AFCON 2023 begins!

For the next 4 weeks, this page will be dedicated to special reports on the African Cup of Nations, AFCON 2023. The biggest and most followed single sports event on the African continent kicks off in the next 24 hours in the West African country of Cote D’Ivoire.

It is referred to as ‘AFCON 2023’ even as it holds in 2024 because it was supposed to have taken place in 2023 but was postponed. The Confederation of African Football, CAF, retained the official title in order not to distort the biennial arrangement. The next championship will take place in the summer of 2025.

For the first time, the championship will have an expanded number of 24 African countries that will assemble to celebrate friendship and the greatest single sports event on the African continent. There will be 52 matches in all showcasing the best football on the continent. The championship started in 1963 and this is the 34th edition.

Beyond Football.
Football is what is projected on the surface. Most attention is riveted on the best players, exciting matches and legendary teams. But beneath all of that, to more discerning minds, is a whole planet of other exciting events, people and places that equally define the people of the environment – culturally, economically, socially, and even diplomatically.
It is another exciting world to explore, illuminating AFCON 2023’s uniqueness in stories of Cote D’Ivoire that are the history of the country beneath the football exterior.

I am, therefore, observing AFCON 2023 through very experienced eyes. I will tell the story beyond the football that everyone will, of course, religiously follow on television, radio and online, starting with a roadshow.

The Roadshow.
By the time you are reading this, I shall be on a ‘train’ to Abidjan, a convoy of two vans on a road trip through 4 countries along the coastline of West Africa.

I am venturing into relatively new territory in football adventurism, an unprecedented journey into the unusual sights and sounds of a beautiful, culturally rich and colourful part of the continent, its story properly captured and narrated to the rest of the world by an African football pilgrim. It will take me all of 5 weeks.

This is the start of Week-One. My crew and I are heading Westwards. My crew constitute young and gifted content-creators, producers and a few selected members of Nigeria’s world-renowned Football Supporters Club under President-General-for-life, Dr. Rafiu Ladipo.

Together, we are departing Lagos from the old ‘abbatoir’, the ‘destruction’ venue of many an African national teams. From the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos we shall have stops in Badagry, Seme, Cotonou, Lome, Accra, Secondi Takoradi and terminating in Abidjan, all historic cities along the coastlne of West Africa. My mind is reeling with thoughts about the scope of my mission, the horizon of creativity and innovation, exploring the roots of West Africans and their history; stretching interest to diplomatic, cultural and artistic dimensions in a ‘dance’ to the rhythmic beat of Afrobeats.

On this journey, I see only ‘virgin territory and opportunities to tell the authentic story of a part of Africa through the heroic deeds of its footballers in a championship that is both an instrument of ‘war’ (on the football field) and of construction (outside the field). West Africa dominates Africa in football (amongst other things), with 11 teams from the region participating even in this championship.

My crew and I have set out to traverse the coastal areas of West Africa and to bring to the world a little taste of the ‘Paradise’ in Cote D’Ivoire.

Nigeria can win AFCON 2023.

This is how!
A tree will have to make a forest.

Victor Osimhen can (and will) make a big difference to the fortunes of the Super Eagles at AFCON 2023.
That’s a big statement because he has not made the sort of impact when he plays for Nigeria as he regularly does playing for his clubside Napoli in Italy.

Considerung how poorly the Eagles have been playing immediately preceding the start of this championship, the pressure of too-high an expectation may not affect them.
That’s what happened when the team went to Atlanta in 1996, after appalling pre-Olympics matches. They went on to win the country’s greatest football achievement to date – the Gold Medal of the Atlanta Olympic Games.

When Nigerian teams have their backs against the wall, they fight back. AFCON ‘ 24 provides another platform to demonstrate that myth.

Forget about the coach. He will not add anything to the team. He will only take away with his poor tactics and inability to deploy the players he has well enough.

He has Victor Osimhen, the best striker in Africa at the moment, as his trump card.
Osimhen badly needs a coach that knows his onions now. He must be his own coach and must play deliberately to conserve his energy by doing less of unproductive runs, and more of what he does best – burying the ball behind goalkeepers. In the Nigerian team, he does too much unproductive running; back to defend, to collect the ball and turn before running at defenders and so on.

That’s why he does not do well enough in the Eagles team.

He should conserve his energy and sharpness for critical times and dangerous areas of opposing defences where he assets are most needed, his heading and shooting skills, his quickness and power. He should add to these calmness , concentration and confidence.

Simply put, take away some of his defensive roles, let him focus on running at spaces nd behind defenders to receive passes, and to concentrate on finishing clinically in front of goal.

I shall not go into other technical matters in order not to spoil the appetite of Nigerians with how poorly a a squad of great individual players is playing disjointed and unorganised football.

Add a few other simple organisational strategies to the above and I see Nigeria struggle a bit through the group matches with two wins and a draw that will keep them in Abidjan, a good win in the round of 16, and then tougher but successful matches to the finals.

All of this requires adoption of a simple strategy for the team, playing with confidence and without being in a hurry, not rushing blindly to score goals and leaving yawns in their own defences.

The Super Eagles may surprise even themselves, with Victor Osimhen playing the key role of delivering the ‘poison’.
In his case, one tree will make all the difference!

Other Facts and figures.
Host country, Cote D’Ivoire, is the country of former African football greats – Diedre Drogba and Yaya Toure, two of the finest African players ever.
The country has two capital cities – Abidjan, de-facto Capital, and Yamossoukro, administrative capital since 1983.
Cote D’Ivoire presents 6 venues spread over 5 cities in the Franco-phone country – Bouake, Korhogo, San Pedro, Yamoussoukro, and Abidjan (2 stadia).

The match between Cote D’Ivoire and Nigeria will decide the Nigeria’s fate. Should Nigeria win, the road to the finals would have been laid.

Related posts