Why You Should Watch And Care About AFCON 2022
It's the most beautiful tournament in the world.
The African Cup of Nations is Africa’s equivalent to the European Championships or South America’s Copa America. It's a celebration that exudes some of the more flamboyant and extroverted cultures in the world. Colours, music and flair all around the place and for a month, its exuberance is contagious while one can't help but be attracted to the spectacle.
If you have any doubts about the brilliance of this wonderful competition, think back to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa which was one of the very best sporting events in recent memory. That tournament was jam-packed with colour and culture and made for a pulsating atmosphere.
While there are cons to this tournament, and it’s had its fair share of tumult in recent years, it’s one of the few continental events that can unite cultures while bringing in partisan support from around the world. Being held in Cameroon this time around you can expect the same as previous years, with the the ‘Indomitable Lions’ desperate to make the continent of Africa proud.
Granted, the standard of football may not be as high as other tournaments, and the production may not be as ‘slick’ but what AFCON lacks it makes up for in the way the football is played. The national pride that African players feel towards their countries is near unmatched to anywhere else in the world. The passion that’s shown, both on and off the pitch out-ways the perceived lack of quality in abundance.
In recent times, the competition has garnered a lot of unjust disrespect, mainly due to the way it interrupts the seasons of most European clubs.
Due to the competition taking place in January, players who take part in the tournament miss out on a chuck of club games. This has led to various clubs not allowing their players to participate in the tournament.
There are multiple problems with this. Firstly, it's not the competition's fault that it takes place in January, as the conditions in most African countries during the middle of the year are unplayable. Secondly, if a club didn’t allow an English player to participate in the Euros, there would be uproar.
This unfair disrespect is shown, for the most part, because of the lack of ‘importance’ this competition has to some managers and people at European Clubs.
Getting behind this tournament and showing it the love and support will demonstrate to those nay-sayers that this wonderful tournament has its merits and ought to be treated like the Euros or Copa America.
While you’re enjoying AFCON over the next few weeks, here’s five players to keep in mind and who have the opportunity to announce themselves to a global audience.
The unknown commodity. Mohammed Kudus currently plays for Ajax in the Eredivisie and despite playing only a handful of games this season has already shown enough quality to be included in a Ghanian squad looking for its 5th AFCON title, and first since 1982. The box-to-box midfielder is the ultimate package, both physical enough to control a midfield but packing enough technical prowess to have an influence with the ball. While he’s still a little bit raw and naive at times, this could be his breakout tournament where he can make a name for himself. He is currently battling injury so might not feature in the early stages, but should he play at any stage, expect him to slot in the number 10 role of their 4-2-3-1.
Staying with Ghana, Kamaldeen Sulemana is the mercurial talent the Black Stars have been searching for. Currently playing for Stade Rennais in France, the 19-year-old left-winger has had a good season to date and is ready to explode on a wider stage. 6 goal contributions in 11 starts this season, he’s performed very well for a side that’s defied expectations this currently sitting in 4th position. The tricky winger loves to cut inside on his right foot, looking to sit in the half-space and create chances from there. He also starts from wide and stand-ups the opposition right-back, backing his pace and skill to beat the man. He could have a break-out tournament that could facilitate better club form and potentially a move in the summer transfer window.
Moving to Burkina Faso, Tapsoba is making waves for Bayer 04 Leverkusen. The athletic and aggressive centre half could drive the potential dark horse of the tournament to heights where without him they couldn't achieve. His brilliance has led his side to 4th in the league and the stats back up his reputation. His 95% medium pass completion rate shows how he fills the modern-day centre-half model perfectly. He can hit those passes to the ongoing full-backs and break the lines with penetrating passes. Despite only playing 9 times this season, he has the maturity at only 22 years old to lead his side into battle and perhaps to a deep run this tournament.
Perhaps the best player in the Eredivisie that isn’t from Ajax. Sanagare is tearing it up for PSV and there are plenty of reasons why. The incredibly press-resistance midfielder has adapted his game to be the all-around defensive midfielder. Currently being scouted by the likes of Manchester United, his ball-playing ability, coupled with his fantastic reading of the game makes for one hell of a holding midfielder. Being in the mould of Claude Makelele, the predominantly midfield destroyer has a wider range of passing that sees him getting out of tight situations with relative ease. At only 24 years of age, the Ivory Coast have a lot to look forward to with this man in their midfield for a decade to come. Averaging 3.2 tackles won this league season, you can see why he is sought after for the biggest clubs in Europe.
RELATED: Do you believe in David Moyes?
Finishing off with the overall favourites, and the team trying to break through for their maiden AFCON crown, Senegal. Most people think of Sadio Mane or even Kalidou Koulibaly when analysing the 2019 runner’s up, but instead, let's look at Ismaïla Sarr. The Watford starlet can be the hidden gem for this stacked side. With all the attention focused on Mane, Sarr could slip under the radar and do some damage with less defensive attention focused on him. If defenders do leave him some space, they’ll be dough so at their own peril. Put simply, his stats look frightening. His 2.45 carries into the final third and 1.66 carries into the penalty area have electrified the relegation-threatened outfit. The tricky winger is part of the reason why Watford has the most amount of nutmegs this season and could do similar damage in a massive international tournament.
Did you enjoy this article? Join our free mailing list to get the best content delivered straight to your inbox, or join the conversation by leaving a comment below or on the Stats Insider Twitter or Facebook page.