GABORONE, Botswana, March 27, 2019/ — This past weekend saw tears, missed opportunities, so near yet so far moments when the Confederation of African Football (CAF) directed the last round of the AFCON qualifiers which will take place within two months in Cairo, Egypt with the draw expected on April 12th.
The continent’s football showcase was trending when the beautiful game produced new entrants into the new 24 team tourney. However, the spectacle has become rather monotonous and similar to those of past editions with the dominance of East and Central African nations persisting.
Their intense domination in the qualifications stage is also characterized by the fact that most of their players ply their trade mostly overseas in the indomitable leagues such as English premier, Bundesliga, La liga, Serie A among other leagues something that the pundits have pointed as a hinder to the African flair showcase.
Nonetheless, quite notable is the number of rookies that will play their maiden AFCON in Egypt. Nations such as Burundi, Namibia are the new entrants and this has surely left their compatriots in a jubilant mood, united and free as football continues to be touted as a unifying sport categorized in many war torn instances across Africa and the world.
It was in 2012 when the Zebras of Botswana shocked the whole football fraternity after they walloped giants in their then ‘Group of Death’ that pitted them against two former world cup entrants in Togo and Tunisia subsequently and drastically moving to a top 60 in the FIFA world rankings from 150.
However, 7 years later, the landlocked country’s fortunes have sadly waned after firing their AFCON gaffer in Stanley Tshosane. That being the case, Botswana’s misfortunes further persists in the region including COSAFA as its representation continues to drop periodically over years.
With CAF dividing the continent into zones for easier playing patterns and regional competitions – the same zones that have shown winning zones over others. The zone 1 (northern Africa) has Tunisia, host Egypt, Morocco and Algeria. Zone 2 has Mauritania, Guinea Bissau, Senegal, Mali and Guinea. Zone 3 has 4 nations in Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Benin and Ghana from 7 members. Zone 4 (central Africa) has 2 countries in Cameroon, DR Congo from 8 nations in the zone. Out of CAF zone 5 (central zone), from a possible 11 participants, only 4 nations qualified. The nations are Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi whilst CAF zone 6 (COSAFA) scooped 5 spots with Angola, Madagascar, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Speaking to #BotswanaUnplugged in Togo, editor of Africa Top Sports, Steven Lavon says the resurrection of the eastern block is courtesy of the hard work and development of the region’s elite league that subsequently rubbed onto the national teams’ assignments. Furthermore, Lavon said the federations powerfully managed the FIFA funds into developments of football structures.
“It’s very refreshing to see many East African national teams qualifying to the next AFCON in Egypt. This is a true reward of their hard work including the federations of these nations over the years. When we look at Tanzania, it’s not so surprising – that country has passion for football. It’s even showing at club level as now they have two clubs in Yanga and Simba who are even in the quarter-finals of the CAF Champions league. And also some three years, their football has improved through women, also youth structures.
“The country is hosting next U-17 AFCON. It’s a script for all football pundits to see. It’s the same opinion about Uganda – its one of Africa’s growing football country. They have the best goalkeeper in Africa at the moment and one of the best-run federations in terms of communications, organization and development of local football. Kenya is coming back on track. So many years they haven’t tasted the AFCON joy.”
“Coach Sebastien Migne of Kenya has improved the quality of
some players and with the engagement of federation, the results are
imminent. And Burundi what a history – nobody bet on them for a
qualification but they meticulously did it. This will also help the country to
continue the development of their football. The eastern block countries have
also generously and positively put FIFA funds into football development over the
years and the results are starting to show.”
For his opinion and analysis, sports anchor at YAR FM in Zambia, Michael Kaluba Jnr who during his work experience has seen two champions from the COSAFA region in the history of AFCON (South Africa in 1996) and (Zambia in 2012) said although five spots from the region is a small number, it remains an improvement in the last 21 years. Furthermore, he said football in Southern Africa might not be doing so well due to inadequacies in management.
“Zambia has been a powerhouse in COSAFA from time immemorial, one of the only 2 to win the AFCON with South Africa but has failed to qualify on the past two AFCONS and the upcoming finals all because there has been more chaos in their management; appointment of coaches including support staff.”
“Infrastructure in Southern Africa leaves much to be desired too. Youth development programs lack capacity and funding to grow football from the grassroots save for the few privileged that have connections or get discovered by independent scouts.
“Above all, there is need to deal with age cheating, empower football on grassroots level, improve on management and accommodate new tenets of the professional game including diet, training equipment, computers, research, medical teams and conducting all football related matter professionally.”
Meanwhile, COSAFA President Dr. Phillip Chiyangwa congratulated the five sides from the region that qualified for the 2019 AFCON. The quintet will do battle at the expanded 24-team competition in Egypt from June 21-July 19, with the draw for the first-round pool stages scheduled for Cairo on April 12.
“We are immensely proud of the teams from our region who will fly the COSAFA flag in Egypt and believe this shows the growing strength of football in Southern Africa,” said Chiyangwa. “We believe this is a direct result of the work we at COSAFA have been doing at senior and junior national team level to help develop players in the region and give them exposure on the international stage.
“Players who have been unearthed in our Under-17 and Under-20 tournaments in the last few years are now stars of their senior teams and that is the exciting pathway that COSAFA provides. “We wish all the teams the very best at the finals in Egypt and also commiserate with those who came close to qualification, but narrowly missed out,” he concluded.