The chance to prevent a major controversy was right in front of Africa’s supreme football body CAF that unfortunately went sideways and folks better start gearing up for a controversy infested African Cup of Nations.
Under a new leader and several changes in administration, the 2019 AFCON was “the” competition to signal the arrival of a new phase in football on the continent. However, the continental body has whiffed on the chance to shed some of its reactive inclines and put on proactive ones.
With the palpable prospect of going heavy on VAR on the continent, CAF’s decision to use the technology only after the preliminary stage is completed amounts to dilution of an incoming problem. Human errors proved just too unreliable in major competitions with a lot at stake like the 2019 AFCON in Egypt hence the use of technology.
A goal changes a lot of landscape in a tournament especially and failure to award the right one has a lot of major consequences. Beyond goals, yellow cards and red cards that lead to suspensions in subsequent games or immediate ejections from games have big consequences too.
David Beckham’s red card at the 1998 World Cup ended England’s dreams and so were Juventus dreams of a third Champions League title after Pavel Nedved missed the Champions League final in 2003. By only allowing VAR to be used at the knockout phase, CAF opens itself up to a wide range of issues that could go wrong and stir up controversies. A few months ago, VAR wasn’t in play in football at any level but that changed quickly and had it been available in 2015, that year’s AFCON would have played out without the emotional roller coaster of drawing lots.
That crude device was used to separate Mali and Guinea in the standings after all available means were exhausted. Mali picked a ball with the number “3” in it while Guinea picked a ball with the number “2” in it. That meant Guinea qualified as the second best team in the group while Mali exited after placing third. Had VAR been in place, a yellow card, a foul in a dangerous position that could have led to a goal or prevented a team from conceding a goal would have been decided with a lower margin for error.
Instances play huge parts in determining the outcome of teams in tournaments and VAR help break down such potentially controversial situations to determine the best decisions. While the technology is in line to be used at the knockout stage, a team’s chance of winning or losing the Cup in Egypt could be derailed as a result of a missed spot kick or set piece in a dangerous position.
At the 1990 World Cup, Netherlands and Ireland found themselves in the same situation Guinea and Mali were in 2015 at the AFCON. Drawing lots got Ireland matched up against Romania at the next stage while Netherlands faced Germany.
Ireland beat Romania to reach the quarterfinals and clinched its best performance at the World Cup while a talented Netherlands side faced Germany and got eliminated. The Germans went on to win the competition and who knows how far the Netherlands would have gone had they not run into the eventual champions quite early in Italy.
On the back of awarding the 2019 AFCON Hosting rights to Egypt after stripping Cameroon off it in the process, the last thing CAF needs is to have a team progress from the group stage the way France qualified to the 2010 World Cup.
Aside Senegal, Egypt, Nigeria, Morocco and Ghana, there is very little to choose from the rest of the expanded field meaning games are likely to be close enough to have lots drawn again. Security issues were noted as a major reason to replace Cameroon with Egypt as host but the North African nation has its fair share of security challenges.
Only weeks after getting the nod, suicide bombings killed over four people and injured several others in Giza. Controversial happenings in the UEFA Champions League group stage are a major advocate to adopt VAR as soon as possible and use it extensively as possible.
With Ghana hoping to end a 37 year old AFCON title drought in Egypt later this year and a lot at stake for other major powers on the continent, campaigns cant be ruined or aided by a missed call hence the need for VAR’s use at every stage in Egypt. Unfortunately, CAF doesn’t see controversies on the horizon and that is a shame.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter