A 24-nation Afcon competition reduces the value

Monday June 10 2019

Harambee Stars' starting 11 pose for a photo prior to their 2019 Africa Cup of Nations Group F qualifier tie against Ghana on September 8, 2018 at the Kasarani Stadium. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO |

Harambee Stars' starting 11 pose for a photo prior to their 2019 Africa Cup of Nations Group F qualifier tie against Ghana on September 8, 2018 at the Kasarani Stadium. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO |  NATION MEDIA GROUP

CHARLES NYENDE
By CHARLES NYENDE
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I am glad Fifa shelved that nonsense they were contemplating of having a 48-nation World Cup. Imagine having that number of teams at the World Cup.

It would immediately dilute the attractiveness of the World Cup were we watch the best football playing countries – and the best players - squaring it out for the right to be called world champions.

Which brings me to the Africa Cup of Nations. From the first edition when only three nations competed the tournament grew to involve eight of Africa’s best teams from 1968 to 1992 when it was expanded to 12 teams.

By the way, Kenya qualified to play in the 1972, 1988 and 1990 editions when great football was played.

The continental football fathers again decided to expand the tournament to 16 teams in 1996. And that has been the case until this year.

It will be a cumbersome 24 teams affair. That is almost half the number of countries found on the map of Africa! Where is the attraction now when any Tom, Dick and Harry can appear at this venerated stage of African football?

The high standards were long set. Who can remember the Egyptian Mohammed El Sattar popularly known as Ad Diba - “The Bomber”?

Stout and explosive, he set the 1957 edition on fire with his five goals in two matches that guaranteed Egypt the inaugural title.

He went on to become a top referee officiating the 1968 Afcon final between Zaire and Ghana in Addis Ababa, but that is a story for another day.

Who can remember Cote d’Ivoire’s Laurent Pokou. He ruled the 1968 and 1970 Nations Cup scoring an astounding 14 goals to become the all-time top scorer of the tournament before Cameroon’s Samuel Eto'o happened this millennium.

Then there was Ghana Black Stars’ golden boy Abdul Karim Razak. The outrageously gifted left-footer, with the skills of Ronaldinho and Okocha combined, led the Black Stars with his spell-binding ball artistry all the way to the final where he put Uganda in their place.

What of elegant Roger Milla of the indomitable Lions. It was his last Afcon appearance in 1988 in Morocco and he left in a blaze of glory. Deadly as a mamba, he scored in the group matches against Egypt and Nigeria and was involved in the winning goal as the Indomitable Lions beat fancied Nigeria in the final.

El Gohari (Egypt), Ndaye Mulamba (Zaire), Francois Mpele (Congo Republic), Segun Odegbami (Nigeria), Theophila Abega(Cameroon), Rabah Madjer (Algeria), Rashid Yekini (Nigeria), Hossam Hassan (Egypt), Patrick Mboma (Cameroon), JJ Okocha (Nigeria), Kalusha Bwalya (Zambia), John Moshoeu (South Africa).

These are just some of the stars that have lit up Afcon tournaments. The best from the best playing nations.

No slight to these countries, but what stars and what memories would the likes of minnows Burundi, Madagascar, Tanzania, Mauritania, Namibia etc add to the Nations Cup.

Let the Nations Cup be an affair of the chosen few. A 24-nation competition has severely reduced the value of the African football finals.

A 16-team tournament was rather dilute. An eight-team affair was ideal, bringing the best nations of Africa, all World Cup material and featuring the best players of the continent.

That was the real African football showpiece event. Not this one coming.

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