I love the World Cup. I love the Champions League and the EPL and Euro Cups. But it’s amazing to see what’s going on in the African Nations Cup. I think we got a taste of it in this past World Cup in Germany, with Ghana emerging as a fan's favorite.
This Cup is intriguing because on one hand it’s a world full of corruption, genocide, division, disease, poverty, and then on the other hand full of physicality, passion, and hope. And I know this isn’t a new concept, it’s a tired old and often repeated refrain, but it’s what it’s all about. Redemption. Turing around a country, some pleasure where there usually is pain, a spark, an openness - the beautiful game.
On the pitch, during this tournament, all things are done with an extreme passion it seems. Goals are not slotted home but blasted into the back of the net with power. Players don’t celebrate a goal but rejoice or pray when they score - as a group of Eygptian did.
As you watch this tournament, there’s a feeling that things could boil over quickly. A leg is swung a bit too hard and connects with a player. A steward is bulled over by a player as he tries to help another injuried player off the pitch, the player is given a red card straight away. A goal keeper comes out nearly like German goalkeeper Harold Schumacher to clear the ball and hits his own defender.
To see highlight clips and then see the players interviewed speaking in English, many who play in Europe, is new to me. Players from Africa have been playing in Europe for a long time now, but to see stars from Africa communicating with the press about their own tournament adds a certain beauty to it. Part of it is just the reach of the Internet and Fox Soccer channel—we now see more of what we once couldn’t. But it’s also the growth of soccer in the United States, I don’t think the NY Times had a soccer blog a few years ago or covered this tournament at all.
This connect-the-dots trade route from the dusty fields of Africa, through Europe’s smaller leagues, to the promised land of England, Spain, or Italy, is now a common story. It’s changing the face of the game worldwide, and making millionaires of players who two decades ago might not have received tourist visas.
Soon, and maybe the player will emerge after the World Cup in South Africa, the greatest player in the world will come from Africa. You know the names like Drogba and Essien, since they play for Chelsea. You know the names Etoo and Geremi. They’ve both played or play in Spain. Etoo could be the smoothest player on the planet. More names will become Beckham like soon.
If you look at the players physically they are all strong, thick, athletic, and fast. Will soccer be like the NBA, just not much room for players unless they’re like Steve Nash? I don't think so, soccer is a sport for the tall and the short, the thick and the skinny.
But the beauty of the African Nations Cup is there right from the start, in the jersey colors. The bright orange jerseys of the Ivory Coast or a beautiful green on the Cameroon shirt. Then there are the nicknames, the Indomitable Lions for one. Then there are the fans, who don't paint their faces but dress up in costumes worthy of a King or Queen.
What’s amazing too, is how you hear from different voices via the Internet, and then news is of sport and not violence. Again, not a new refrain, wars have been stopped by sport and soccer specifically but it's refreshing to hear from voices whose usual context is of terror. The different voice heard, one that is usually thought of as nearly an enemy.
It's a joy to watch this tournament no doubt.
Aljazeera Preview – these two will now face one another in the final: