As Africa's football governing body CAF has, more or less, released the first eight match official appointments of the tournament, AFCON's refereeing is definitely materializing. "More or less", because there was again no official announcement and our provision of appointments depended on sources and various online newspapers. In a nutshell: CAF's public relations management has not improved during the last year, but I am sure that their refereeing quality has done so..
|Daniel Bennett (RSA) issueing a sending-off at AFCON 2012 (c) GhanaFA|
What will be louder, Haimoudi's whistles or Soccer City's vuvuzelas?
Algeria's top official Djamel Haimoudi, who was recently honoured as Africa's best referee of the past year, will take charge of today's opener match between the hosts of South Africa and the surprise participants Cape Verde, who remarkably managed to beat Cameroon in the qualifiers.
Undoubtfully, Haimoudi is the African referee of the moment, also against the background of his appearance in last season's CAF Champions League final. In addition, he was invited to a FIFA organized tournament in 2011 and in 2012 as well, where he showed overall acceptable performances (2011 FIFA U-20 World Cup and 2012 FIFA Club World Cup). The features one perhaps directly connects with him are his pedantic and tense line in terms of foul detection, but more likely his loud and plentiful whistles, which sometimes cross a borderline, when he e.g. attempted to prohibit the celebration of goals with approximately twenty disturbing whistles. So the question could be, what will be louder, Haimoudi's whistles or Soccer City's vuvuzelas? Always keep in mind, the competition is held in South Africa and we all remember this drone in all the stadiums, which perhaps made some of us switching the TV on "mute", but which will always stay the unforgettable circumstance of the last World Cup. Of course, the vuvuzelas will again bolster a great atmosphere and pose immense challenges for the officials.
Haimoudi will be strengthened by very experienced officials. Felicien Kabanda of Rwanda, being FIFA listed since 2002, and Songuifolo Yeo of Côte d'Ivoire, FIFA official since 2004, will assist him. Both are also on the prospective list of referees for 2014 FIFA World Cup. Yeo has experience with regards to opener matches at an Africa Cup of Nations, as he accompanied his countryman Noumandiez Doue at last year's opener match in Equatorial Guinea. Doue, himself Africa's best referee of 2011, completes the team as fourth official.
Four West Africans for match 2
The second and later match of the tournament is also of vital importance related to the outcome of Group A. Angola will meet Morocco, a match of potentially pathbreaking relevance, as this group is the surely most balanced one of the entire group stage. Therefore, it's no surprise that last year's final official Badara Diatta (Senegal) received this appointment; CAF certainly expects a high level of control from him which he should ensure, at least on paper, since he is one of the most experienced referees of the tournament.
Two very young Senegalese assistant referees have been nominated to follow him in this match, also played at Soccer City. 29-year old Djibril Camara, who is an almost sure candidate for the next FIFA World Cup, and El Hadji Malick Samba, born in 1979, are their names. Koman Coulibaly of Mali, who already handled one World Cup match in South Africa (Slovenia - USA), has been designated as fourth official.
Nothing new for Daniel Bennett
South African official Daniel Bennett will take control over the first Group B match on Sunday and will meet familiar faces. When he will blow the starting whistle in Port Elizabeth's Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, it will be his fourth involvement in matches of Ghana (after WC qualifiers in 2009 vs Benin, Ghana's AFCON 2010 semifinal win over Nigeria and last AFCON's group stage match against Guinea) and the third meeting with DR Congo (DR Congo were defeated in the previous matches, 0-1 vs Egypt and 0-1 vs Cameroon in WC qualifiers 2008 / 2012).
Consequently, one may raise doubts whether this is a real challenge for this good referee, who has frequently proven to have his strengths in decision taking and his weaknesses in technical abilities like fitness and stamina. Last year, his first AFCON match was the significant Morocco - Tunisia clash, where his performances was tarnished by a wrongly given goal. Morocco's 1-2 was only possible as Zakhele Thusi Siwela, of South Africa as well, oversaw an offside position (1 metre). Siwela will again take the spot as Assistant Referee 2, while Bennett's other pre list teammate Aden Marwa Range from Kenya will run the main stand's line. Ghead Grisha of Egypt will be the fourth official.
A pre list official for a crucial match
A Tunisian trio will head the immensely vital Group B match between Mali and Niger. As Ghana are the clear favourites to hold their own as group winners, Mali and Niger probably combat for the 2nd spot which facilitates the ticket to the K.O. stage. Moreover, it's a match between two direct neighbours, between two territorial giants. Slim Jedidi, a pre list official as well, Bechir Hassani and Anouar Hmila are the officials. Jedidi refereed Mali's 1-0 win over Guinea at the last edition of this tournament and did not manage to show a good performance. He was sent home after group stage, returned into the spotlight at FIFA Olympic Games 2012 and performed well.
Morocco's Bouchaib El Ahrach will be the fourth official of the match.
A blank sheet for the holders
Zambia, last AFCON's surprise winners, will meet Ethiopia on Monday. CAF has appointed Eric Otogo-Castane of Gabon for this match, a referee with not so much experience, but at least with already one AFCON participation, after having handled Sudan - Burkina Faso in 2012. His performance was ok, it could be now time to test him in a more meaningful match. Along with Jean-Claude Birumushahu (Burundi), who also accompanied him last year in his only AFCON match, and newcomer Arsénio Marengula from Mozambique, he now gets this chance. Rajindraparsad Seechurn from Mauritius supports him as fourth official.
Total experience for Nigeria - Burkina Faso
There is not that much to say about Mohamed Benouza of Algeria, who is the embodiment of international experience. Having a look at his palmarès, you will not only find out how many tournaments he attended in his long career, but also that Nigeria never won when Benouza came. Both matches he was in charge of with Nigerian involvement went lost for the "Super Eagles", against Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire at AFCON 2008. At the same time, he already refereed Burkina Faso three times, the balance is balanced...one win, one draw, one loss.
At the last Africa Cup, Benouza received three important matches and managed to increase the quality of his performances from match to match. Starting with a performance below expectation, he showed a good one and then a very good match in the semifinal between Zambia and Ghana.
Redouane Achik from Morocco, a very good and experienced assistant referee who attended 2010 FIFA World Cup, too, and Angola's Jerson Emiliano Dos Santos, who could follow into the footsteps of the well-known former assistant Inacio Manuel Cândido, accompany Benouza. Madagascar's talent Nampiandraza Hamada has to wait for an appointment as main referee, as he will go to Mbombela as fourth official.
The return of Togo
The story of the Togolese national team is certainly unbelievable. After the very surprising appearance at 2006 FIFA World Cup, they did not qualify for the following AFCON in 2008. Although they managed to qualify for AFCON 2010 in Angola, they withdrew their participation after an outrage on their team bus prior to the tournament. CAF decided to suspend Togo and their officials, including the excellent assistant referee Komi Konyoh, from every tournament and exclude them for the next four years, which would have meant that they could not have joined this competition. FIFA however interfered in the process and changed this decision back.
Now, it's their comeback on this stage and they will meet Côte d'Ivoire as certainly hard prelude. Cameroon's young and developing referee Néant Alioum will take charge of it. After he catched our eyes with four good performances at 2011 FIFA U-17 World Cup, he had several problems in some of his matches, among others in last AFCON's quarterfinal between Ghana and Tunisia, where he completely lost the conrol over the match. He is nonetheless an aspiring official who has good chances to reach next year's FIFA World Cup. Evarist Menkouande of Cameroon, the most successful African assistant referee of the last years, and Gabonese Théophile Vinga will run the lines. Sylvester Kirwa of Kenya will supervise the benches as fourth official.
Top talent for top clash
Naturally, one has to be careful with premature praise. However, 2012 Africa Cup of Nations was the first tournament which we managed to completely cover with our report system. The main result of our work was that Bakary Gassama of Gambia (1979), until then totally unknown in the international referee pool, showed two excellent performances when he had proven that he is a cool and courageous referee despite of his little experience. He was therefore - according to our marks - the best referee of the tournament. Four months later, he appeared on FIFA's prospective list for 2014 World Cup Brazil for the first time, a very good decision by FIFA. Then, he immediately received a call-up for a FIFA organized tournament, which was the Olympic Games in Great Britain. There, he handled two Group Stage matches and confirmed our previous impression. Specially in Brazil - New Zealand, he made correct decisions in decisive moments and had no qualm to send off a Brazilian for a dive with the second yellow card.
And now, at this competition, CAF has given him the most sonorous and hot duel of the first matchday. Algeria will meet Tunisia, the no.2 will meet the no.10 of Africa's team ranking. The high tension as a derby makes this match probably even more interesting.
With regard to his assistants, it must be outlined that Jason Damoo (Seychelles) is missing at the competition for unknown reasons. He is actually Gassama's regular assistant referee. Experienced assistant referees will nonetheless accompany the young official: Angesom Ogbamariam of Eritrea and Nigerian Peter Edibe will support him. Badara Diatta of Senegal, as already written, a very experienced official, will be the fourth official at Rustenburg's Royal Bafokeng Stadium.
A crucial match for Gassama and the whole group and a brave choice made by CAF to pick this team.
Conclusion and an outlook
Taking everything into consideration, one can definitely say that every single appointment makes sense. That was definitely not always the case in African officiating. From my point of view, they managed to create an equilibrated mixture of experienced officials, developing referees and interesting appointments.
Of course it's hard to predict coming appointments. What can be said is that Bernard Camille (Seychelles), Ali Lemghaifry (Mauretania) and Jakky Sikazwe (Zambia) are still without a match, which should change at the second matchday. While I expect Ghead Grisha in South Africa - Angola and Bernard Camille in Morocco - Cape Verde, one could test Janny Sikazwe, who conveyed a promising impression at the last AFCON, in Ghana - Mali. If you like, make your preditions now, too.