This past weekend was historic in African soccer, as far as the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) is concerned.
Top ranked African countries that have dominated African soccer for many years have failed to make it to next year’s AFCON after minnows fought spiritedly and qualified.
Africa’s “big guns” that won’t be participating in AFCON 2012 are Egypt, Nigeria, Cameroon, Togo, Algeria and South Africa.
Egypt is seven-time African champions, is the current defending champions and is second ranked in Africa.
Lowly ranked Niger, which is at number 24, qualified instead.
Nigeria, on the other hand, has won the AFCON two times before and has been to the finals and semi-finals on several occasions.
Nigerian players are spread all over the major leagues around the world but that did not help them either as Guinea qualified at their expense.
When one talks about Cameroon, the player that comes to mind is Samuel Eto o’ Fills who is currently playing in Russia. He has played for big clubs around the world and has always dominated scoring charts. He is even the all time leading AFCON goal scorer because he always gave his best at the tournament.
Cameroon dominated African football for some time and also won AFCON four times.
Togo, Algeria and South Africa have been to the World Cup before and appeared in several AFCON tournaments.
Surprisingly, lowly ranked countries, like Botswana (25), made history by qualifying for the first time.
Botswana is the one that set the pace in big surprises. They beat the mighty Tunisians both at home and away.
Tunisia, like fellow north Africans, Morocco, struggled to qualify and only qualified on the very last day. Tunisia’s destiny was not even in their hands as they needed a huge favour from Chad.
Chad did exactly that in the stoppage time to deny Southern African side, Malawi.
With big guns falling by the wayside, some analysts say it was long coming. Africa sports analyst, Weno Owino, told Telegraph Sports that the gap is narrowing between the traditional powerhouses and the so-called minnows. “It was long coming because if you look back, for the past few years, small countries were losing by small margins and some of them have turned up the tables and are winning. Many countries are taking football seriously and doing what needs to be done,” he said.
Owino also added that the traditional powerhouses are suffering from age or generation gap. He said that once countries have a solid team, they forget about development and only realize it when the core of their solid team retires.
“African countries are not consistent with their development. Once they have strong teams, development is almost no more and it takes time to replace the strong team. Many African teams are suffering from that and the minnows are taking advantage of that. Nigeria once had a very powerful team just like Cameroon and Egypt. Nigeria, especially, looks like it is struggling to fill that gap,” he said.
Teams that are now seen as favourites on paper are the likes of Ivory Coast, Ghana and Senegal.
But there might be surprises as was the case in the qualifiers.