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Africa
The Lions Roar Again
A look back at the 2017 African Cup of Nations shows a growing football industry undermined by ingrained problems
By Ibrahima Mbodj and François Dubé | VOL. 9 March 2017

The Cameroonian players went wild with joy when the referee blew the final whistle, ending the match against their Egyptian opponents with an unexpected 2-1 win. Thus ended the 31st edition of the African Cup of Nations (ACN), which took place in Gabon from January 14 to February 5, 2017.

The Indomitable Lions, as Cameroon's national team is known, beat the Egyptian team and clinched the continental title for the fifth time in their history. The event was truly symbolic for the Lions, who were beaten two times before - in 1986 and 2008 - in the ACN finals against the very same Egyptian football team.

Superior both from a technical and physical point of view, Cameroon, under the leadership of Belgian coach Hugo Broos, finally managed to dispel its ACN "jinx."

But the Lions' resounding triumph hides a more bitter reality of African football. In this year's ACN, as in the previous ones, deeply-ingrained systemic problems once again surfaced, undermining an otherwise fast-growing industry and distracting the players from keeping their eyes on the ball.

Same old issues

Even if the ACN was the occasion of showcasing the prowess of the continent's best players and clubs, it also revealed some long-term issues that were already known to undermine African football, especially at the organizational level.

In many African countries, football has yet to reach a truly professional level. Philippe Troussier, a former French footballer who has managed many African national teams since 1994, says national football associations' lack of financial resources and disorganization undermine national selection and their team-building ability.

Interviewed by French daily Le Figaro, Troussier said that it is not rare for players to have to personally press their country's political authorities to ensure they get paid their due salary during a competition.

Indeed, such events are common in the world of African football, and similar situations have occurred again at the most recent ACN. On January 7, the Warriors, as the national team of Zimbabwe is known, boycotted a farewell dinner and refused to board their chartered plane in the capital Harare, just hours before the start of the competition. The players demanded higher daily allowances and winning bonuses, which the Zimbabwe Football Association finally accepted, according to Zimbabwean daily Newsday.

Similarly, players of the Democratic Republic of the Congo boycotted a training session on January 13, demanding the payment of bonuses promised but never paid by the Congolese Association Football Federation.

"It's been the same thing for many years. We prepare well to play our matches but at the end of the day, there are always problems with bonuses," team Captain Youssouf Mulumbu told his fans on Facebook.

According to observers, this lack of organization has a negative impact on the performance of national teams. During the most recent ACN, some of the favorite teams - such as defending champion Ivory Coast - were all quickly eliminated from the tournament, to everyone's surprise.

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