Sport

Tuesday Team Talk: Africa Cup of Nations should be enjoyed by English fans, not despised for taking players

By Ed Owen

As you flop down on the sofa to watch the football on these cold January weekends you might notice quite a few stars are missing.

Both Toure brothers, Kolo and Yaya, are absent from Manchester City, blonde bombshell Arouna Kone isn’t leading the line for Wigan Athletic, and down in League One Dean Furman no longer graces Boundary Park.

Their whereabouts? They’re in South Africa, contesting one of the world’s oldest trophies, the Africa Cup of Nations.

For Africa this event is a highlight of the year, and 2013 is no exception – passionate fans will file into the Rainbow Nation’s cavernous stadiums hoping to see the continent’s best footballers in action.

But on British shores AFCON provokes a far more muted reaction, ranging from shrugs of apathy to full-blooded disdain for a tournament which takes our best players for a month.

After all, if you’re City you don’t want to lose midfield lynchpin Yaya Toure – especially if you’re chasing down your biggest rivals for Premier League glory.

Similarly, if you’re part of a Wigan side in their eternal struggle to avoid the relegation trap door, losing your most potent attacking threat must rankle a bit.

Yet to complain about Africa’s premier tournament would be like shouting into the wind – it’s going to happen and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

So why fight it? As Monty Python once sung, you should always look on the bright side of life, and surely it applies here.

As a club fan you might lose a player for a month, but as a football fan, you’ve got matches available on a daily basis – no more waiting for the weekend to watch quality teams in action.

Some might complain that AFCON is an inferior beast to the glitz-and-glamour of the Premier League, or even the earnest brutality of the Football League.

But this is all part of the charm – watch yesterday’s draw between Ethiopia and Zambia, and tell me you can’t find a thrill in watching a team of mostly part-timers hold last year’s champions.

Even though this tournament started with two outright dismal matches – although holding South Africa was a triumph for tournament first-timers Cape Verde – the tournament always throws up amazing stories.

For example, last year Zambia lifted the trophy in Gabon, the country which saw the side’s ‘Munich moment’ as their promising 1993 squad was wiped out in a plane crash.

And in the final of their trophy run Chipolopolo knocked out the Ivory Coast on penalties – the Elephants’ golden generation falling again despite not conceding a goal for the entire tournament.

So who can say this sort of drama can’t happen again this year? And who can say it won’t be a great watch?

So I suggest you join me and watch this festival of football – though it may occasionally take away our best players, the footballing world would be a lot poorer without it.

Image courtesy of Yahoo UK video, with thanks

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