GIVING THANKS: John Pantsil (no.4) of Ghana celebrates his team’s second goal during the match against DR Congo
ARSENE WENGER might have his own concerns in north London but the Gunners boss got it spot on with his recent view on the strength of west African football.
The Africa Cup of Nations reaches its climax this Sunday with the final to be played in Johannesburg. At the time of going to press the semi-finals saw Mali in a match up against Nigeria while tournament favourites Ghana had to face off against Burkina Faso.
With all four semi-finalists representing west Africa, Wenger at Arsenal – who has done so much to promote African players during his 17-year tenure – said in recent edition of the club’s matchday programme: “I’ve been watching it [the tournament] of course, and have seen that the west African sides have been on great form and are dominating at the moment, with north African sides falling short.
“Often there is a deficit of physical power inplayers from the north, and if you look across the European leagues you see many players that come from the west.
“Another factor is that youth football is less well organised in north Africa – there are many academies in countries like Senegal, Ghana and Ivory coast, where the structure is quite strong.
HE'S BEHIND YOU: Nigeria's Ogenyi Onazi, left, tackles Ivory Coast's Salomon Kalou during the Cup of Nations quarter-final
“One exceptional case in this tournament has been Cape Verde, who are doing extremely well and have a traditional Portuguese influence, but overall I think countries like Ghana are currently on top.”
Burkina Faso looked to have the biggest task to reach the final. Opponents Ghana, full of household names, were bookmakers’ favourites to see off a country which made their first appearance in the Africa Cup of Nations in 1978, but it was 1996 before they returned to the biennial tournament.
Known as the Stallions, Bukina Faso subsequently qualified for five consecutive tournaments between 1996 and 2004, reaching the semi-finals under coach Philippe Troussier when the tournament was held on home soil in 1998.
The other semi-final would have delighted ornithologists as with Nigeria’s Super Eagles facing Mali, who are known simply as the Eagles.
Mali reached the African Nations Cup final, but lost 3–2 to Congo in 1972.
They failed to qualify for the finals again until 1994 when they reached the semi-finals, an achievement repeated in 2002, 2004 and 2012.
No matter who reached Sunday’s final, current form suggests that west is best in terms of African football.