There have already been some pretty memorable moments during the African Nations Cup qualifiers including Algeria taking their frustrations out on Ethiopia in a 7-1 thrashing.
That game was a gargantuan display of teamwork. But qualifiers in recent years have also stood out for showcasing some immense individual talents. This list looks at a few of the best performances over recent years.
The last year or so has not been too kind to Christian Atsu. After failing to make any kind of lasting impression in the Premier League, he went on loan to Málaga in January and was then injured during his debut game for the team weeks later.
It wasn’t too long ago that the Ghanaian was considered a bright prospect, named AFCON player of the tournament with his blistering pace and assortment of tricks that made opposition defenders wish that they stayed at home. In Ghana’s quarter final appearance against Guinea, the midfielder scored a couple of goals including this screamer.
Normally, managers want players to get back to their half quickly after a goal is scored but Avram Grant probably had no objections to the prolonged celebration after that strike.
The Ayew brothers have been inseparable for most of their professional careers, having played for many years together for Marseille and the Ghanaian team. However, it seems that the older brother André has always edged his younger sibling.
He constantly outscored Jordan for Marseille and starred for Ghana whilst Jordan frequently sat on the bench. Even when Jordan scored his first home goal for Marseille, André had to outdo him by scoring a hat-trick.
In the 2015 semi-finals it seemed that Jordan might have a solitary moment for himself, as he opened the scoring against Equatorial Guinea… but alas, big brother put paid to that idea by scoring half an hour later. If Atsu was the key player for the team, André was not far behind, scoring a number of goals and laying off opportunities for the other Black Stars.
When the team lost a penalty shootout to Ivory Coast in the finals, the attacking midfielder was distraught, but his lil bro was there to offer a shoulder to cry on.
Burkina Faso does not have a particularly rich footballing history. With the exception of a fourth place finish in the 1998 edition held in the country, they’ve never reached the knock-out stage. They did however manage to get to the finals in 2013, even though every referee in the competition gave the impression that they didn’t want them there.
It seemed that referee Slim Jedidi in particular had a vendetta against Burkina Faso, after this ridiculous yellow card for an apparent dive from one player – maybe he had a bad holiday in Ouagadougou.
The star of the team, Jonathan Pitroipa was the person who got the card and had been instrumental in the success of the Burkinabe team. The winger scored so many late goals in the competition that he probably gave opposition defenders the shakes anytime he came near them in the closing minutes. Fortunately the card was rescinded and he was able to play in the final – but that seemed to be one game too much for the side.
Stephen Keshi faced a lot of criticism in his four years as Nigeria coach. Some said the playing style he encouraged was not pleasing to the eye, some said he failed to motivate his players at times, some people just didn’t like the fact that he would sometimes turn his cap around in press conferences.
It’s fair to say that he wasn’t universally loved.
In the successful 2013 campaign he was criticised for calling up six domestic-based players including the midfielder Sunday Mba, who currently plays in the lower leagues in Turkey. Clearly Mr Keshi saw something that no one else did and Sunday paid him back with two of the most important goals in the recent history of the Super Eagles.
Nothing could go wrong for Kennedy Mweene in the 2012 African Nations Cup. He was the best man on the pitch on a number of occasions throughout the tournament.
The Zambian team relied heavily upon their defence throughout the campaign and Mweene crucially saved a penalty against Ghana in the semi-finals. Moreover, in the penalty shootout against Ivory Coast, they called upon Mr Kennedy to take the fifth and most important spot-kick, which he despatched like he was playing in his back garden.
Can someone please get the man a cigarette.
Before Aubameyang was internationally known, he was very much locally respected. The 2012 Cup of Nations was held in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon and with a number of lesser talents from the former playing for mediocre teams in France. It was clear who the star of the team was… and if there was any doubt, the wife of the president made it abundantly clear by wearing Aubameyang’s no 9 shirt during a game.
Unfortunately, Aubameyang could not quite take the team to the semi-finals, missing a penalty in the shootout loss to Mali but he was undoubtedly the best player in a team that captured the imagination of the country and scored a key goal in the incredible 3-2 victory over Morocco in the group stages.
The 2012 African Cup of Nations could not have been any more significant for the Zambian national team. Almost a decade after the tragic air crash in 1993 that saw most of the national team perish. The Bullets won their first and only AFCON championship a matter of miles away from the disaster in Libreville 18 years later. The mastermind of the victorious campaign was the little known Christopher Katongo, who at the time was playing in China – way before it was cool. The diminutive midfielder was the joint top-scorer in the tournament and assisted a key goal in their upset over Senegal in the group stages.
Sports journalist Ponga Liwewe stated that; ‘After years of declining fortunes for the national team, the award inspired a new generation of Zambian players to believe that they could compete with the best in African football.’
Not bad for a couple of weeks work….