The Africa Cup of Nations is the most colourful tournament in the world, with people from across the continent coming together to watch some of the world’s best players like Salah, Mane, and Mahrez battle to be named champions of Africa.
The fans always bring the fun with their costumes and paint, and the action on the pitch is getting more competitive every year. Egypt are the hosts this time hoping to do one better than last time, after losing in the final in 2017 to Cameroon.
Every tournament seems to have its surprise package and this year it is Madagascar, who are playing their first-ever tournament. The island nation has no national football league, with most hopefuls heading to France to start their professional careers. But the nation topped group B after beating Nigeria 2-0 on Sunday and will face DR Congo in the round of 16 next.
“We are so proud. It’s a dream come true. It is a gift to the people of our country, all of whom are watching us. And maybe it’s a bit of a consolation for last Wednesday’s disaster,” said Marco Ilaimaharitra who plays in Belgium.
The players don’t earn much money and the manager Nicolas Dupuis has a second coaching job, as the manager of a French fourth Division side. Some of the players even had to sell shirts to raise funds for training equipment in the run-up to the tournament, but now the nation has a chance to watch their heroes play for a spot in the quarter-finals of Africa’s most popular sports event.
Benin have been another team with a few surprises and these teams might not have even been in the tournament if CAF had not decided to expand the competition to include more teams. Benin qualified for the last 16 after grinding out a 0-0 draw with reigning champions Cameroon, who are managed by Clarence Seedorf and Patrick Kluivert. Benin players sank to their knees at the final whistle as the fans kept up the energy after dancing in the stands for 90 minutes.
Before the tournament Benin had never won a game or even earned a draw in any major tournament but now they will play Morocco in the last 16 after advancing from the group stage for the first time and the fans will no doubt be dancing non-stop for another 90 minutes in their bright yellow outfits.
Seeing Benin facing Morocco will be very interesting, especially knowing that one of my close friends Mbark Boussoufa is the captain of the Moroccan national team. This was the same guy I would play football with when we both lived in London. He would come over and we would spend our time playing one against one. It would be great to see him go all the way and lift the trophy.