18 February 2008


Ghana 2008 will be filed away as a vintage edition of the Africa Cup of Nations, perhaps even the best yet

It was a tournament where new records were set by individuals, teams and the competition itself.More importantly, it was the overall level of play and attacking philosophy that made these finals special.

"I think it has been a wonderful Nations Cup though a little sad that Ghana were not able to win the tournament," said former Ghana captain Abedi Pele.
"We've also learnt a lot from the way that Egypt came here to win."

Although they failed to make it to the World Cup in 2006, Egyptian coach Hassan Shehata galvanised his team to light up the tournament.
And Fifa President Sepp Blatter said the spectacle proved that African football could no longer be considered inferior to the more traditional football hotbeds.

"I have followed, with lots of interest, most of the matches of this competition and I have to say that the state of African football is at a very high level when compared to other tournaments around the world," he told BBC Sport.

Evidence of attacking philosophy can be taken from the much-mentioned fact that 99 goals were scored over the three weeks.

The new record surpassed the previous best tally of 93, set some 10 years ago.

But quality of goals, as well as quantity will also be etched in the memory.

I was in Egypt in 2006 and the (standard of) football we have seen here in Ghana is much higher

Former Nigeria striker Daniel Amokachi

To mention just two, there was Kader Keita's strike for Ivory Coast against Egypt, and Manucho's swirling shot for Angola, also against the eventual champions.

But quality football is not just about goals.

Some, like former Nigeria striker Daniel Amokachi, claimed the players would not care as much playing for their countries as they would their clubs.

But the former Everton ace was happy to be proved wrong.

"I was in Egypt in 2006 and the (standard of) football we have seen here in Ghana is much higher," he told BBC Sport.

"When you have players like Samuel Eto'o running for every ball over 90 minutes and Didier Drogba trying so hard - it's great to see and great for African football."

The positive approach was underlined by the fact there were no penalty shoot-outs and there was a need for extra-time on only one occasion.

In Ghana, it seemed, all coaches were gamblers.

We also witnessed Eto'o surpassing Laurent Pokou's all-time goalscoring record and Rigobert Song's 33-game appearance record.

There was Ahmed Hassan becoming the first player to finish three finals as a winner, and Egypt's awesome sixth title.

Away from the action itself, the stadiums had all been renovated or built from scratch to a high specification.

Despite grumblings from some in the media, Blatter argued the tournament had its own unique challenges.

"I think the organisation was not so bad, it is not easy to organise a Africa Cup of Nations," he told BBC Sport.

"There is always improvements to be made with tickets, hotels, transport and so on but I don't think we should criticise so much."

Indeed there were some nice touches. In the Kumasi press area we worked off a marble-topped table.

And in terms of playing surfaces, while they were not the standard of the English Premier League, they were higher than in previous years.

Even the Accra surface - which faced the challenge of excessive and unprotected use ahead of the opening ceremony - held up well as the tournament unfolded.

The decision to stage a group in the dusty northern city of Tamale was either brave or misguided, given the poor infrastructure there.

But what a wonderful legacy it is for the city's professional club Real Tamale United, which produced Ghanaian great Pele.

If there was a failing of Ghana 2008 it was that once again the local fans did not fill the stadiums, even for some of the bigger games.

The day when African fans can take two to three weeks off work and travel in numbers, as happens at the World Cup, is still a long way off.

Local organising committees have to accept this, and Angola, who host the tournament in 2010, must work hard to sell the tournament to local people.

But if they tackle this and with rising star Manucho to lead them, Angola may yet be able to breach the final step that eluded the hosts this time around.

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