The inability of the teams from the Maghreb to reach the knockout stages of the Africa Cup of Nations can only mean two things, decline at one end and growth at the other
For four straight tournaments between 2004 and 2010, the Africa Cup of Nations trophy was won by a team from North Africa. Tunisia hosted and won in 2004 while Egypt annexed the title for the next six years winning in 2006 as hosts, 2008 and 2010 in Ghana and Angola.
At a time, it seemed all the Pharaohs had to do was show up and no matter what other teams thought, the trophy was theirs. They were very compact, they understood each other because many of the boys played for the Cairo giants Al Ahly and Zamalek and they had Hassan Shehata, a coach who had spent years building the core of the team.
During the last tournament in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, in a sign of things to come, only Tunisia made it to the knockout stage. They were to be eliminated by Ghana in the quarter finals. Defending champions Egypt did not qualify for the tournament. Libya returned to the competition looking like they could create an upset while Morocco got only three points off debutants Niger.
Halilhodzic | We need to ask ourselves questions
South Africa 2013 had three Maghrebian teams in participation – Algeria (who are ranked second on the continent), Tunisia and Morocco. None of these three was able to reach the knockout phase of the tournament.
One can argue that two of those teams were hampered by being put together in the same group alongside Africa’s top side Cote D’Ivoire and that it could have been responsible for their elimination.
These are the figures: only one of the three North African teams secured a victory in this tournament – Tunisia defeated Algeria 1-0 in their first match of Group D. Morocco drew all Group A matches against Cape Verde, South Africa and Angola. Algeria lost two matches, (one to Togo who are ranked 55 places lower) and only managed a draw with the Elephants’ second string in their last match.
Are the North Africans in decline?
Difficult to say for a region where the African club champions come from – without playing in a local league, Al Ahly won the Caf Champions League last year.
So what is responsible for the dismal showing of the North Africans in this year’s Afcon? Algeria coach Vahid Halilhodzic expressed sadness at the elimination of his team and the inability of the region to compete on the big stage.
Lamouchi | Last North African could be most influential
“We must ask ourselves what is wrong. There’s talent in North Africa but there’s lots of work to be done to reach the competitiveness of West African teams,” he said.
Asked if the team failed to perform because of the high expectations due to its being the second highest ranked team by Fifa in the tournament, Halilhodzic said: “Personally, no, but the media and other people created an atmosphere that was intense.”
It is interesting to note that while there may be no more North African teams in the tournament, Cote D’Ivoire coach Sabri Lamouchi has his origins from Tunisia even though he played international football for France.
Cocky and domineering at press conferences, Lamouchi avoided talking about the elimination of the North African teams after his team’s draw against Algeria.
While the North Africans have exited the tournament, the West Africans have risen - seven of eight teams left in the competition represent the region that has produced some of the best footballers in the continent over the past decade but has failed to convert it into silverware.
From debutant islanders Cape Verde to perennial tournament favourites Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana, the returning Nigerians, Togo led by the stormy Emmanuel Adebayor and Mali who are playing for their country torn by strife, the baton of power has shifted to a new region.
Only South Africa remains in their path as they seek to take back the trophy last won by Nigeria in 1994. Surely they will not be stopped this time. Or will they?