By Anesu Chakanetsa

THE Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) is a great tournament. 

Those who were advocating its postponement were left with egg on their face not only because it is currently underway, but also due to the events unfolding in the beautiful cities of Cameroon.  

The opening ceremony in Olembe revealed that Africa has come of age and can now afford to invest in multi-billion sports tourism events. 

Indeed, Cameroon did not disappoint! 

The opening ceremony was splendid.

On television, one could see the digitised 3G cultural symbol of Cameroon, the lion, also taking part in the proceedings. 

It jumped from one terrace to the other, rested on the pitch and then jumped out of the stadium. 

Confederation of African Football (CAF) president Dr Patrice Motsepe was more than startled by this great showing. 

“What I have seen today shows that Africa is capable of hosting a successful tournament,” he said. 

The office of Motsepe, since he was elected CAF president early last year, has shown signs of decisive leadership. 

Some negative media reports had downgraded the capability of Cameroon hosting the tournament, some even citing threats of terrorism. 

The ongoing AFCON 2021, being held belatedly, was supposed to happen last year in June but two reasons prevented the showpiece; COVID 19 and Cameroon’s equatorial climatic conditions – rain and thunderstorm.

Motsepe and his office agreed that the tournament’s dates be shifted from June 2021 to January 2022, but would not be moved from Cameroon. 

This time around, the tournament faced the music, especially from European clubs that wanted to keep their players for their respective leagues. 

Motsepe did not respect that and insisted the tournament goes on.

There was a lot of hullabaloo and concerted mischief in Europe, with most clubs requesting the cancellation of the tournament due to a plethora of reasons. 

Some European clubs cited travelling to Africa would expose their players to COVID 19, while others bluntly put it that they needed their players for their respective leagues. 

Those requests were turned down by FIFA. 

Instead, FIFA asked European clubs to respect AFCON. 

Crystal Palace gaffer Patrick Viera, former Manchester City star turned-pundit Ian Wright and others also said AFCON should be treated with respect.

Since time immemorial, AFCON has been held from January to February in the midst of European league seasons. 

However, that tradition, though delayed, was changed by the office of Issa Hayatou. 

The first and only tournament that was held in June was in 2019. 

The mass exodus of African players to Europe would have influenced such an idea. 

African players, and even goalkeepers, were regarded as naturally untalented players. 

That narrative was changed when Peter Ndlovu became the first black African to play in the English Premiership in the early 1990s. 

Now, European teams cannot do without African players. Currently, Liverpool are struggling without Mohammed Salah (Egypt) and Naby Keita (Guinea), while Chelsea will have to do without their talented goalkeeper Edouard Mendy. 

There are even unconfirmed reports that Liverpool have allegedly gone to the extremes of faking COVID 19 cases in their team in order for their match against Arsenal to be postponed. 

Such is the virility of Africa and its players.

However, there are some teams in Cameroon with locally-based players that were not worried about players in Europe. 

Ethiopia is the only team with 100 percent locally-based players, followed by Malawi. 

Zimbabwe, on the other hand, has a number of locally-based players, like Takudzwa Chimwemwe, Kelvin Madzongwe and goalkeeper Petros Mhari, among others. 

And the narrative that Senegal are the favourites for this edition of the AFCON tourney was debunked by the Warriors brilliance — they showed the world that ‘big names from big clubs mean nothing’.

There is great talent hidden in the dusty streets of Mandava, Mzilikazi, Highfield, Sakubva and Nyamhunga, among other areas in Zimbabwe. 

Through betting, some unpatriotic Zimbabweans had already sacrificed their monies in support of Senegal, with most betting that Senegal would win with a difference of two goals or more, which they call ‘over 2,5’ in betting.

That was not to be as Mapeza’s men played sturdy football that kept Senegal at bay for 93 minutes. 

The Warriors shifted from Spanish-passing football, ‘tiki-taka’, to Brazilian walking football known as ‘samba’. 

Unfortunately, the Warriors conceded in the last seconds of added time under controversial circumstances. 

The irony is Senegal’s Sadio Mane was awarded Man-of-the-Match gong for scoring a penalty while deserving candidates like Petros Mhari, Kelvin Madzongwe and Ishmael Wadi, who spent the entire game giving the Lions of Teranga a torrid time, were sidelined.

While a number of Zimbabwean fans on most microblogging sites like Twitter and Facebook crucified Kelvin Madzongwe for handling in the box, people from as far as Nigeria castigated the referee for poor officiating. 

Madzongwe did not deliberately handle the ball.

Nevertheless, most Zimbabwean pundits and supporters are satisfied with Norman Mapeza’s vision in building the team.

Going in today’s match against the Flames of Malawi, the Warriors have received a major boost with the arrival of Jordan Zemura, the powerful Bournemouth utility player. 

The Warriors will be looking forward to winning to qualify for the next round, which is ultimately Mapeza’s target.

More drama should be expected at AFCON 2021, and the Warriors are certainly featuring in that spectacular drama in Cameroon.

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