Animated by Dollars, Africa’s Soccer Zoo Comes Alive
By Emeka Uzoatu
As I type, the 33rd edition of the Confederation of Football (CAF) sanctioned Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) goes on in Cameroon. There the various national teams of the continent are superseding each other to live up to their superfluous nicknames. And, no doubt, the competition this time around promises to be more intense.
What with the prize money having been increased a bit. Yes, there has been an 11% increase in the prize money of the Total Energies-sponsored diadem. From the meagre $4.5million that had dogged the competition with disdain, its winners will now pocket a cool total of $5million. While the runners-up will get a whopping $2.75m for losing, semi- and quarter- finalists will head home from Cameroon with $2.2m and $1.275m respectively.
The competition has indeed come of age. Also known as the African Cup of Nations, it began in 1957 with some four nations in attendance and has been held every two years since it’s 1968 edition. In 2013 it was changed to odd numbered years so as to have it not interfering with the FIFA World Cup
From a competition of 16 teams, participants have since been increased to 24 after the 2016 contest.
The ongoing edition was originally scheduled for June/July 2021 till circumstances forced its postponement. It finally came on board from January 9, 2022 when the hosts, the Indomitable Lions saw off the Stallions of Burkina Faso 2-1 at the 60,000 capacity Olembe Stadium in Yaounde. Expectedly, the final will be held in the same venue come February 6.
Apparently, from creation virtually all the national teams in Africa have had to cope with monikers. It has been so emphatic that even superlatives are now being incorporated for disparity.
Interestingly, almost none of them is left out of the craze. Just as most are named after animals, inevitably names clash. This is when modifiers, static and dangling, come into play.
For starters, three-time winners Cameroon coped with the adjective before its alias because the continent boasts other felines, let alone the lion.
Yes, Cameroon apart, there are also the Atlas Lions of Morocco and the Terenga Lions of Senegal. Of course, only one has remained indomitable, and you know which.
Apart from the King of the Jungle, some other felines in the mix are the Panthers of Gabon. Well into the round of 16 in the current competition, it is left for time to know how they’ll fare against the myraid other animals that will line up against them.
Other four-footed national teams apart from the aforementioned lions and stallions include the Antelopes of Ethiopia, the Lycaons of Guinea Bissau and the Desert Foxes of Algeria. Interestingly, the Ethiopians who were the first to arrive courtesy of their award-winning national career, were also the first to bow out after a hopeless first-round performance.
Also, perhaps for its size, many teams have gone for the elephant. These include those of Guinea and Cote D’ivoire. We wait to see them meet in the contest to which will successfully trample the other.
Yet many other teams have wings and can fly like no other bird than the eagle. They include the national teams of Nigeria, Tunisia and Mali. While the Malians are yet ordinary Eagles, the Nigerians, perhaps for their peculiar achievements on the field, have since had Super affixed to theirs. Those of Tunisian origin are differentiated with their Carthegenian provenance.
Animals reminiscent of Africa’s jungles apart, some teams acquired their names from the continent’s also-abiding aquatic splendour. There are the Blue Sharks of Cape Verde, for instance, now at their second attempt at winning the cup. Not unlike them at their debut in the last tournament the Coelacanthiformes of Comoros have also made it to the next round.
However, the Crocodiles of the Nile as the Sudanese national team is known are already back home.
This leaves us with the few teams who have taken to names unrelated to animalis.
Paramount here are the Pharaohs of Egypt. Perhaps this partly explains why they are the most successful team of the tournament. With the name from their African past, they have won it for a record seven times!
Well another sake of theirs in this regard, the Black Stars of Ghana have not fared worse in their three former triumphs. Only this time around they have had to cope with a first-round exit with the other more habitual tyros.
Like the Warriors of Zimbabwe. As always, they live to play again having been dumped out in the first round like four times before since their debut in 2004. Just like the Leone Stars of Sierra Leone. In their case, all their previous three efforts since 1994 have all ended in early flights home.
Funnily, there are no problems concerning the discovery of these aliases. Not even with the debutantes. Like the Scorpions of Gambia and the Coelacanthifomes of Comoros who have all zoomed into the round of 16.
But what, I pray thee, is the moniker for the team from Equatorial Guinea? Well, it’s just to avoid denying them any emoluments when the other teams line up for the count.
Emeka Uzoatu, a seasoned journalist and writer, is the editor of Nairaweb.ng. He writes the occasional column, Penny Wisdom.