One of the best tournaments in the soccer world begins on Saturday. Unfortunately, we know nothing about it, and while we could have asked somebody like Jonathan Wilson to help us out, he’s already done a damn fine job previewing the tournament for The Guardian. And hypertext links are a thing.
That’s not to say one piece of Internet can cover the depth and majesty of the tournament. It can’t. It won’t. Instead, we’d need a vast network of pages, information … conspiracies, misinformation, and saboteurs. We need Wikipedia.
Just as we did before this year’s Asian Cup, we hit up the world’s homage to crowd sourcing to tell us everything we need to know about the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations. Not all of this is correct, but it is still … words:
1. Ebola will be everywhere (no, it won’t)
At least, that’s what Morocco thinks. Then again, the country isn’t even sending a team to the tournament. So why does its opinion matter?
Because, as of November, Morocco was actually supposed to host this tournament. Then it got scared that a bunch of fans were going to carry Ebola in their luggage from West Africa and asked for the competition to be postponed. The FIFA calendar being what it is, the African confederation logically said “calm down, you’re freaking out” before Morocco essentially pulled out.* Now the country’s being sued by CAF, the tournament’s in Equatorial Guinea, and the original host nation is busy telling everybody its had no cases of Ebola. Word.
Equatorial Guinea’s hosting it because South Africa didn’t want to. Neither did Egypt. Or Sudan. Or anybody else with better facilities, because apparently hosting a 16-team, three-week tournament isn’t something sane countries take on with just two months notice. But Equatorial Guinea isn’t your normal country. It’s been run by the same man since 1978 and has a certain amount of petro-financial hubris. Deep pockets couldn’t save the national team from being kicked out of the tournament after fielding an ineligible player, but the big bucks could bring that team back in as hosts.
Search Google for “Ebola Cup of Nations” and your cup will runneth over. But to this point, there’s been no reason for alarm. Concern, perhaps, but only the mild variety. Focus is on the games, not the virus … even if everybody’s being tested like they just kissed a monkey made out of ebola.
* – Morocco didn’t pull out, it just insisted on having the tournament postponed until CAF took it from them. Practically, the same thing.
2. One stadium has a 5000-person capacity, and another is on a James Bond villain’s island
Equatorial Guinea might have cash, but it’s easy to have the highest per-capita income on the continent when your capita consists of a mere 700,000 people. It’s much harder to, say, provide enough hotel rooms to accommodate all 16 teams in the tournament you spontaneously signed up to host. When it co-hosted in 2012 alongside Guinea, Equatorial Guinea only needed to provide two venues. Now it’s had to dig up two more, pressing the cities of Mongomo and Edbeiyín into service.
As a member of the Africa-conscious global community, you should care about this, and not only because the two cities are all the way on the country’s eastern border. Mongomo and Edebiyín are noteworthy because each offer … um … modest-to-completely lacking facilities? Let’s go with that.
Mongomo, a city with a metro area population of 7,251, located on the Gabon border, has a facility which only seats 10,000. The local team takes a ferry and plays over at Bata, other one of the facilities on offer for this tournament. Both are palaces compared to Ebebiyín. The best facility the city in Equatorial Guinea’s northeast corner can offer is a 5,000-seater. Wikipedia has this exclusive photo:
A stadium that doesn’t exist in the visual spectrum? Suck it, Qatar.
The only facility we haven’t mentioned is located on the rim of a volcano. Covered mostly by rainforest, the island of Bioko reads more like a Dr. Evil wet dream than a national capital.
Seriously. This is what the island apparently looked like 200 years ago (before people messed it up, and stuff):
It’s also closer to Cameroon than the rest of Equatorial Guinea. But one semifinal will be there, as will the tournament’s third place game. If we’re lucky, president Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo will fly a space ship out of volcano at halftime, with Daniel Craig flying a jet pack in pursuit.
3. Lions and Elephants and Eagles, oh my!
We used to think Africa laid claim to having the best national team nicknames on the planet. Then we made the mistake of wandering one wiki page too far, and discovered some gems in Asia, like The Philippines’ “The Street Dogs.” Disney movie or future AFC power? If Hollywood’s taught us anything, they’re destined to be both.
But fret not! In addition to the Indomitable Lions (Cameroon), Les Elephants (Ivory Coast) and the Eagles (nope, not the Super Eagles; Nigeria are out and Mali’s normal avians are in), this tournament is happy to provide a few genuinely world-class nicknames. Zambia are the scarily-specific Chipolopolo, or Copper Bullets, while encountering the Blue Sharks of Cape Verde doesn’t sound very peaceful, either.
But the favored darlings for the tournament go by an equally adorable nickname, with Algeria having chosen the Fennec Foxes to represent them.
How can you compete? The United States is … what? Exactly. Mexico’s El Tri, and Brazil (and a myriad other countries) is the selection? We’re not inspired by “three colored.” We’re inspired by Gabonese Panthers, Burkinabe Stallions and Congolses Leopards.
Wait. We just thought of a new cereal.
4. No one running this tournament respects history
Usually when you stage a tournament, you invite the previous year’s winners. It’s just good manners. The meanies at CAF, however, have not. Nigeria won the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, yet failed to qualify from a group of teams that were clearly in on the conspiracy.
We also won’t see Egypt, who won the damn thing three years running, from 2006 to 2010. That opens the door for some fun new contenders. There’s Cameroon, who many are predisposed to hate after a terrible performance at last summer’s World Cup. Turns out it’s got its house in order and is ready to chase the trophy. If you like ‘em young, Gabon is a fun side ready to make a little noise on the international stage. And there’s also Burkina Faso, the Cinderella story of 2013, who ultimately fell in the final to Nigeria.
And, of course, there’s Algeria. We all loved the team in Brazil, and now it’s set to make us take our commitment to another level. The Fennec Foxes no longer play quite so pragmatically, and its new attacking verve just might be enough to clinch its first trophy since 1990.
5. Credible sources disagree on whether the tournament has a trophy
We’re pretty sure this can’t be right, because that would mean Egypt has the trophy … and there’s nothing to hand out this year. From the 2015 tournament page:
Three different trophies have been awarded during the tournament’s history, with Ghana and Cameroon winning the first two versions to keep after each of them won a tournament three times. The current trophy was first awarded in 2002 and with Egypt winning it indefinitely after winning their unprecedented third consecutive title in 2010.
This Wikipedia may be a nice exercise in democracy, but I’m starting to doubt its validity as Soccer Gods’ main mode of research.
Then again, from Wiki’s AFCON main page:
In 2001, the third trophy was revealed, a gold-plated cup designed and made in Italy. Cameroon, permanent holders of the previous trophy, were the first nation to be awarded the new trophy after they won the 2002 edition. Egypt won the gold-plated cup indefinitely after they became three-time champions in 2010, in an unprecedented achievement by winning three consecutive continental titles. Unlike previous winners who would have then taken the trophy home, Egypt were presented with a special full size replica that they got to keep. First and second time winners usually get a smaller sized replica for their trophy cabinets.
Wikipedia redemption! We don’t have to rewrite our SOPs! Now if somebody will just change that first page (we’ve never bothered to learn how), this error might not make it onto the show.
6. The mascot is a squirrel with a redundant name
This is goddamn disrespectful:
Not even an image? Hmm. I wonder what’s up.
Weeeell. What do we have here? On the one hand, Chuku Chuku looks like he was in the Secret of Nimh, a cool movie that deserves some attention from the younger generation. On the other hand, you can’t have a multi-colored mane … mowhawk … manehawk without people assuming your mascot is on drugs. And although we’ve gone to the “mascot is on drugs” well before, it’s important to note a lot of people do drugs. Mostly to dream up soccer-playing squirrels.
7. Nobody knows who will win
The last winner was Nigeria, a team that seemed in crisis after Stephen Keshi excluded most of his veterans in favor of a youthful (read: more dedicated) squad. Before that? It was Zambia, who dedicated its win to the victims of the 1993 Liberville disaster. But that came out of nowhere, too.
In the wake of Egypt’s mid-oughts dominance, this tournament is wide open. To the extent Algeria is a favorite, it’s a tenuous one, cast into a ridiculously deep Group C where any combination of Senegal, Ghana, and South Africa could emerge in its place.
But let’s concede Algeria’s the favorite. Where does that leave us? Nowhere, if recent history is any judge. Over the past decade, the likes of the Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Cameroon have been conventional favorites before kickoff, but their candidacies never bore out. Ultimately, Cup of Nations has become near-impossible to read until the games actually start – something that may be part of its charm.