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Africa Cup of Nations

Afcon 2021: Morocco, Ghana strive to end years of underachievement

01:01 IST 14/01/2022
Joseph Paintsil Achraf Hakimi Ghana Morocco Afcon 2021
Neither nation has reigned supreme on the continent for decades

If ever there was anything like forgetting what it means to win the Africa Cup of Nations, Morocco and Ghana understand this more than most.

The pair, who met in Monday’s Group C opener, have five crowns between them but neither has tasted success at the finals since the 1980s.

Admittedly, the West African side has a larger share of the aforementioned total, claiming four Afcon titles in the tournament’s history, but failure to add to that collection in exactly four decades has concerned the Black Stars.

Had it been intimated in 1982 that Ghana’s triumph at the time would be their last for a generation, such a suggestion would have been met with derision. After all, the West Africans had won the continent’s biggest showpiece four times in their first seven appearances and were, at that point, the only country to retain their crown (1963, 1965).

15 appearances later and they remain stuck on four titles, although, it is not for the want of trying.

The Black Stars have been runners-up three times, beaten by Ivory Coast on penalties in 1992, unable to get the better of an Egypt side many reckon are Africa’s greatest team in 2010 and suffered another shootout loss at the hands of the Elephants five years later.

Despite those let-downs, the Black Stars ought to take solace in making six of the last seven semi-finals at the competition, more than any other side in that period. Even though some supporters will have grown frustrated by the nation’s inability to take that extra step towards a fifth crown, others will look at their recent showings through a lens of optimism.

The same cannot be said for Morocco, who defeated the Black Stars 1-0 in their opener. While the Atlas Lions are not nearly as successful as the side they beat, there is a willingness to correct decades of dispiriting results on the continent.

They may have claimed the biennial competition in 1976, but another crown has proved elusive. In truth, the North African nation has endured some awful showings since the turn of the millennium.

Admittedly, their impressive 2004 showing threatens to invalidate this claim, but the wider assertion stands. The Atlas Lions flourished in Tunisia, conceding only twice before the final and outscoring every side, only to fall to the Carthage Eagles 2-1 in Rades.

It proved to be a one-off, though, with the North African side suffering more group stage eliminations (four) than strong showings at the competition in the subsequent six finals they have played in.

Indeed, since 2000, Morocco have failed to make it out of the group on six occasions, underscoring their underachievement and a feeling Tunisia 2004 was a coincidence.

While they progressed past the group stage in the previous edition of the finals in 2019, a talented group led by Herve Renard somehow contrived to lose to an unfancied Benin in the round of 16.

It stung to have exited in that fashion against a side that played a significant part of extra time with 10 men, but it rather summed up the North African nation’s ill-luck as they, yet again, failed to pull up trees on the continent.

Only Senegal rank above Vahid Halilhodzic’s troops at this year’s finals, but the Atlas Lions appear primed to do more than simply make up the numbers this time around having got the better of the Black Stars in their opener.

They have failed to make the last eight since that successful showing in 2004, something this iteration will strive to outdo, particularly after the let-down at the last edition.

While winning a second crown may be a reach, a better showing to match the talent of this side is all Moroccans desire to put aside years of underachievement...for Ghana, having been lacklustre in their opener, the wait looks set to continue.