Big stars struggle, VAR helpful… four key lessons from AFCON round one matches

Big stars struggle, VAR helpful… four key lessons from AFCON round one matches
January 13
14:24 2022

The first round of matches has come and gone at the ongoing African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Cameroon, with few surprises. The hosts passed Burkina Faso’s challenge with President Paul Biya in attendance while Nigeria silenced Egypt in Garoua. A paltry 12 goals have been scored so far and that is 15 goals less when compared to what was obtained after the same stage at Egypt 2019 (27 goals). With Algeria, the defending champions, held to a goalless draw by lowly-rated Sierra Leone, TheCable Sports takes a look at four notable lessons so far at the African competition.


The headliners of the tournament are struggling to live up to expectations. Mohamed Salah was shut out by Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea silenced the duo of Sebastian Haller and Wilfred Zaha, while Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani were quiet for Algeria. Sadio Mane also needed a penalty to lift Senegal. This is just as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is still recovering from COVID-19. It is safe to say that their failures contributed to the few goals scored so far. We can only hope our stars turn up in the next round of matches.



While the star players continue to struggle, game quality to showcase improved tactical and technical prowess has also been scarce. Players have tried ridiculous shots from distance, hit appalling crosses, and simply do not look coordinated in the attack. Obviously, the standout matches have been games between the Super Eagles of Nigeria and Egypt, and Ivory Coast against Equatorial Guinea. Ethiopia and Cape Verde slept through 90 minutes despite producing a goal, while Sudan and Guinea Bissau did nothing to remember. While it can be argued that the pitches played a role in the level of entertainment and tactical implementation, it is hoped that the next round would improve.


Taiwo Awoniyi mentioned it during a media parley in the morning after Super Eagles’ victory over Egypt. There are now few underdogs in football, especially in Africa where supposed smaller nations are beginning to show more fight and bite. Sierra Leone was good value for their draw against Algeria while Equatorial Guinea stood toe-to-toe with mighty Ivory Coast. Zimbabwe saw a point snatched by a last-gasp penalty while Gambia won its first-ever AFCON match. Smaller nations are showing up, perhaps bigger upsets are still to come in Cameroon.



There was optimism when the Confederation of African Football (CAF) announced that all AFCON matches would have video assistant referee (VAR) technology. That optimism has been evident with VAR proving decisive in most matches played so far. Aside from the shambolic show of Janny Sikazwe, Zambia referee, in the game between Tunisia and Mali, it has been a well-refereed competition with the technology sensibly applied. While all penalty calls have been deserved, there was seamless interaction between the referee and VAR. The synergistic effort turned yellow to a red card for Ethiopia’s Yared Baye and shunned a penalty claim by Equatorial Guinea for an Ivory Coast handball that the player had little knowledge of and prevented no apparent goalscoring opportunity. It was a refreshing call on the African continent, showing big European leagues how it should be done.


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