Starting Sunday night, the boys will be separated from the men as Africa’s biggest showpiece approaches the knockout quarter final stage.
Between tonight and Tuesday, teams will either be getting into the business end of things or heading to the airport altogether, for their flights home.
In a tournament that has been everything but easy, the quality on display has demonstrated that there are no more pushover sides in African football.
Time for experiment has elapsed and the real litmus test gets underway. There is no more room for slip ups. The tournament has seen an unprecedented number of draws and as the quarters loom, teams must up their mental fitness. In the knockout stage,there must emerge victors and losers, no two ways about it. The dreaded penalty shootouts will ring hollow in the team’s minds,of course after the energy sapping issue that is extra time.
Thus far, a good number of matches have witnessed late dramatic goals that signify the importance of playing to the last whistle. Fretfully but not surprising, it is the big guns that have perfected the art in Equatorial Guinea. The ride has been somewhat less easy.Ivory Coast are the comeback masters.
Ghana and Cameroon follow closely. This underlines the fact that past reputation counts for nothing and every team is firmly in with a chance of progressing from their respective pools. Admittedly, South Africa and Burkina Faso hang by the thinnest of threads but as it is, the proverbial cat is still among the pigeons.There is no room for complacency.
The stadia in Malabo, Bata, Ebibeyin and Mongomo have provided a robust sporting atmosphere and tournament organisers have certainly done a magnificent job.With the expected apparent departure of eight sides from the diadem, the playing surfaces will restfully take lesser beating. President Obiang Nguemma’s forty thousand charitable ticket purchases for neer-do-well locals has also seen better attendances in the stands.
Football needs spectators and on this one, plus all the stops pulled to host a vintage tourney, the Head of State scores highly.
Come Wednesday the boys will be home with mummy. The men will be bracing for bruising duels. This is where the wheat and chaff shall part ways.