Goal highlights the major happenings on the continent in the concluding year
2013 has been a year that has seen African football fans dine, wine, and lick their fingers clean. Events held both on and off the continent have added much spice to a sport already indulged in so passionately.
The year kicked off in some style, with the latest installment of Africa's most anticipated football competition, the Africa Cup of Nations, which was hosted in South Africa.
Cape Verde and Ethiopia proved pleasantly surprising participants, but the contest was ultimately narrowed down to a straight battle between west African sides. All but one of the teams that qualified for the last eight were from the region, including the quartet -Ghana, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and Mali- that made it to the semi-finals. Eventually the Super Eagles triumphed, courtesy a lone Sunday Mba strike in the final against the Burkinabe, to claim a third Afcon crown. The last of the medal places went to Mali, who beat Ghana in a third-place match for a second consecutive Nations Cup. With that victory, Stephen Keshi's Nigeria booked its place at June's Fifa Confederations Cup in Brazil where they trounced lowly Tahiti 6-1 in their opening game but still contrived not to make it past the group rounds.
Next up was the African Youth Championships, played in Algeria, which saw Ghana and Egypt reach the finale. The Young Pharaohs emerged victors, for the fourth time at that level of continental youth football, but doing so only via a shootout. Along with Mali and Nigeria, the two finalists earned Africa's tickets to the tournament's global edition later in the year.
At the U20 World Cup in Turkey itself, Ghana outshone the other three teams to finish third, but only after a frightful start that saw Sellas Tetteh's boys lose their first two group games. Two members of that team, forward Ebenezer Assifuah and playmaker Clifford Aboagye, claimed the Golden Boot and Bronze Ball respectively in the end.
The year's other major international youth tournament saw another African country, this time Nigeria, hold the world spellbound. After placing second at the African U17 Championship, the Eaglets marched on ruthlessly to remarkable success at the Fifa U17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates, blowing away one opponent after the other with consummate ease, including thumping wins over Mexico in their first and final games at the competition. That conquest -which ensured Nigeria have now won more U17 world titles than any other nation on earth- saw the team claim a fair sweep of the individual awards on offer.
Doubtlessly, though, the star of the competition was talented 17-year-old Kelechi Iheanacho, the event's best player and joint second highest top-scorer, who can now look forward to a career in Europe sometime next year with either one of Manchester City or FC Porto.
Throughout the year, the qualification series for the 2014 [senior] Fifa World Cup -carried over from 2012- continued, with ten sides ultimately reaching the decisive playoffs stage. After all had settled, a representative quintet emerged -Ghana, Nigeria, Cote D'Ivoire, Cameroun and Algeria- that had, quite incidentally, been the very five sides who qualified (in the strictest sense of the word) for the last Mundial. The Fifa World Cup Final Draw, held in Brazil on December 6, saw Ghana handed arguably the toughest plate of the lot, grouped with Portugal, Germany and the USA, while the remaining four could fancy their chances of reaching the tournament's latter stages a bit more. Qualifiers for international events to be honoured next year as well as regional football mini-tournaments (the Wafu Cup, Cosafa Cup etc) were organized albeit with less fanfare.
The continent's elite club competitions were also enjoyed in their full glamour. Egyptian giant Al Ahly added one more Caf Champions League title to their already unparalleled haul of seven, after a 3-1 aggregate result over 1995 winners Orlando Pirates, despite having experienced little to no domestic football for two whole seasons. In the Caf Confederations Cup, CS Sfaxien also cemented their own monopoly of that competition with a third success in six years.
As champions of Africa's premier club competition, Ahly were rewarded with the privilege of contesting the Fifa Club World Cup in December -hosted for the first time on African soil, in Marrakech, Morocco- with other clubs who achieved identical successes on the planet's other footballing continents. However it was Africa's other representative at the show, home side Raja Casablanca, who threatened a real upset, reaching as far as the final (becoming only the second African side to do so, after TP Mazembe in 2010), only to lose 2-0 to European conquerors Bayern Munich.
Yaya Toure was crowned the BBC African Footballer of The Year, and seems a red-hot favourite to pick Caf's version of the prize for a second season running when the awards are organized sometime next year. In March, Lydia Nsekera, the recently ousted head of the Burundian FA, became the first elected female member of Fifa's prestigious Executive Committee in the body's 109-year history, while incumbent president of the Confederation of African Football, Cameroonian Issa Hayatou, was re-elected unopposed to a seventh and final term of office some three months prior.
There was probably more to the year for African football -big or small but certainly of note- perhaps in your own little corner on the continent. Do share with us what we might have left out in the 'Comments' section below.
Without doubt, though, it has been a jolly good year.