Afcon 2023 – What a tournament!

FOOTBALL FEVER … Namibian fan Job Shatula (right) poses with a local trader at a street market in San Pedro, Ivory Coast. Photos: Helge Schütz

Whatever the outcome of last night’s match between Namibia and Mali and whether they progress to the knockout stages or not, the Brave Warriors of 2024 have etched their name into Namibian, as well as African, folklore.

According to reports, the Ivorian government invested at least N$20 billion into Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) 2023 and the results have been remarkable, with top-class infrastructure and stadia, against the backdrop of a wonderful country, where the high humidity is matched by the Ivorians’ warm hearts and generosity of spirit.

Namibia’s 1-0 victory against Tunisia reverberated through the African continent and especially in Tunisia, where agony and consternation was met with immediate action as they reportedly dispatched several planes loaded with fans for their next match against South Africa.

Whether that helped is a mute point, but they got a 1-1 draw against Bafana Bafana, which kept them in the competition by the skin of their teeth.

Another nation that’s also hanging on for dear life is the host nation, the Ivory Coast, with the Elephants slumping to a 4-0 defeat to Equatorial Guinea on Monday, following a 1-0 defeat to Nigeria and a solitary 2-0 win against Guinea Bissau.

The other five nations that were still battling it out for the remaining four spots were South Africa, Tunisia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia and Tanzania.

On Tuesday, five more nations grabbed their spots in the Round of 16 after another exhilarating round of action. The most astounding one was the clash between Cameroon and Gambia, where Cameroon fought back from the brink of defeat with two goals in the last five minutes to win the match 3-2.

Karl Toko Ekambi gave them the lead on 56 minutes with a glancing header, but Ablie Jallow, equalised for Gambia 16 minutes later, rising high to volley home a cross.

Gambia took the lead with a brilliant strike by Ebrima Colley on 85 minutes, but Cameroon dug deep and produced a thrilling finale.

Two minutes later, Gambia defender, James Gomez, conceded an own goal when he turned a cross into his own net, and then Christopher Wooh rose high to head home from a corner in injury time to seal a dramatic victory for the Indomitable Lions.

It was agony for Gambia and ecstacy for Cameroon, and the excitement had hardly died down before Gambia’s coach Tom Saintfiet fell on his sword and announced his resignation. 

The other matches on Tuesday were less dramatic, but still produced big upsets, as Mauritania booked their place with a 1-0 victory against two-time former champions, Algeria, who now leave the stage, while Angola kept their dream alive with a 2-0 victory against Burkina Faso, who also made it to the next round, despite the defeat.

The defending champions, Senegal, meanwhile, moved ominously into the knockout stages with a 2-0 win against Guinea – their third consecutive victory – making them the early favourites to go all the way and win the title.

And so the stage is set for the Round of 16 when the real drama will unfold as the remaining nations give it their all to lift the golden trophy.

Hopefully, Namibia will be among them, but if not, they can at least feel proud to have made their mark at an unforgettable tournament where Africa has raised the bar to deliver a sumptuous feast of football.

Africa’s time has arrived, as Namibia coach Collin Benjamin remarked at Tuesday’s press conference.

“The infrastructure, the resources they put in here, wow it’s crazy, and its really something we have to applaud and obviously the Confederation of African Football for organising this world-class event that we as Africans can be proud of. Whatever happens, I think this is the best and it creates a good base for everyone else who will follow, so our continent, guys, it’s growing, and its a beautiful time to be alive,” he said.

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