By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 27th 2023)
Alexandia is a historic port city that should have more to show of its past. Possibly Egypt’s most famous queen Cleopatra VII saw off two brothers and a sister – her elder sister Berenice IV was executed by their father after a power struggle that gave the Romans a foothold in Egypt. An earthquake off the Greek coast in July 365AD caused a tsunami, which sank the ancient city of Alexandria, including Cleopatra’s sumptuous palace, which was discovered in1998.
Group C of Egypt’s Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) opened in Alexandria on a sub-standard pitch on February 21st. The Gambia beat Tunisia 1-0 courtesy of Alhagie Saine’s strike just over 5 minutes from the end of normal time. Zambia and Bénin shared the spoils in the later match with a 1-1 draw. Rodolfo Aloko put Bénin ahead after 57 minutes only for Zambia to draw level less than five minutes later through Rickson N’Gambi. It would prove to be as good as it got for Chisi Mbewe’s young charges.
The state of the pitch resulted in the Confédération Africaine de Football (CAF) moving the remaining matches in Alexandria to the stadium of military owned team Haras el Hedoud’s stadium. The pitch was much better but the challenges of organising facilities for media proved greater than the capabilities of CAF’s Media Officer at the stadium, Collins Okinyo, whose words of respect for journalists proved hollow and hypocritical, but that’s another story – one that will test CAF President, Patrice Motsepe’s recent request in Algeria for journalists to talk to CAF. To date CAF has been found very wanting in this respect.
While CAF reacted well to the issue of the quality of the pitch, other issues soon emerged. Confusion reigned over whether fans would be allowed the matches at the Haras el Hedoud Stadium with Egyptians blaming CAF for the ban on fans and CAF saying the decision was made by the Egyptian military. At the last minute someone relented and fans were admitted.
The other was one of the banes of African football – officiating. Tunisia had the best of the first half with three penalty appeals turned down in less than half an hour to the chagrin of Adel Sellimi, Tunisia’s coach. Sellimi fumed about it, calling for VAR to be used throughout competitions like this in order to ensure that the right decisions are made, especially when the consequences are so high. Such fine lines can decide if a team qualifies for the World Cup or not and if a coach and his/her staff lose their jobs.
It’s hard to disagree with him, as there is no football reason to use VAR in the knockout stage but not in the group stages.
It ended 0-0. Meanwhile, the Gambia qualified top of the group with a 2-0 victory over Zambia. Kajally Drammeh gave the Young Scorpions the lead after 63 minutes. It was doubled with a penalty after 81 minutes by Alagie Saine.
That result meant that the Gambia could do as they pleased against Bénin in the final group stage matches. Despite an own goal by Tamimou Ouorou after 88 minutes, which gave the Gambia the perfect record of played three, won three and conceded none, Bénin also progressed to the next stage with just 2 points. Tunisia dispatched Zambia 2-1 to secure second place. Jibril Othman gave Tunisia the led after 31 minutes. Kingstone Mutandwa equalised after 57 minutes, but Al-Ahly’s Mohamed Dhaoui scored the winner two minutes later to confirm the final group positions –Zambia went home in last place, but coach Chisi Mbewe saw signs of progress, believing the performances had improved and that some of his players would progress to the main Zambian team.
Sénégal topped their group with a perfect record, followed by Nigeria. Both Mozambique and Egypt were eliminated. Uganda and Congo (Republic of) were separated for top spot by drawing lots and South Sudan went through as a best loser, along with Bénin.
Sénégal v Bénin and Uganda v Nigeria will be played on February 3rd. The other quarter-finals, Gambia v South Sudan and Tunisia v Congo will be played the following day. The most in-form teams are Sénégal and the Gambia,both of whom have won all three matches without conceding a goal.