up stepped Okocha who, at the second time of asking, put away his kick to send the small number of Nigeria fans into raptures. J.J Okocha at this period was in the form of his career and named the best player presently in the world by Pele. Hosts Tunisia was in need of some emergency inspiration with just a quarter of the match remaining and were nearing elimination from its own finals. The appearance of substitute Slim Benachour seemed to do the trick. The playmaker livened up the dispirited side as they pressed forward. With just minutes of the match remaining, the relatively quiet Jaziri skipped past Seyi Olofinjana, only for the defender to catch his trailing leg. It was left to Badra to put away the spot-kick and it proved a bittersweet moment for the captain, who had picked up a yellow card earlier in the match meaning he would miss the final. Thirty additional minutes could not bring out any victor, as it seemed that neither side had the energy to search for a winner. And so it was to the dreaded penalties.
Captain Badra stepped up first for Tunisia and buried his kick. Utaka then equalised before Santos made it 2-1. But the advantage swung the way of Tunisia when young Odemwingie saw his effort saved by Boumnijel who dived superbly to his left. Tunisia’s Imad Mhedhabi, Slim Benachour and Nigeria’s Joseph Yobo and Ifeanyi Udeze then all successfully put away their spot-kicks. It left Hagui, who had earlier conceded a penalty, to hold his nerve and fire the winner. The defender took a deep breath and sent his kick high into the roof of Enyeama’s goal, to the delight of his teammates and the thousands of Tunisia fans at Stade Rades.
Two goals from forward Youssef Mokhtari helped Morocco to the African Cup of Nations final at the expense of Mali, contesting a second successive African Nations semi-final; they had been crushed in its own finals by Cameroon 3-0. Mali’s ability to withstand pressure and make the most of their limited opportunities enabled them to qualify for the semi-finals for the fourth time in as many tournaments.
However, it was to be a capitulation in the end to Morocco’s clearly evidently superior team by four goals in front of a meagre crowd at Stade Olympique.
Mali, who were many people’s dark horses for the title, were handed a shock to the system when Youssef Mokhtari opened the scoring for Morocco after 14 minutes with a superb free-kick from the edge of the penalty area. Despite having a relatively poor start, Mali had their moments but the Moroccan defence, well-marshalled by Noureddine Naybet, gave little away. The Malians started the second half with a greater sense of direction and purpose but all hopes of a revival were swept out of sight by another wonder goal from Mokhtari after 57 minutes. Having collected the ball on the edge of the box, he ignored the attentions of one defender, took a couple strides across the turf and unleashed a vicious left-foot shot which nestled in the bottom corner. With 10 minutes remaining Youssef Hadji added a third when he converted Marouane Chamakh’s brilliant centre. And in stoppage time, substitute Nabil Baha rounded off the rout with a soaring effort from just inside the box. It was very much a one-sided contest, as the Moroccans put on a show of astonishing will and control that left Mali a shadow of the team that impressed so often in the tournament. Apart from a few isolated attacks, the 2002 hosts played with their backs firmly to the wall, constantly caught on the break; it was a sad sight watching so gifted a team being so consumed by collective self-doubt and had never recovered from the first goal. Most of the enthralled spectators would have settled for Youssef Mokhtari’s two venomous strikes, but they were treated to two more from Hadji and Baha as Morocco continued Mali’s nightmare and delivered a chilling warning to Tunisia ahead the decider in Tunis. Morocco, were superb and always seemed to have one more player on the pitch than the opposition. Long-standing captain Noureddine Naybet was at the heart of a defence which was as it could be argued that Mali played well enough in the group stage not to deserve anything like a 4-0 rout in the semi-finals, equally it would be difficult to dispute that they were pathetic enough against Morocco to merit an even greater hiding. The referee’s final whistle could not have been a better relief for the shell-shocked Eagles and their supporters; Mali coach Henri Stambouli said his side were left in tears.

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