The first set of group matches have come and gone at the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) Cameroon 2021, twelve games matching providing plenty of headlines, including a comeback for Cameroon and the Super Eagles of Nigeria defeating Egypt in a convincing performance. There were also plenty of good, bad, and ugly moments.
Daily Trust’s AFCON watch take a look at notable events.
VAR and Referees
The video assistant referee, VAR, has proved helpful in this tournament, making correct penalty calls for Cameroon and, in conjunction with the referee, denied other unnecessary incidences usually called in some European countries this season. Common sense prevailed notably in the Ivory Coast and Equatorial Guinea game where when a blatant, inadvertent handball in the box was overruled likely due to no imminent danger or advantage created.
The only blot in VAR and referee performance was Janny Sikazwe’s atrocious handling of Mali’s victory against Tunisia. The Zambian referee awarded Mali a debatable penalty while VAR recalled Sikazwe to the pitchside monitor before he overturned a blatant penalty he initially awarded as a Mali free kick! It was downhill thereafter with more drama, Sikazwe ending the game on 85 minutes, restarted following complaints, then repeated the error on 89 minutes. Tunisia refused to take to the pitch in protest despite CAF’s intervention within the hour; they felt hard done by following unsuccessful on-field demonstrations. We can only hope CAF will do the sensible thing and ensure Sikazwe does not officiate again in Cameroon.
Shortage of goals
It has been disappointment in front of goal so far in Cameroon with only 12 goals scored after 12 matches. This equals the tally from 2017 where only eight matches were played, and less than half of 27 goals scored at the same stage in Egypt 2019. The goal-scoring struggle of both big and small nations is epitomised by a third of the goals coming from the penalty spot (four), with hosts Cameroon the only nation to score more than one goal while 12 of the 26 countries failed to find the net. The headline stars were also missing in action, Mohamed Salah, Riyad Mahrez, and Sebastian Haller all silenced while Sadio Mane and Vincent Aboubakar needed penalties to score. Perhaps, a harvest is expected in the round.
West Africa 9, North Africa 1
Like previous AFCONs, this latest edition is also billed as a straight fight between the North and West African sub-continent. Both sides have swapped AFCON trophies for all but only two tournaments since 1976, Southern African countries Zambia and South Africa successfully halting the baton exchange in 2012 and 1996 respectively. Thus, the stage is set for which nation- and region- will take the baton from fumbling Algeria, and West Africa has started strongly with nine wins compared to one for the North in this round of matches. West also came top in direct face-offs, Nigeria and Mali dazing Egypt and Tunisia respectively, while Morocco managed a late victory against Ghana. While it is still early days, the competition between both sub-continents will only get heightened as the countries progress in Cameroon.