The 2015 Africa Cup of Nations has somewhat lived up to expectation. Apart from the few goals that the tournament has registered so far, the quality of football has been impressive with giants such as Senegal and Cameroon being shown the exit before the knockout stages.
In this comprehensive interview with New Vision soccer writer Fred Kaweesi, sports producer and presenter for BBC World service, Nick Cavell offers an insight into the challenges, the drama and First Eleven that has impressed at the championship so far.
What has been the experience like at the 2015 Africa Nations Cup tournament so far?
As ever with a Nations Cup it is what happens on the pitch that will be remembered and talked about in the future – from that point of view it hasn’t been an outstanding tournament.
The quality on the pitch hasn’t captured the imagination but some of the intrigue around tight games has done – going into the final group matches no one had qualified and no one had been eliminated. All the teams have played some good football at times during the group stage but no one has really been consistent and marked themselves out as a cut above the rest. Indeed, two teams who have been knocked out (Zambia and South Africa) looked great at times but couldn’t convert that pressure and skill into goals and ultimately victories.
Guinea's midfielder Kevin Constant (L) challenges Cameroon's forward Eric Choupo Moting during the 2015 African Cup of Nations group D football match between Cameroon and Guinea in Malabo on January 24, 2015. AFP PHOTO
As far as organisation goes, it has been as problematic as we expected from a country volunteering to host the finals at such notice. We knew there wouldn’t be enough accommodation for everyone (teams, Confederation of African Football officials, broadcast technicians, journalists, fans, security etc) and that has proved to be the case with some people scrabbling to find a place to sleep, myself included.
The communication infrastructure is lacking. Phone calls, both local and international, are not easy to make nor are they good quality and there is little or no internet in many places (especially Ebebiyin and Mongomo.)
How has the Ebola threat affected various activities around the tournament in Equatorial Guinea?
The threat hasn’t affected any of the activities around the tournament, there are checks as you arrive at airports with temperatures taken and anti-bacterial gel dispensed to everyone. There are large banners around the towns warning of the dangers of Ebola and leaflets on show at airports and shops too.
There are also testing procedures for fans entering the stadiums and this is where there have been a few ugly scenes with people arriving late and becoming frustrated at not getting in quickly enough; couple that with people either arriving with (possibly) fake tickets or without them and you’re going to struggle.
However increased security was introduced and the problems stopped so on the whole the procedures haven’t put people off going to the games at all four venues.
DR Congo coach Claude Le Roy and Ghana coach Avram Grant have complained about several logistical issues such as hotels, transport at the tournament? Is the situation really alarming?
It is not as alarming as it was to be expected in my opinion. With a limited number of hotels in all of the cities the standards of the accommodation has varied greatly.
All the coaches have actually seemed to take these issues in their stride and they’ve dealt with them philosophically.
Congo's coach Claude Le Roy reacts during the 2015 African Cup of Nations group A football match between Equatorial Guinea and Congo at Bata Stadium in Bata on January 17, 2015. AFP PHOTO
On his first night in Bata LeRoy told me, “I can’t let my team get angry about this we have to save our energy for more important battles ahead.”
From 1 to 10, how would you rate the hosts’ performance in organising for the event?
Taking into consideration the short amount of time they had to put everything in place I’d say about a 7. If we’d arrived to this level of organisation after the normal three or four years planning then it would of course be a lot lower.
If fans weren’t at the stadium, are there enough activities and places worth visiting that would give fans reason to travel to Equatorial Guinea?
At the moment I’d have to say that from what I have seen it is not a tourist destination and at present is not set up for tourism. With the discovery of oil it is much more of a place for business to be done. However there could be potential for tourism given the lush forests on the mainland of the country and also they could take advantage of the coastline that has some nice beaches.
If you’re adventurous at heart it is very easy to go on a trek to see the lowland gorillas in Malabo but you have to go looking for someone to take you…you won’t find a brochure in the lobby!
How would you rate the quality of football played so far?
One thing that I have noted at this tournament so far is that there is a lack of quality “number 10’s”. I’ve noted that several of the teams, e.g. Gabon, Burkina Faso, Senegal and DR Congo all have outstanding centre forwards but lack that link player who helps move the ball smoothly from defence to attack.
Guinea's defender Fode Camara (L) challenges Cameroon's forward Vincent Aboubakar during the 2015 African Cup of Nations group D football match between Cameroon and Guinea in Malabo on January 24, 2015. AFP PHOTO
In some ways I have been disappointed that we haven’t seen the very best of the attacking players that are present at this tournament.
The tournament has so far registered a number of stalemates or narrow results. Does this mean that the gulf of class between the top teams and small sides has narrowed significantly?
Going into this tournament a lot of journalists and football experts were finding it very hard to pick out a clear favourite. Algeria looked like they should carry that tag but before the finals nobody quite felt that they would be able to dominate.
That seems to have been proved correct with a couple of surprise packages in the last eight, Congo and Equatorial Guinea for example, and because every single final group game had something riding on it and a goal either way right until the final whistle would have changed things.
So far, what would your best eleven look like?
Goalkeeper: Filipe Ovono of Equatorial Guinea – Some great saves backed by possibly the loudest crowd I’ve witnessed. He has seen his side into the last eight against the odds.
Central Defender: Kolo Toure of Ivory Coast– The veteran was brought back in for the final two qualifiers after Ivory Coast had conceded 10 in their first four matches and since then the Elephants have let in just three in five games.
Central Defender: Fernando Varela of Cape Verde – Played well as his side conceded just a single goal in the tournament. They didn’t lose a single game but failed to make the last eight this time around having successfully done so in their first finals appearance in 2013.
Ivory Coast's defender Kolo Toure (R) challenges Cameroon's midfielder Edgar Salli during the 2015 African Cup of Nations group D football match between Cameroon and Ivory Coast in Malabo on January 28, 2015. AFP PHOTO
Right Back: Sergine Kara Mbodj of Senegal - A product of Patrick Vieira’s Diambars academy, he impressed at Under-23 level as Senegal qualified for the 2012 Olympics and has now made a successful transition to full international. Scored a powerful header to show he has attacking ability too.
Left Back – Issiaga Sylla of Guinea – The Syli Nationale might have needed the drawing of lots to make it to the quarter-finals but Sylla coped admirably with the likes of Max Gradel, Benjamin Moukandjo and Seydou Keita to help secure draws against three more fancied opponents. He hasn’t been able to unleash his ferocious shot yet but can boast an assist for Ibrahima Traore’s goal against Cameroon.
Midfielder Right : Max Gradel of Ivory Coast – has scored two crucial goals for Ivory Coast as his more illustrious colleagues have failed to deliver.
Midfielder Left: Andre ‘Dede’ Ayew of Ghana – Consistently a threat in this tournament unlike previous ones and has proved he can be the man of the moment by scoring the goal that took his side from third to first in their group.
Central Midfielder – Prince Oniangue of Congo – Began with a sub-par performance against the hosts but showed his ability and leadership qualities to turn things around with the only goal of the game against Gabon which proved the catalyst for their progress to the last eight.
Number 10 – Sofiane Feghouli of Algeria – This tournament has lacked a quality player in this role but Feghouli’s ability behind the strikers is a key reason that Algeria are the highest ranked team in Africa. The Desert Foxes are also the top scorers at the finals.
Striker: Thierry Bifouma of Congo – Highly rated by his experienced coach Claude LeRoy who claims he can “be as good as Roger Milla”. He has showed why he’s received such praise with two goals that helped his nation surprise many by winning Group A.
Striker: Ahmed Akaichi of Tunisia – Another man who has scored two goals for his team, a powerful striker who has impressed for his side when the rest of his team have been struggling.
And finally, who do you think will win the title?
I hate predictions. it’s always too easy for them to make you look silly! However, before the tournament kicked off, I was torn between Algeria and Ivory coast. As to whether Algeria’s quality could shine through or whether Ivory Coast could thrive without the favourites tag they have had for the last three tournaments, we'll have to wait and see.
NB: To listen to the latest commentary and updates on the AFCON please tune in to Focus on Africa on the BBC World Service.
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AFCON has been a great spectacle, says BBC pundit