The 33rd Africa Cup of Nations (AfCON) tournament kicked off on Sunday 9 January 2022 at Olembé stadium in the commercial capital of Cameroon, Yaoundé. Cameroon is hosting Africa’s biggest sporting event for the first time in 50 years and the national team, whose nickname is Lions Indomptables, hope to win the tournament for a sixth time. The colourful ceremony, which showcased leading local musicians and cultural dancing troupes, was attended by H.E. Paul Biya (President of Cameroon), Chantal Biya (First Lady of Cameroon), H.E. M. Azali Assoumani (President of Comoros), Patrice Motsepe (Confederation of African Football President), Veron Mosengo-Omba (Confederation of African Football General Secretary), Gianni Infantino (FIFA President), and many other dignitaries.
The Omicron variant made an uninvited and unwanted appearance at AfCON. The day before the tournament started, the Burkina Faso team disputed positive COVID-19 test results for the head coach and five key players, including Edmond Tapsoba who was featured in ONGOLO recently, who were ruled out for their opening match against Cameroon. The Les Étalons cited irregularities with how samples were collected but the CAF Disciplinary Board dismissed the allegations. Burkina Faso’s defence was crippled as a result, and they beaten 1-2 by the Lions Indomptables.
Other star players who tested positive for COVID-19 were Senegal team captain, Kalidou Koukibaly (Napoli) and goalkeeper, Édouard Mendy (Chelsea); and, Gabon team captain, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal). The Cape Verde coach, Pedro “Bubista” Brito also tested positive, forcing nine players to isolate and leaving just six substitutes on the bench.
The Analyst predicted that the two teams most likely to win the tournament are Nigeria and Morocco. They are followed by Egypt, Senegal, and Côte d’Ivoire. The bottom five teams are Ethiopia, Comoros, Sudan, Sierra Leone, and Zimbabwe. Nigeria got off to an excellent start, beating the Mo Salah-led Egyptians by 1-0.
The defending champions, Algeria, were held to a goalless draw by Sierra Leone and allowed one disallowed goal. Sierra Leone goalkeeper, Mohamed Kamara, who had little international experience prior to the tournament, was deservedly named man of the match after saving an amazing seven saves. Expect him to be signed by a top-flight team within the next few months as he is no longer under contract with Kuwait Premier League side, Kazma SC.
Tunisia are lobbying for the opportunity to replay their first match which they lost to Mali by 0-1. The Group F match was poorly officiated match and continues to be the subject of much speculation. Zambian referee, Janny Sikazwe, gave two questionable penalties and one red card which the VAR review asked him to check but he stuck to his decision. Sikazwe first blew the final whistle in the 85th minute before realising his mistake. The game resumed for afew minutes before Sikazwe ended the match in the 89th minute, before full-time and ignoring more than 5 minutes of extra time.
Tunisia's furious protests were ignored as official and players left the pitch. Then 40 minutes later, players were asked to return to the pitch to finish the game. Mali obliged but the Tunisian players, who were already taking their ice baths, refused. They are reportedly asking that the entire match be replayed.
It has since been reported that the reason why Sikazwe behaved so unprofessional is that he was suffering from heat stroke and severe dehydration. The temperatures in Cameroon are in the mid-30 degrees Celsius with high humidity. This may explain why play has been slow in general at the tournament. Let's hope things pick up in week two.
Algeria – Les Fennecs (The Fennecs)
Burkina Faso – Les Étalons (The Stallions)
Cameroon - Lions Indomptables (Indomitable Lions)
Cape Verde – Tubarões Azuis (Blue Sharks)
Comoros – Les Coelecantes (The Coelecantes)
Côte d’Ivoire – Les Éléphants (The Elephants)
Egypt – The Pharaohs
Equatorial Guinea - Nzalang Nacional (The National Thunder)
Ethiopia – Walyas
Gabon – Les Panthères (The Panthers)
Gambia – Scorpions
Ghana – Black Stars
Guinea – Syil National (National Elephants)
Guinea-Bissau – Djurtus (The African wild dogs)
Malawi – The Flames
Mali – Les Aigles (The Eagles)
Mauritania – The Almoravids
Morocco – Les Lions de l'Atlas (The Atlas Lions)
Nigeria – Super Eagles
Senegal – Les Lions de la Téranga (The Lions of Teranga)
Sierra Leone – The Leones Stars
Sudan – Falcons of Jediane
Tunisia – Les Aigles de Carthage (Eagles of Carthage)
Zimbabwe – The Warrior