We used to read about the African Cup of Nations, more so in geeky football magazines such as 'World Soccer and less so in the scant coverage that it usually receives in the nationals, but until Mrs Londonist purchased Sky last year as a birthday present (pity the woman, for she knows not what she has unleashed), we've never actually been able to watch it. Now we can.
And it's really rather good. Coverage of this tournament has always seemed to be overburdened by clichés and while it is true that a lot of them are in place - yes, the crowds are very colourful, the goalkeeping and officiating can be erratic and there seems to be a pronounced fondness for overhead kicks - they take nothing away from what is clearly an ace international football tournament. Here's why..
Stars. The defending is physical, but a little looser than what we might see at a World Cup or European Championship. Consequently, players are allowed to play and stars shine brighter than 'systems'. On Saturday, the second day of the tournament, we saw Barcelona's Samuel Eto'o score a blistering hat-trick against Angola and Mido and Didier Drogba dominate for Egypt and the Ivory Coast respectively. This is good stuff, more of the same please.
Openness. Out of sixteen teams, we think eight of them have a realistic chance of winning the trophy. We like those odds - less filler, more substance. Plus, the sub-plot is provided by the need of the established African superpowers (Cameroon, Nigeria and Senegal) to re-establish their superiority over the upstarts who took their World Cup places (Ivory Coast, Togo and Angola). Game on.
Kits. They're beautiful! No really, they are. Cameroon rival Brazil for the 'best kit in the world' award and the rest are an absolute riot of colour. The Ivory Coast's all-orange effort is a little hard on the eyes, but at least it's different.
The nicknames. Just take a look.
Bafana Bafana (The Boys)- South Africa
Black Stars- Ghana
Chipolopolo (Bullets) - Zambia
Les Elephants - Côte d'Ivoire
Les Eperviers (Hawks) - Togo
Lions de l'Atlas (Atlas Lions) - Morocco
Lions Indomptables (Indomitable Lions) - Cameroon
Lions of Teranga - Senegal
Onze National (National Eleven) or Les Aigles de Carthage - Tunisia
Palancas Negras- Angola
Pharaohs - Egypt
Simba- DR Congo
Super Eagles - Nigeria
Syli Nationale Stars - Guinea
The Greens - Libya
Warriors - Zimbabwe
Lions are popular, perhaps understandably, but surely Libya could have done a little better?
If you were wondering what all this has to do with London, then you should perhaps consider all the African communities in London who will be taking a huge interest in the tournament. Also, we have quite a few representatives in Egypt from our own clubs. Here is the breakdown:
The gentlemanly Kolo Toure and the raw Emmanuel Eboue both turn out for the Ivory Coast, who kicked off their tournament by edging Morocco by one goal to nil. Wenger's new signing Emmanuel Adebayor plays for Togo, at least he did, until he had a spat with coach Stephen Keshi, and it is now unclear whether he's going to hang around. This kind of player unrest is pretty much par for the course at the African Cup of Nations.
Addicks defender Talel El Karkouri plays for Morocco. So he'll be less happy with Saturday's result and will be hoping for better things on Tuesday, when the Atlas Lions play hosts Egypt
Didier Drogba is the Ivory Coast's main man, while his club teammate Geremi will be glad of some playing time for Cameroon, who smashed Angola 3-1 on Saturday, looking a very confident bunch indeed.
The giant Papa Boupa Diop plays in the centre of midfield for Senegal, who play their first match of the tournament tonight against Zimbabwe.
Noureddine Naybet (remember him?) plays for Morocco and Mido is having to shoulder the hopes of a nation as the main man for Egypt. He made a good start on Saturday though, with a emphatic headed goal and a strong performance in his side's 3-0 dicking of a sad-looking Libyan side.
The title of this post is taken from a pitchside advertising board seen in the Cameroon - Angola game. It made us laugh and we decided to use it, as it's funny, but also because the fact that we chose to pick up on it is surely indicative of the condescending tone that a lot of Western coverage of this tournament will take. That's the thought for the day over with. Hey, at least we didn't mention witch doctors.