March 1, 2024

AFCON ’23 on my mind, By Segun Odegbami

I wish everyone on the planet a very Happy New Year. 2023 was a year marked by crisis around the world. Existential threats hung like an Albatross over humanity as tensions and tempers rose in several parts of the world.

Senseless killings are ongoing everywhere even as 2023 draws its curtains However, of all human activities, Sport stands out as an ultimate unifier, immune from the vagaries of cultural, political, historical and economic differences.

As we enter 2024, my prayer is that, somehow, man shall realize that peace is the ultimate catalyst for man’s greatest pursuit on earth – Happiness! In my little corner of the world in Wasimi Orile, I have the African Cup of Nations, AFCON 2023, on my mind. For those of us in the business of football in Africa, the biennial championship provides the best times and opportunities for rich business harvests around it.

We join various national teams and their thousands of supporters from all corners of the continent to congregate in an African country, and for a whole month, feast on the best of African football and Africa’s best footballers. Around the football matches, we find social, cultural and economic activities that enrich the AFCON and make it extra-special.

This time around, the 24-nation championship takes place close to home, in Cote D’Ivoire, the country of Diedre Drogba, of Yaya Toure and several other great African football legends. The 34th biennial championship starts on January 13, 2024, and ends on February 11, 2024. It will take place in six venues across five cities in the French West African country.

In 1984, the country hosted the championship for the first time but failed to win it. It had to wait until 1992 and 2015 to win it two times in the country’s history. Group A of the championship comprises hosts Cote D’Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria.

As with every contest between Cote D’Ivoire and Nigeria, their second group match in Abidjan will be ‘bloody’, very critical for both sides to win and guarantee a safe passage to the second round! It is one of the most anticipated matches in the group.

Generally, the 2023 championship presents a situation where clear favourites are not so clear. Only the North African teams, Morocco, Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia, appear to be strong with their domestic leagues organized so well that they produce local players with the essential ingredient (togetherness) that ‘Giant’ teams require to play well and consistently during a championship of this nature.

 

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