Team unity beats individual talent, domestic African leagues are stronger than we think & what we learned from the 2012 Afcon

Zambia showed resilience and determination to stun their rivals at the Nations Cup and in the process unveiled many lessons for the continent's footballing teams
By Babajide Alaka

Fans recently experienced a three week footballing feast in the central African countries of Gabon and Equatorial Guinea for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations.

After a roller-coaster of emotions, the tournament came to a close with Zambia crowned champions ahead of Cote d'Ivoire in a final penalty shoot-out. The fairytale triumph of the Chipolopolo in the land where they tragically lost their entire 1993 squad will certainly remain in the minds of fans for some time to come. takes a look at five of the lessons learned from the tournament in which Africa's best collided with the ultimate title on the line.


Senegal coach Amara Traore | More experience required

The Senegalese and Ivorian coaches showed a lack of experience on the big stage despite the presence of talented and world class stars in their squads. Their teams had big-name players and they created chances but failed to make them count as they eventually paid dearly for these missed opportunities. It is difficult to imagine another group of players as technically gifted, strong and skilful as Cote d'Ivoire that we witnessed at the Afcon. “We had chances to score and we didn't take them. We did not know how to kill off the match and Zambia took confidence from that,” said Elephants coach Francois Zahoui.

Zahoui also added that he knew the final would be difficult but it showed in his team’s play that they were not adequately briefed, and were subsequently ill-prepared for the stiff challenge from the Zambian outfit.

For Senegal, Afcon 2012 was an unmitigated disaster. It won’t be a surprise if Bruno Metsu is given the job again and Senegal become contenders for the 2013 trophy with this same set of players. For a team that paraded strikers like Demba Ba, Papiss Demba Cisse, Moussa Sow and Mamadou Niang, the Teranga Lions only managed three goals in as many lost matches. The failed campaign proved that Amara Traore deserved to be sacked.


Almost wholly African-based | The Chipolopolo of Zambia

The Zambian team - winners of the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations - had 90 per cent of their squad playing on the continent. Out of the 13 players fielded by coach Herve Renard against Cote d’Ivoire on Sunday, 10 play for clubs based in Zambia, DR Congo and South Africa.

Goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene plays in the South African Premier Soccer League while captain Christopher Katongo features for for Henan Construction FC in China. Stophira Sunzu, scorer of the winning penalty in the shoot-out, plays for TP Mazembe of DR Congo. Mazembe were the 2009 and 2010 Caf Champions League winners, and runners-up in the World Club Cup competition in 2010, where they were beaten by Inter.


TP Mazembe starlet | Stophira Sunzu plays for the former African club champions

As shown clearly by Zambia’s victory, the way forward for the African football renaissance is to standardise the local leagues on the continent with the help of the Confederation of African Football (Caf). There should be better packages for the players, better coaching and a compulsory rule for the national coaches to work with local content in their teams.

It is clear that not every European-based footballer is better than their African-based counterpart. Egypt proved it with their successes in the previous three Afcon tournaments. That same fact has just been confirmed by new champions Zambia.


Unity of purpose brought triumph | Victory for Zambia through team spirit

The Zambian team were an example of a completely united outfit – a group built together that played like a family. They went into combat with one spirit while many of their opponents believed in individual skill and star names.

Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire were surprised by the kind of united front that they met in the Zambians, and that spirit ultimately paid off with their first Nations Cup win.

The Chipolopolo wanted to do something memorable for their perished heroes of 1993 and that sense of patriotism and purpose pulled the whole team together in their quest for the trophy.


David vs Goliath | Zambia defeated highly-rated Cote d'Ivoire

Gabon, Sudan and Equatorial Guinea reached the quarter-finals of the tournament. They went into the championship in 91st, 120th and 151st places respectively in the Fifa world ranking, but they defeated Tunisia (59th), Senegal (43rd), Morocco (61st) and Burkina Faso (66th).

These much-fancied teams had star players making a living in the major football leagues of Europe. The supposed minnows played without fear and allowed their game to do the talking on the pitch, so it was no surprise that Sudan defeated Burkina Faso in their last group match to qualify for the quarter-finals. It was their first time past the preliminary rounds since they won the title in 1970.

Debutants Equatorial Guinea also saw their way into the knockout stages while Gabon were unlucky not to reach the last four when they lost out to Mali in the quarter-finals via penalties. Indeed, the gulf between the so-called big teams and the minnows has been reduced at the 2012 Afcon, and the quality within the various squads was visibly more balanced than ever before.

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