Africa

Afcon 2015: Five lessons from the Africa Cup of Nations

Ivory Coast's defender Kolo Toure raises the trophy as he celebrates after winning the 2015 African Cup of Nations Image copyright AFP
Image caption Ivory Coast took the Africa Cup of Nations trophy after a goalless draw led to penalties

The 2015 Africa Cup of Nations came to a dramatic end on Sunday night when Ivory Coast sealed a thrilling 9-8 victory over Ghana on penalties.

The win brought to an end a 22-year drought for Ivory Coast, and capped a tournament that was moved at the last minute and almost overshadowed by violence.

But what did we learn? Here are five key lessons from this year's competition.

1. Ivory Coast have finally ditched their chokers tag

After losing in the 2006 and 2012 finals (and limited displays at the past three World Cups), Ivory Coast had been accused of lacking mettle.

But anyone who saw how they responded to adversity in Sunday's final - converting five penalties when a miss at any stage would have lost the cup - may reconsider.

Ghana did little wrong in the final but this was a fully-deserved success for the Elephants, who have finally won again despite the departure of several members of their "golden generation" - including Didier Drogba, Didier Zokora, and Emmanuel Eboue.

Many of the old guard were on the field in Bata - with Kolo Toure, Tiake Siene and goalkeeper-turned hero Boubacar Barr all appearing at a seventh Nations Cup.

The parallels with their sole previous success, in 1992, were uncanny. As on Sunday, the Ivorians played Ghana, the game ended 0-0, there was a marathon shoot-out (22 on Sunday, 24 in 1992) and the goalkeeper was the hero (in 1992, Alain Gouamene was also at a seventh Nations Cup).

2. You can organise a Nations Cup in just two months

The Confederation of African Football (Caf) had spent nearly three years preparing for a 2015 Nations Cup in Morocco when the North Africans effectively pulled the plug in November over fears Ebola would spread to the country.

That left little over two months to find a new host. With few forthcoming because of continuing Ebola concerns, Caf asked Equatorial Guinea, who had co-hosted in 2012, to step in.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Equatorial Guinea's team pose before their quarter final soccer match against Tunisia

They duly obliged and despite widespread doubts - especially once the condition of the new venues Ebebiyin and Mongomo first came to light - somehow managed to pull it off.

There were some problems, with teams lamenting the poor accommodation - some hotels flooded, others with dangerous wiring - but by and large, Equatorial Guinea turned the finals into an improbable success.

Hicham El Amrani, general secretary of Caf, called the turnaround "miraculous - nothing short of that".

3. Using a helicopter to clear a stadium does not work

Surprised?

Thursday's semi-final between hosts Equatorial Guinea and Ghana, at the Estadio de Malabo, was marred by violence from the home fans. Ghana supporters were attacked with various missiles and had to shelter on the pitch.

One of the crowd control ideas in particular left a great deal to be desired.

A helicopter was flown just 10 metres above fans, but failed to disperse them. In fact, they simply whooped and cheered.

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Media captionAfrica Cup of Nations: BBC commentators escape crowd trouble

But what prompted the violence? Although the local enthusiasm for beer is considerable, the anger seemed to stem from the genuine belief that Equatorial Guinea really were going to win the competition - and once this narrative didn't pan out, the ugly recriminations began.

4. You can change your coach and squad at the last minute

Nothing about Equatorial Guinea's run to the semi-finals made any sense.

A little over two weeks before the finals, they changed their coach - bringing in Argentina's Esteban Becker, who promptly altered a third of the squad.

Some of his new charges had not played a match for six months prior to the first week of January, but he rallied the band of lower division footballers to make the semi-finals at only their second Nations Cup.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Equatorial Guinea midfielder Ivan Esono challenges Tunisia's Yassine Chikhaoui during the quarter-final

The manner of their quarter-final win over Tunisia still leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

Referee Rajindraparsah Seechurn's decision to award the hosts the most contentious of stoppage time penalties kept Equatorial Guinea in the competition, but brought accusations of cheating from the Tunisians.

5. Christian Atsu should be playing more at Everton

The Ghanaian winger, who scored one of the goals of the tournament in the quarter-final victory over Guinea, was named Player of the Tournament after a series of bright displays.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Ghana's Christian Atsu (left) vies with Guinea's Kevin Constant the quarter-final

His performances belied his failure to make an impact at Everton, where he is on loan from parent club Chelsea.

Ivory Coast's Gervinho knows what it is like to underwhelm in the Premier League but he was a joy to watch, constantly zooming past players as he relentlessly drove forward when in possession.

There were several big performances from his colleagues: Kolo Toure marshalling an inexperienced defence superbly, Serey Die excellent in his defensive midfield role, Max Gradel also shining before fading in the final.

Perhaps the most unexpected performance though came from Equatorial Guinea goalkeeper Felipe Ovono, who was a beacon of unflappable calm throughout his team's surprise run - despite being only 21.

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