Outthinking the Rankings


It is hard to keep up with two major tournaments at once, but that has been the challenge in January with the African Cup of Nations in Cote d'Ivoire and the Asian Cup in Qatar happening simultaneously.

What has struck me is how some little lights are shining brightly in both competitions.

African Cup of Nations 2024.
The Black Sable Antelopes of Angola advance at AFCON

In the AFCON, the last eight already includes Angola (FIFA ranked 117th), Cape Verde (73rd), DR Congo (67th) and Guinea (80th), with either Mali (51st) or Burkina Faso (57th) about to join them in the quarter-finals. Some African powerhouses are not there: Algeria, Ghana and Tunisia failed to make it out the group stage, before Cameroon were knocked out in the second round along with one of Morocco and South Africa and the two 2021 finalists Egypt and the reigning champions Senegal.

It feels a little like the 2002 World Cup when the hitherto unfancied Senegal, South Korea, Turkey and the USA landed in the last eight.

It is too early to talk of a changing of the guard however. That tournament saw the final contested between Brazil and Germany, the two most successful football nations, while AFCON23 still has Nigeria (42nd), hosts Ivory Coast (49th), Morocco (13th) and South Africa (66th) in the running.

Egypt's premature exit has left the Atlas Lions carrying the flag for North African football, with the World Cup semi final in Qatar still fresh in the memory.

The Elephants of Cote d'Ivoire are riding their home luck after edging Senegal on penalties in a match they should have lost, and now look to have the easier route to the final, they would enjoy the rabid backing of a nation whomever they face.

The Crowns are in the Quarters in Qatar.
The Crowns are in the Quarters in Qatar

The Crowns drew with China, beat Lebanon 2-1 and then the U.A.E. on penalties for the right to take on Jordan (87th) in Al-Rayyan on Friday for a place in the quarter-finals. Hosts Qatar (58th) ended the Palestinian dream with a 2-1 win yesterday and now face Uzbekistan (68th) for a probable semi-final with Iran (21st) or Japan (17th) in Doha on the 7th of February. The competition has already set attendance records for the Asian Cup.

The other two Asian giants left in are Australia (25th) and Jurgen Klinsmann's South Korea (23rd), who are set to face off in Al-Wakrah on the 2nd of February for a place in the last four.

In the way of the Taeguk Warriors are Saudi Arabia, conquerors of Argentina at Qatar '22, now coached by Roberto Mancini. Tonight's clash in Al-Rayyan should be a cracker.

The African Cup of Nations has had live terrestrial TV coverage in England for years, while the Asian Cup remains somewhat out of sight. A cursory look at BBC teletext only reveals the former's results.

But given the quality line-up in Qatar as we get down to the last eight, I for one would like to see those teams in action on my television. Premier League stars like Son Heung-Min and Kaoru Mitoma should have been enough of a selling point.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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