My 3 Thoughts on Cameroon-Burkina Faso to Kick Off the Africa Cup of Nations
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Here are my three thoughts on host Cameroon beating Burkina Faso 2-1 to kick off the Africa Cup of Nations:
• What are you doing, Burkina Faso? The Stallions had taken a 1-0 first-half lead on a terrific volley by Gustavo Sangaré, but they had only themselves to blame for two awful penalties at the end of the first half that made the difference in the game. Burkinabé captain Bertrand Traoré, who should have known better, missed the ball entirely while diving in on André-Frank Zambo Anguissa, who was moving away from the goal in the box. Cameroon’s Vincent Aboubakar converted the spot kick, just as he did for the lead eight minutes later after Burkina Faso’s Issoufou Dayo had taken out the advancing Nouhou after he had delivered his cross. It was cool to see an MLS player like Nouhou making a game-changing impact on the world stage, and Cameroon ended up saving itself the embarrassment of losing the AFCON opener on home soil, but Burkina Faso will regret those penalties as a giant missed opportunity.
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• I’m rooting for André Onana. The Cameroon and Ajax goalkeeper, who will be joining Inter this summer, has a compelling story you should read, and I believe him when he says he inadvertently took his partner’s pregnancy medication—which led to him serving a 12-month ban for failing a drug test. (The Court of Arbitration for Sport reduced it to nine months, saying he was not at “significant fault.”) It was great to see Onana playing again on Sunday, but he’ll have to improve as the tournament progresses if Cameroon is going to win it. Onana wasn’t the only Indomitable Lion at fault on Burkina Faso’s goal—Cameroon didn’t put any pressure on Traoré’s cross—but Onana was flying around the box more than once on the scoring sequence and could have done better on the play. Really, read his story linked above: He makes it explicitly clear how important it is to play in an Africa Cup of Nations in his own country. It shows why this tournament is so important and should be respected. Which brings us to …
• The U.S. TV situation for the Africa Cup of Nations could certainly be handled a lot better than BeIN Sports is doing it. The AFCON deserves respect. It’s a star-filled tournament with a ton of history and should be viewed the same as the Euros or the Copa América. But BeIN Sports, which paid money for a rights fee to show the AFCON, certainly didn’t show it much respect on Sunday. In the same time slot as Cameroon-Burkina Faso, the main BeIN English-language channel showed the Turkish league game Rizespor-Besiktas instead, and the main BeIN Spanish-language channel showed the French league game Nantes-Monaco. That’s a joke. At least BeIN Sports XTRA showed the AFCON game for free, but 1) You had to search hard to find it on places like the Pluto app, and 2) That broadcast had ads come on during the middle of the game. I thought that stuff went away for good in the 1990s. Be better, BeIN.
• Some through-balls: Let’s hope Covid doesn’t have a major impact on the tournament. Burkina Faso was missing the terrific Leverkusen defender Edmond Tapsoba and four other players who’d tested positive, and Senegal is going to miss having Covid-positive Kalidou Koulibaly and Édouard Mendy when it meets Zimbabwe on Monday … Am I fired up for Morocco-Ghana on Monday? Yes, yes I am … I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t check to see how many airline miles it would take to get me to Cameroon to cover this tournament on-site. Covering the 2010 tournament in Angola was one of the most memorable experiences of my career … I realize that national stadiums often need to have a running track around them to be multi-use when resources are limited, but that’s a bummer for soccer games taking place there. That said, the color and sound and atmosphere in Cameroon for this game was great.
Unfortunately, with 24 teams - 16 of which qualify to the knockout, and wide quality gaps, the group stage is set a little bit like a pre-season.
8 teams will not continue past the group stage, these will probably be the six teams from pot 4 of the draw (Sudan, Malawi, Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, and Gambia), and two teams from the second worst echelon - I'd bet on two from Mauritania, Gabon, Sierra Leone, or Guinea-Bissau.
There are not many interesting matches in the group stage. Let's ask ourselves honestly how many CAF WC qualifiers we've watched - South Africa v. Ghana were good clashes, Cameroon and Cote d'Ivoire were fantastic. Burkina Faso gave Algeria a scare, so did Cape Verde to Nigeria. But that was basically it. The WC qualifying playoff round will be phenomenal (can't wait for the draw on 1/22!), but the group stage was not that interesting.
So, the AFCON group stage matches I've marked (other than the opener) are Morocco-Ghana (tomorrow, 1/10, 11AM ET), Nigeria-Egypt (Tuesday, 1/11, 11AM ET), Algeria-Cote d'Ivoire (1/20, 11AM) and maybe Tunisia-Mali (Wednesday, 1/12, 8AM ET). Other than that, I'm afraid that any chance of an upset is like Nottingham Forest beating mighty-whitey Arsenal in the cup. Inconceivable!
I'm waiting for the real AFCON to begin 2 weeks from now, when the knockout stage begins. Until then I'll watch (of course I will), but under protest and through a yawn.