The curtain came down on the Africa Nations Championship (CHAN) at the Stade Mohamed V, Casablanca when Morocco dueled Nigeria to decide the champion team of Africa’s second biggest football tournament.
What will remain in the memory of many soccer fanatics, on the continent, is the drama of the knockout games that unfolded: the goals, the saves, the misses of the tournament that produced a fairy tale or heart wrenching story on the field.
Indeed, that is where the human narrative of heroes and villains is written, and on that score, Morocco 2018 will probably fare pretty well.
After 90 minutes of action, the Lions of Atlas had secured their first CHAN title by a 4-0 margin to become the first host to triumph.
Team of the tournament
It would be churlish not to praise the winner, Morocco, as not many gave Coach Jamal Sellami’s team a chance especially considering that Sellami’s team was unconvincing in the build up to the tournament and several top players like Achraf Bencharki and Jawad El Yamiq missed the last three important matches.
Sudan deserve a mention too – their progress from the group stage was exhilarating and played out to remarkable levels of volume, and not even their fortunate win over Zambia could completely silence the feel-good story. An unusually technical, mobile team of overachievers were fascinating to watch but at last lost to Nigeria in the semis.
Player of the tournament
Morocco’s Ayub El Kaabi won the official award and probably deserved it overall. He was the best attacking player on display in the final. The Racing Athletic Club of Casablanca forward whose languishing in the Moroccan league seems a thing of the imagination,was the top scorer of the tournament.
El Kaabi displayed pure talent throughout the entire tournament scoring 9 goals in 6 matches, making him the top goal scorer in the entire history of the competition.
Honourable mentions here go to Gabriel Okechukwu, the Akwa United and Nigeria forward, and the Sudan goalkeeper Akram El Hadi whose heroics saw the East Africans scale to grab a bronze.
Goal of the tournament
Video:Augustine Mulenga’s goal
Zambia’s Augustine Mulenga’s second goal against Ivory Coast is the clear winner. The Orlando Pirates latest signing skipped past three challenges in the penalty area before sending a low shot into the bottom corner in a Group B clash.
Other honourable mentions go to Ayoub el Kaabi,Milton Karisa whose backpost tap against the Libyans was a delightful study in technique – and two of an entertaining Ugandan side.
Match of the tournament
Despite a sometimes tedious group stage there ended up being a few contenders. Nigeria and Libya match was rollicking good fun in the last minutes. Libya appears to be seeing it out to a conclusion as goalless draw was enough for them. Sunday Felaye scored the winner from an Osas Okoro corner after landing his feet on the ball for a thunderous shot.
Quarter finals were uniformly fun but the Sudan shocking win against Zambia was the surprise game of the tournament too. Many predicted Chipolopolo to thrash the East African and have a date in the semis with Morocco but Sudan secured victory through John Mwengani goal.
Revelation of the tournament
Ayoub El Kaabi: Few outside the north African kingdom had heard of the 24-year-old striker before the mid January kick-off of the biennial tournament restricted to footballers playing in their country of birth.
Photo:Ayoub El Kaabi
Now, most African football followers from Cairo to Cape Town know El Kaabi, the 1.82-metre goalmouth predator who has scored a record nine goals in a single edition of the CHAN.
Despite starting only two of three group games, the Moroccan equaled the five-goal benchmark set by Zambian Given Singuluma in the Ivory Coast nine years ago and it would be interesting to see how he would fare higher up the football food chain.
No more minnows
The 16 competitors approached the tournament in different ways, with some of the bigger nations boasting selections of players hopeful to break into the full side, while some of Africa’s ‘lesser’ nations field almost their strongest available team.
Photo:Sudan national team that took bronze medal
Countries like Sudan, Congo and Rwanda proved that indeed there are no more minnows in African football .Sudan were particularly inspiring with their style of play and stunned the whole of watching Africa with an amazing run and proved that ousting Zambia in the quarters was no fluke.
LOC and Organization
Looking at the organization proper of the tournament, Morocco can be given a pass mark for a job well done especially considering the fact they only had two months to prepare for the competition.
The Confederation of Africa Football (CAF) had to make a quick decision to take the hosting rights off Kenya. Even though snowing affected some of the team like Uganda, the event was colorful and showcased the best that African local leagues have.
Morocco committee also took a chance for the tournament success and launched a bid for organization of the World Cup, for the 2026 edition.
Venue of the tournament
The Mohammed V Stadium takes the crown, with a capacity of 67,000 seats. It has already been named as a host for Morocco’s candidacy to organize the 2022 World Cup.
It is comfortably the biggest stadium here, was probably the best in which to watch football – achieving the rare balance of being both modern and able to hold highest number of spectators.