Africa Cup of Nations in Danger of Leaving an Incomplete Legacy

Sam TigheWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterJanuary 25, 2013

PORT ELIZABETH, SOUTH AFRICA - JANUARY 24:  Samba Diakite of Mali (L) and Kwadwo Asamoah of Ghana during the 2013 African Cup of Nations match between Mali and Ghana at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on January 24, 2013 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.  (Photo by Richard Huggard/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
Gallo Images/Getty Images

The 2013 Africa Cup of Nations has been a closely contested tournament with many draws and very few goals.

The high-energy games, the frantic, hurried style and the pure athleticism on show are wonderful to watch, but the opening 13 matches have done nothing to dispel one of Africa's greatest footballing problems: The continent struggles to produce much other than midfielders and central strikers in abundance.

Peruse the rosters of the three favoured nations to lift the crown, and you'll see severe strength of depth in the midfield and a dash of quality up front but not much else.

Team Star defenders Star midfielders Star forwards
Ghana N/A Kwadwo Asamoah, Anthony Annan, Christian Atsu, Derek Boateng   Asamoah Gyan
Ivory Coast Kolo Toure Yaya Toure, Cheick Tiote, Romaric Didier Drogba, Seydou Doumbia, Gervinho, Wilfried Bony, Lacina Traore
Nigeria Joseph Yobo John Obi Mikel Ikechukwu Uche, Emmanuel Emenike, Brown Ideye, Victor Moses

Ghana struggle to get everyone into their midfield and end up doing what Antonio Conte does in Turin—sticking Asamoah at left-back. He becomes Ghana's star defender, but he's not really a defender and his box-to-box explosiveness is wasted.

Ivory Coast have a luxury of central options with their striking dilemma in particular the envy of most, while Nigeria also house a host of forward stars.

Shifting focus away from the top nations, you'll find that individual stars such as Emmanuel Adebayor, Alain Traore, Katlego Mphela, Manucho and Seydou Keita are all central players.

The result is a series of teams focused on forcing the ball through the middle of the pitch, which also gives way to the rise of some impressive athletes entering the European game.

Manchester United's Africa scout Tom Vernon has something called a "Papa Bouba Diop template"—the idea that there's a set blueprint for African footballers to fall into.

Diop was a powerful, strong runner with wonderful physical attributes. He wasn't the tidiest, but his all-action style could be traced back and explained with ease.

Jonathan Wilson spoke to Vernon about the situation at his academy in Accra, Ghana and published his concerns in Inverting the Pyramid.

Look at how the kids play.

They have a pitch maybe twenty or thirty yards long, and set up two stones a couple of feet apart at either end, often with gutters or ditches marking the boundaries at the sides.

It's a tiny area. The game becomes all about receiving the ball, turning and driving through the middle.

Kids growing up in Europe have a wealth of choice in regard to which position they want to play. A lot of players switch positions through their young lives as size and height determine where they might prosper, and the utensils are present to train in any area of the pitch.

In Africa, it's not that simple, and as Vernon outlines, a lack of resources is key.

The lasting impression many African nations leave on spectators is the word "incomplete."

Great strikers, solid midfield, perhaps even a titanic centre-half.

Where's the quality in the wide areas though? Which goalkeeper really took command of his area?

It's a self-induced problem. Who can blame a Ghanaian kid for not wanting to dive on a rock-hard, dirt-ridden surface?

The uncompromising conditions African kids play in should see to the rise of explosive players in all positions, but because they literally play from goal to goal in a short area, box-to-box midfielders and deadly finishers become the norm.

It's arguable that an African nation will never trouble the world's elite at a FIFA World Cup competition without honing talent in every area of the pitch. In the current conditions, however, weaknesses are unavoidable.