AFCON 2022:
My Concluding Smiles

See how overnight the weeping flag of Ghana was beaming with smiles, dimple and all. We skipped a meal or two, when the host Country Cameroun threw away penalties and let Sallah’s Egypt off the hook at the semi-finals. But at a time Egyptian sights were set on an eighth AFCON title, comes a trophy-hungry Mane, from a small country of 21 million. Sadio Mane dribbles Egypt’s 100 million population and whisks the trophy across some five African countries to Dakar. But Senegal makes us all proud, not simply because it belongs to the Ecowas. The victory is also Ghana’s because Senegal is after all a fellow jollof country, its people sincerely believing that our jollof rice verily originated from among their Wollof people.

The post-match drama was a spectacle to behold; and see how defeat and victory alike can trigger role reversals in a festive carnival. Mature nationals of sovereign countries, who only a minute before were called soccer giants, now turned little kids after Mane’s historic penalty kick. Along with Mendy, and Koulibaly, they led the team of kindergarten boys at break time, jumping, somersaulting, scurrying and scampering, indeed celebrating a valentine passion for cookies and ice cream. The happy Senegalese babies, with soiled play-shirts merrily danced, fretted and fussed around a giant 20 karat gold trophy, which was chocolate that day. Sallah on the other hand, led a sobbing team of Egyptian toddlers intoning dirges, biting nails, and wailing the loss of a favorite toy. Whipping fingers, they were tearfully rehearsing what story to tell Mummy at home.

Back in Yaounde, the drama reached a climax when the two celebrated global icons, from the opposing camps both wearing a No 10 jersey, inched towards each other at the carnival, one smiling the other wailing. Mane reached out and hugged a sobbing Sallah, consoling his African brother at a historic summit. The two stage rivals had one thing in common back in England. They both play for the Liverpool club, having been lured from the home terrain, Africa. Remove Sallah, and delete Mane from Liverpool, and the great club currently placed second on the English league table, will not be half-full; it will be half empty.

But the entire 4 week event had its remarkable oddities that enrich the lexicon of peculiar African variants (in a COVID pandemic). First, a hallucinating Referee Sikazwe from Zambia, who managed to end a Mali-Tunisia game three times ahead of schedule. Sikazwe must have been running a clock that was five minutes ahead of CAF’s (call it Zambia time). At a time a press conference was being held at the end of the game, Sikazwe’s whistle blasted prrrrr…. reminding players and officials the match was not yet over (by his mood).

Variant Two was when 12 players from Comoros including their two goalkeepers, tested positive for COVID, compelling the use of an outfield player as goalie in their match with Cameroun. The tiny island Comoros, COVID-stressed, lost to Cameroun by 2-1 only, giving the Lions a run for their money.

Variant Three: The mystical towel of Egyptian Goalie, Gabasky, concealing a water bottle on which were annotated the likely direction of individual penalty kicks by Senegalese players. That magic may have helped Egypt to triumph over Cameroun in the semi-final match; but the charm was somehow neutralized in the final match with Senegal. The incident may have left AFCON officials confounded as to whether this did not qualify as an AFCON variant of exam malpractice.

Variant Four

This was off the field of play. The team from Guinea-Conakry entered the tournament with a 27 member squad. Having failed to qualify for the next round of play, they needed to head back home. To the surprise of waiting Guineans the plane returned to Conakry with only three players. Guinea’s new head of state had advised them before they left for Cameroun, ‘Bring home the AFCON trophy, or refund to the state all moneys spent on you.’ This ominous message coming from the head of a military junta, the parting word was probably not about currency exchange rates. The missing players understanding military lingo, had advised themselves, and probably submitted a group application to join the Indomitable Lions of Cameroun. The drama did not end there.

Back home in Conakry, the new military ruler proved rather ‘magnanimous.’ He forgave the returning players, but insisted that the balance of money left was still due, because the team’s budget included a full stay through to the semi final, and possibly final. Now that they were leaving ahead of all these…., where is my change?

Final AFCON Vartiant: the Egyptian coach who was given a red card by the referee in their semi-final bout with Cameroun. Having been ousted from the touch line, he turned from coach to sorcerer in the final game, muttering incantations among the Egyptian fans. Afcon 2022 indeed has made history with its litany of variants. But we had all forgotten the writing of history across the globe.

Almost simultaneously, street celebrations grew bigger and thicker across the globe: Dakar, Lagos, Mauritania, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, indeed the world celebrating Senegal and porting the golden boots of Sadio Mane safely into the pages of history. For a change, it was not a George Floyd on the cards, evoking songs of lament around Black Lives. On the cards was Coach Aliou Cisse of Senegal, who in his victory for Senegal, had shamed Africa’s obsession for foreign coaches, and ignited faith in Africa. It was indeed Senegal in a Black History Month of February.

But in all this, you know what? Ghana my beloved country omitted to join the street carnivals. With one eye open, we have postponed our carnival till March: after an epic encounter with the other Jollof Country, the Green Eagles. That will be Ghana’s Afcon.

@kwesiyankah

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