Ghana 2008 To Remember
TWENTY-ONE days of exciting football coupled with bright moments of colour exhibition came to an end on Sunday when the Pharaohs of Egypt, the defending champions, retained the trophy they won last two years, beating Cameroon one-nil.
Football pundits, both local and foreign, have hailed the 26th edition of the MTN Africa Nations Cup (CAN 2008) hosted by Ghana as one of the best organised in the history of the tournament.
The unpredictability of such tournaments, including Ghana 2008 was on display when the Egyptian national team, the Pharaohs locked horn with the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon in the grand finale as against pundits' prediction of a final between the Black Stars of Ghana and the Elephants of La Cote d'Ivoire.
In hosting this particular tournament, the government of Ghana built two ultra-modern stadia in Tamale and Essipon, and refurbished the Ohene Djan and Baba Yara stadia in Accra and Kumasi respectively.
The euphoria generated by the tournament among Ghanaians as they displayed all brands of paraphernalia and other souvenirs for the tournament coupled with attendance at the stadia had been unprecedented.
The tournament also produced series of records.
The win for the Egyptians gives them the unprecedented sixth title after winning the trophy in 1957, 1959, 1986, 1998 and 2006.
Cameroon and Ghana have won the title four times each.
In all a total of 99 goals were recorded, ranking the tournament as the one to have produced the highest number of goals in the history of the Africa Cup of Nations.
Again, Samuel Eto'o was the top scorer of the tournament with five goals. He has so far scored a total of 16 goals, two more than Ivorian legend Laurent Poku, who held the record previously.
Interestingly Cameroon defender Rigobert Song, whose poor judgment on the ball led to the scoring of the only goal in the grand finale, made history by playing his 33rd match at the Africa Cup of Nations final since making his debut in 1996.
Song has also played a total of 54 hours in the tournament.
Egypt's midfielder Hosni Abd Rabou was named player of the tournament at the Africa Cup of Nations in Ghana.
Abd Rabou, 23, scored four goals in the tournament, just one behind Cameroon's Samuel Eto'o.
Mohamed Abouterika was named man of the match for the final after scoring the only goal in the win over Cameroon.
The tournament also recorded a total of 100 yellow cards in the 32 matches played, an average of 3 yellow cards per match.
The 26th Africa Cup of Nations, even though described as one of the best organised in the history of the tournament, also experienced some difficulties.
Most of the matches were played out in half-empty stadia, the organisers having failed to entice the local public to games involving teams other than the hosts. There were no tickets for the local people to go to the stadia as most of those tickets were sold in the black market.
South Africa's players, used to five-star accommodation and led by Brazilian World Cup-winning coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, were dispatched to a modest two-star hotel in Tamale where goats roamed freely in the dusty streets outside.
Cameroon coach Otto Pfister was furious at the way his team were kept waiting around as they attempted to travel the 380 kilometres from Kumasi to Tamale.
“This is a total disaster. I don't know if this is the Nations Cup or a tournament for children,” he said.
There were occasional moments of slapstick such as when Cameroon defender Andre Bikey was sent off for pushing a first aid worker—and missed the final as a result.
Then came allegations of match fixing. Two teams, Namibia and Benin, said they had been approached by an unidentified man who offered them money to throw games. The Confederation of African Football said they had launched an investigation and handed a dossier to police.
Perhaps the most embarrassing moment for local organisers came when the coach of their own team, Ghana's Claude LeRoy, hit out at the state of the pitch at the main Ohene Djan stadium in Accra.
“In more than 20 years in Africa, it is the worst pitch I've ever seen in my career,” he said.
The Frenchman also touched a nerve by implying that the tournament was still made for local dignitaries rather than players and supporters.
“The first thing is not the quality of the armchair in the VIP room but the quality of the pitch,” he said.
That notwithstanding the President of CAF sums up the tournament in the following words: “Sometimes we received disturbing signals but at end the tournament was held in the best of conditions.
“This country is now blessed with some infrastructure for the future. Our countries are not very rich, those that organize the Nations Cup offer enormous sacrifices and we should never forget that. This applies to Ghana today as it was to others before her.
“There are those who delight in criticizing and attacking everything we do. We do not have to please them at all cost. What they cannot deny is the fact that we are making progress.
”By Wisdom Peter Awuku