Over the Weekend: Undereagles Soar, Révolution à Chateauneuf et Balotelli à Milano

What is an African Cup of Nations? One in which a west African nation will defend the Cup in north Africa two years after winning it in South Africa where a southern African nation was dethroned? That would be it, mostly, as the east African nations basically put up a no show.

Following a slow start to the 2013 AFCON, the goals started coming and perhaps more importantly, we were gradually served up largely entertaining matches and now, an all west African semi-final.

Ghana was first into the last four, ending a fairytale that came from the mediterranean cape to its maiden Nations Cup appearance at the expense of Lions made domitable, before coming from a goal down to get a late winner and make the last eight from a group it contested with hosts South Africa, the unfortunate Moroccans their neighbour and a desperately disappointing Angola that isn’t even close to being as good as the shadow of the side that was an an Eagle’s cryptonite on their way to the 2006 World Cup.

Cape Verde impressed many with their football, proof of them being cousins with the Portuguese – and indeed Manchester United’s midfielder Nani has a cousin in the Blue Sharks team – and after a nervous first half against Ghana, they succumbed to a penalty; which sparked perhaps their best football display all tournament, and a stoppage time goal off a punt forward with the goal unguarded.

A painful exit yet a most admirable maiden appearance from the Blue Sharks who without doubt are one of AFCON 2013’s highlights. There focus now will turn to the second round of qualifying matches for the 2014 World Cup, where ironically they lie bottom of Group B without a point after two matches; a group led by Tunisia that didn’t go past the group stage of the ongoing AFCON.

Next after Cape Verde’s heroics was undereagles Nigeria’s downing of the mighty Elephants of Cote D’Ivoire, overly overwhelming favourites for the Cup only to, yet again, fall short just as Spain used to and the Netherlands still do.

Ivorian goalkeeper Barry did not see Emenike’s incoming bullet for Nigeria’s first goal and though the Ivorians equalised minutes into the second half, Nigeria to my surprise was not entirely outplayed, as both sides created chances to get a winner.

And what a winner it was, magnificent solo effort from Sunday Mba who gliding past a number of Elephants from midfield and sent a shot past Barry, with the help of a slight deflection but who cares, it was the match winner, a worthy one too.

Two things I got from that match, however pessimistic one is about something that is a part of you, you’ll end up still hoping for that thing’s best. Secondly, Mba’s goal was great advertisement for the Nigerian Premier League; where a new season should kick-off mid-February barring any more trivial administrative raucous.

Okay there was a third, which is the grace in defeat shown by the Ivorian team who wished their Nigerian counterparts to go on and win the Cup. We’ll first have to go past Mali to accomplish that.

Right… there was a fourth lesson from the match, which is @TheRealEboue is not the real Eboue. Or maybe folks on twitter just enjoy… never mind.

I’ll be damned but… there’s a fifth thing I got from that match, and I’m not particularly elated by it, by Gervinho’s imminent return to the Arsenal set-up earlier than scheduled for he had promised to make up for his penalty miss in last year’s AFCON final by scoring the Cup winning goal this time.

Arsenal may well do with his return, as the Gunners currently lie in sixth place on the Premier League table but just five points off third placed Chelsea that lost to le révolution de France à Châteauneuf.

Newcastle United, Châteauneuf Uni in a fairly rough sense, are a team reborn with the influx of French nationals to the team and though it was Argentine Jonas Gutierrez that headed Alan Pardew’s side ahead on Saturday, a brace from Moussa Sissokho earned the Magpies a last minute 3-2 win in a highly thrilling affair that saw the Blues score two early second half goals to overturn Gutierrez’s opener; Mata’s goal still setting nerve ends in my brain loose with the sheer finesse he scored it with. Gosh.

Another revolution set in motion meanwhile heralded in the Serie A where Mario ‘why always me?’ Balotelli marked his debut for AC Milan with both goals in a 2-1 win over Udinese. Last time someone got a brace on their Milan debut, he ended up being prolific for the Rossoneri. That person was Oliver Bierhoff.

As it is a new start for Balotelli in a city he knows very well, it seems also to mark a new era for Milan, notoriously known for being the club of pensioners. With Mario, El-Sharwama and Niang however, the Rossoneri blood is being freshened and a second round tango with Barcelona in the Champions League is just about an appropriate test of that.

On that young shall grow note, it’s a wrap. Going on a break here was hard but necessary and today, I’ll write my last first semester paper; French. Rather than be a show-off I’ll keep it simple and bid you au revoir jusqu’à samedi matin.

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