The biggest ever Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament is now in the past, but the memories may live for years to come.
The 32nd AFCON edition was hosted by Egypt, and was the first to have 24 participating teams. Previous editions involved 16.
The competition lasted 29 days, giving football fans from across the world some of the best entertainment of the year.
Egypt was not meant to host AFCON 2019, but was given the rights after the Confederation of African Football deemed Cameroon not ready for the event.
After assessment visits to Cameroon the continental football governing body deemed Cameroon not ready for AFCON 2019 due to unready facilities and insecurity fears. The announcement that Egypt would host the tournament was made on 8 January, only six months before the commencement of the games.
With such short time to prepare for the biggest competition in African football, the North African country delivered beyond the expectations laid upon it.
A few weeks to July 21 when the first game was to be played, Egypt announced six ready stadia, the biggest indication that all was set for the games.
In the four weeks of action, the country used over 3,000 volunteers, backed by an efficient security team that ensured the convenience and safety of both players and fans.
AFCON 2019 was expected to offer challenges, owing to the fact that it was the first expanded edition. These fears were however thrown out of the window soon as Egypt took to the field on June 21 for the opening game against Zimbabwe.
The 75,000-seater Cairo International Stadium was packed to capacity as Egyptians witnessed their stars open their tournament account on a positive.
The organizational efficiency witnessed as the days went by impressed CAF, with various officials heaping praise on the north African country.
CAF General Secretary Mouad Hajji said the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations has been exceptional, thanks to the Local Organising Committee and the Egyptian government.
Hajji even urged future hosts to imitate Egypt in ensuring success of the tournaments.
“A 24-team AFCON needs good infrastructure. Cameroon and Cote d’Ivoire are going to work on infrastructure because AFCON need great resources. CAF supports all African countries and we are sure we will have successful editions in Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea. We have seen people from other continents watching and we are sure everyone will do the best to have successful tournaments,” he said.
AFCON 2019 gave football fans something to remember for a long time to come. Big-star names graced the tournament, including Mohamed Salah, Riyad Mahrez, Sadio Mane, Victor Wanyama, Wilfried Zaha, Yannick Bolasie, Kalidou Koulibaly, AlexIwobi and any more.
The level of competition was very impressive, especially beyond the group stage.
Many pundits expected teams such as Egypt, Ghana, Morocco and Cameroon to battle for glory in the tournament, and they did. But the sides lost out in the earlier stages of the games. Their eliminations only point to the level of competitiveness that was witnessed in Egypt.
A tournament of firsts
AFCON 2019 was the first edition that was played in mid-year; the June-July window. Previous editions were played in the January-February window. The shift in dates has largely been welcomed, and is expectd to give AFCON more attention as it is played during the clubs off season.
The games were also the first that involved 24 teams, an eight-team increase from previous editions.
The Egypt edition also saw the introduction of the Virtual Assistant Referee (VAR) technology. The technology was however only used from the quarter final stage. CAF is however confident the games will see more involvement of the technology in future editions.
Burundi, Madagascar and Mauritania made it to AFCON for the first time ever in the competition’s history, a huge milestone for the teams.
Many expected a low tournament for the three sides but they showed their abilities during their stay in Egypt, recording some impressive results.
Madagascar in particular captured the love of many football fans with their performanes. The islanders made it to the quarter-final stage, a run that saw them beat powerhouses such as Nigeria and DR Congo.
Such performances vindicated CAF’s decision to expand AFCON from 16 teams to 24. More countries are expected to make it into future tournaments.
AFCON 2019 made history by recording the highest number of goals scored in the continental competition’s history.
102 goals were scored in the 52 games, but the most important was the one scored by Baghdad Bounedjah in the final game against Senegal.
The Algerian striker found the back of the net in the second minute to help his country to its second ever AFCON title.
Odion Ighalo finished as the top scorer of the tournament with five goals from as many games.
The Nigerian finished above Adam Ounas (Algeria), Sadio Mane (Senegal), Riyad Mahrez (Algeria) and Cedric Bakambu (DR Congo) who all had three goals.
On to Cameroon…
Cameroon is scheduled to host the next AFCON edition in 2021. With the hosting performance of Egypt, the Central Africans have very big shoes to fill.
On the positive, the country can now complete the preparations that it has embarked on for the 2019 games. While more infrastructures will be put in place, the Cameroonian government has pledged to ensure a smooth tournament come 2021.