The Pharaohs are deserving winners of this year’s Africa Cup of Nations. If they had not won against the “Indomitable Lions” (just as well lions were not asked when Cameroon chose this name), they would have been worthy victors for coming up with ever-so-novel goal celebrations at this year’s tournament.
First it was Zidan who, after scoring against Cameroon in the first game, took off his boot and juggled it as if saying: “Look at me, my boot is hot.” And then there was what appeared to be grass-kissing after scoring. I have asked Muslim friends whether that was prayer and, if so, why the players were not all facing Mecca.
Then, quite symbolically, it was Mohamed Aboutrika who lifted his strip to reveal a T-shirt with the slogan “Sympathy with Gaza” after scoring in the 3-0 win over Sudan in the Group C match in Kumasi. The referee didn’t see the revolutionary side to it and promptly booked him.
Aboutrika’s action came on the same day same day as clashes between Palestinian residents and Egyptian cops. Not unlike Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger, who refuses to see the wrongdoings of his players, Egypt assistant coach Shawky Gharib — wearing Wenger lenses — saw no political significance at all in the action. “He told me that that the way he celebrated scoring was completely personal with no political significance and will not repeat that in the coming matches.”
Aboutrika joins an elite group of players who are playing on the political left; quite unlike players like the Mozambican-born Eusebio, who chose not to involve himself in his country’s struggle for independence from the Portuguese. “There was a war. I’ve never got involved in politics and I don’t want to know about politics. My politics is the ball. I always go back. My family is there, I go on holiday as often as I can and I’m very much in touch. My wife and I got married there, but our two daughters were born in Portugal,” he said once in an interview. In a recent blog, most of the posters didn’t want to acknowledge him as one of Africa’s greatest players.
In 2005, Cameroon striker Samuel Eto’o stood up to racist abuse by dancing like a monkey. Opposition supporters had thrown peanuts on to the pitch after he had scored. “I danced like a monkey because they treated me like a monkey,” he said.
He follows Liberian-born Unicef ambassador George Weah, perhaps Africa’s all-time greatest soccer star, who committed his life and his talent to his country. He paid the Liberian team, chartered flights for them and did more to bring a side to Liberia that was missing then.
The most committed footballer at the moment must be Côte d’Ivoire’s Didier Drogba. After being awarded the African Footballer of the Year gong, he flew to Côte d’Ivoire where he asked the country’s President, Laurent Gbagbo, to have the next home match played in Bouaké, formerly the capital of the rebel-held north.
Côte d’Ivoire’s qualification for last year’s World Cup and Drogba’s exemplary leadership did much to foster a sense of nationhood in a country at war with itself. An Ivorian win this year would have done much to forge a keener sense of nationhood.
The Pharaohs showed that team work, speed and, I dare say, unusual goal celebrations win you matches and supporters.