Just before the third place play-off, the Cup of Nations organisers set up a get-together of captains who had hoisted the trophy. The organisers said there would be a chance for a quick chat with such legends after the round table - which was in fact a long table - and then they disorganised the moment.
Scales of injustice
We were urged to come for 1.30pm. And the event got started about 75 minutes later. What the former players talked about was interesting. Subjects ranging from handling the pressure and realising the responsibility of playing in the Cup of Nations to goals that should have been. Hint: don't ever try and convince Daniel Amokachi that there's no room for video assistant referees - something to do with a call in the 2000 final. Reporters had been told that the legends would chat informally afterwards in the "mixed zone". But it never worked out like that. The event descended into chaos after The Convenor said there would be pictures. Some journalists thought this meant they could go up on stage and have photos with the former players rather than the players standing around to have a picture taken of them behind the Cup of Nations trophy. Irked, The Convenor cancelled the mixed zone citing bad behaviour. Camera teams who had dutifully set up their equipment in the mixed zone and had been waiting patiently were arrogantly told that their stories were not coming. The Convenor's earlier claim: "We're doing this for you," seemed a tad disingenuous. At least there was an apology for being late. Oh, but that was not her.
Scales of justice
Among the legends along the table was Hossam Hassan who spoke about his days playing and winning the Cup of Nations trophy with Egypt. He would have been asked questions in the mixed zone about his new role as coach of the Egypt national team following the departure of Rui Vitoria who took the Pharoahs - as they are nicknamed - to the last-16. Rui, after what was done to us by The Convenor, we feel your pain.
And so we reconvened to the Stade Felix Houphouet-Boigny which is nicknamed Le Félicia. But the 3rd place play-off between South Africa and Democratic Republic of Congo was far from a delight. It was goalless but the two South Africans who were at the legends binge - Neil Tovey and Lucas Radebe - were there. The latter told a story at the long table about a visit of former South Africa president Nelson Mandela - AKA Madiba - to the camp of the 1996 trophy-winning team. "If you ask a lot of players, they'll tell you about the role models of footballers or former footballers," Radebe offered. "But for us, the number one was Madiba. We were told that Madiba is coming to see us and we woke up at 5am - we never woke up at that time. He came at about 630am. And to be honest, when the man got into the room where we were sitting, we didn't know whether to stand or to sit. We froze with big lumps in our throat. He had such an aura and that's when the Madiba magic was rubbed on us. After giving us a pep talk about where we are and what we are about to get into, it was absolutely amazing, it inspired us in a way that when we left that room, we wanted to go in the field of play. And that's how we felt. And for us, from the first game till to the last game, it was Madiba magic."
The 2024 crop of South Africans were quite close to reaching the Cup of Nations final for the first time since 1998 but Nigeria beat them in a penalty shoot-out in the semis. In the third place play-off, Democratic Republic of Congo created a host of chances to win but missed left, right and centre. "We needed to be more clinical," said DRC defender Dylan Batubinsika who was deemed man-of-the-match. "We lost the game because of that but we must keep sight of the positives."
Kudos to the South Africa and Democratic Republic of Congo bosses Hugo Broos and Sebastien Desabre. They were both upbeat after the match for third place. "The players are two steps further along than they were two years ago," said Broos while Desabre added: "We need to build on everything we've done and continue to improve." Refreshing stuff.