Thursday, May 30, 2024

AFCON 2023: It’s Do Or Burst As Knock-Out Stage Beckons

The Africa Cup of Nations is now approaching the fast lane with zero tolerance for failure. With the contestants pruned to 16 when the next stage begins on Saturday, which ever team that fails heads straight to the border controllers and depart Cote d’Ivoire.

There is also no room for drawn games. Therefore what will going through the minds of the remaining 16 managers are a myriad of thoughts.

They have to think first about their respective teams. There will be thought on selection of the starting 11. Thoughts on their opponents, the tactics and fitness level. Even the weather is being scrutinised by men chosen to mastermind their country’s success.

But if previous Africa  Cup of Nations finals are any guide, there is one training practice, which will be just as decisive. It is how to strike the ball from 12 yards. Since Didier Drogba lost a vital kick during the penalty shoot-out against Egypt in the final game of the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations, several other celebrated players have equally failed to convert penalty kicks.

Inability to strike well from the penalty spot caused Nigeria the title in Lagos 24 years ago.

It is a common occurrence even at the summit of world football. Great players, namely, Zico (1986), Maradona (1990), Roberto Baggio (1994) and Lionel Messi (2022) have fumbled at what appears the cheapest goal to be scored in football.

When Messi missed a penalty kick in a Qatar 2022 World Cup match of Argentina versus Poland, his tally got to four in his international career and a combined tally of 31 for club and country.

Austin Jay Jay Okocha (c) and Tijani Babangida try to console Nwankwo Kanu whose penalty kick loss put Cameroon at advantage to deny Nigeria the Africa Cup of Nations in 2000.

Penalties have become part and parcel of many tournaments that I have attended.

In 1990, my first World Cup attendance, both semi final matches were decided on spot kicks, while the final match itself was prevented from ending up the same way. Ironically, it was still decided by a penalty kick, five minutes from regulation time.

What was avoided in the 1990 final had to come four years later. Brazil out shot Italy to claim the World Cup title for a fourth time.

At France’98, the hosts had to depend on penalty shootout to get off from an hectic quarter final duel with Italy, before eventually winning the trophy on home soil with their ‘multi- national’ squad. The 2006 World Cup final was decided by penalty shoot-out.

From the on-going, it is clear that teams must have learnt to include penalty kick taking in their training schedule as the Afcon 2023 gets to the knock-out stage. Four of the last eight final matches of the Africa Cup of Nations were decided on penalties.

Penalty kicks have played crucial roles in shaping the champions in 14 of the last 21 championships since Libya’82 that was the first to be decided by penalty shoot-out. Big names in the continent – Nwankwo Kanu, Victor Ikpeba, Samuel Eto’o, and Didier Drogba among others – have missed from the penalty spots.

In Nigeria’s march to victory in 1994, penalty kicks played crucial roles. The Super Eagles had to survive the ordeal of penalty shoot-out with Cote d’Ivoire in the semi finals. It is on record that penalty kicks played crucial roles in shaping Nigeria’s destiny in 2010, 2006, 2004, 2002, 2000, 1994, 1988 and 1984. A total of eight in Nigeria’s last 14 appearances at the finals.

In 1984, Nigeria survived a lengthy penalty shoot-out against Egypt in the semi final, after scoring a goal from the penalty spot during regulation time. In 1988, it was the same tale, this time against Algeria in the semi finals. A penalty kick award to Cameroon eventually decided Nigeria’s fate in the Maroc’88 final.

Apart from 2000 in Lagos when Cameroon lifted the trophy through a penalty shoot –out, loss of a penalty in the extra time against Senegal decided the Super Eagles fate in the 2002 semi finals.

Nigeria again crashed out of 2004 finals via penalty shoot out!

Penalty kicks also proved decisive for other African teams in the Africa Cup of  Nations. Cameroon, Tunisia and Cote d’Ivoire lost vital matches via penalty shoot-out at 2006 Africa Cup of Nation Cup.

The keepers who saved the kicks were the heroes, while the outfield players whose kicks missed the targets were the villains. It is obvious that those dramas will once more unfold as Cote d’Ivoire 2023 gets to the knock-out stage.

But who will be jumping and which player will bent double in tears? Italy’s Antonio Cabrini wrote his name into the World Cup record books as the first player to miss a penalty in the final. He looked dejected after his 25th minute spot kick went wide.

Penalty kicks, especially the shoot-outs, are made for television. They are fast, exciting while being a fairer means of tie-breaking than the toss of a coin. But the Italians will not like to believe this after the Azzuris lost the USA’94 World Cup final through penalty shoot-out and had gone out through the same process at home in the Italia’90 World Cup semi final.

They again crashed out of France’98 through penalty kicks. But for the extra time goal with which the Koreans defeated them in 2002 in the Round of 16, one will have to go back 20 years (Mexico’86) to get the last time the Italians lost a knock-out match in the World Cup without resorting to penalties.

Their prayers were answered at Germany 2006 when they beat France in the final via penalty shoot-out. It is only ones prayer that Jose Peseiro add penalty kick session to the training of the Super Eagles.

Litany of penalty kicks at the Africa Cup of  Nations 

  • 1982– Penalty shoot-out decided the final match of Ghana and Libya.
  • 1984– Penalty shoot-out took Nigeria to the final.
  • 1986– Penalty shoot-out decided the final match of Egypt and Cameroon.
  • 1988– Penalty shoot-out propelled Nigeria to the final. Penalty for Cameroon decided Nigeria’s fate in the final.
  • 1992– Penalty shoot-out decided the final match of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire.
  • 1994 – Penalty shoot-out played crucial role in Nigeria’s march to the final, beating Cote d’Ivoire 4-2 at the semi-finals.
  • 2000– Penalty shoot-out decided Nigeria’s fate and the final match with Cameroon.
  • 2002 – Penalty loss against Senegal in the semi-finals decided Nigeria’s fate. Final match of Cameroon and Senegal decided by penalties.
  • 2004– Penalty shoot-out decided Nigeria’s fate in the semi finals as Tunisia had a 5-3
  • 2006 – Nigeria involved in penalty shoot-out in the quarter finals. Final match of Egypt and Cote d’Ivoire also decided on penalties.
  • 2010 – Nigeria profited from penalty shoot-out, beating Zambia 5-4 in the quarter finals.
  • 2012 – Quarter-finals match of Gabon and Mali was decided by penalties. The final match of Zambia and Cote d’Ivoire was also decided by penalties.
  • 2013– Quarter finals duel of South Africa and Mali as well as the semi-finals of Burkina Faso and Ghana were decided by penalty shoot-out.
  • 2015– The third place duel of DR Congo and Equatorial Guinea and the final match of Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana were decided by penalties.
  • 2017 – Quarter final match of Senegal and Cameroon and the semi finals of Burkina Faso and Egypt were penalty kicks decided.
  • 2019– Three Round of 16 matches (Morocco v Benin, Madagascar v DR Congo and Ghana v Tunisia) as well as the quarter-final of Cote d’Ivoire and Algeria were decided by penalty shoot-out.
  • 2021 – Again, three Round of 16 matches were decided by penalty shoot-out (Burkina Faso v Gabon, Cote d’Ivoire v Egypt and Mali v Equatorial Guinea) as well as the semi-final match of Egypt and Cameroon and the final match of Senegal and Egypt were decided by penalty shoot-out.

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