These tournaments carry with them some of my fondest footballing memories, both on and off the field.
My journey started in 2002, when I went off to the Africa Cup of Nations in Mali.
When we landed in Bamako, there was a journalist standing on the luggage conveyor belt, his arms in the air, his suitcase finally in the country.
A “tour guide” called Baba came to fetch us from the airport, and to our surprise the asking price for accommodation we were quoted in Johannesburg had suddenly trebled.
We decided to ditch Baba just before we left Bamako for Segou, where Bafana Bafana were camped. But the young man was not happy and chased our taxi to the border of Mali’s capital – in the end the whole affair had to be sorted out at the police station. On the field, Carlos Queiroz’ side reached the last eight, but were beaten by the hosts in a town called Kayes.
On to 2004, in Tunisia, where the late Styles Phumo was in charge of Bafana, who were based in the seaside town of Sousse.
The food in Tunisia was awesome, but Bafana were less so, thumped by Nigeria as they slipped out in the group stages.
This tournament was the first where I stayed all the way to the final, an amazing atmosphere in Tunis as the hosts beat Morocco to win the title.
Two years later I was in Cairo as Egypt hosted and won the Afcon. Bafana were even worse than in 2004, slipping out without scoring a goal or getting a single point. But luckily for me I was covering the tournament as a whole, not Bafana, and got to witness some great football, including a couple of incredible strikes from Samuel Eto’o for Cameroon.
Another memory is of Egyptian striking legend Mido coming to sit in the media box during the final against Ivory Coast, as he had been banned following a touchline row with Pharaohs coach Hassan Shehata. Shehata had the last laugh, winning the final on penalties – that was to be the first of three Afcon titles in a row for Egypt.
In 2008, I was in Tamale, Ghana, where a Lucky Dube tribute concert was one of the highlights, as Carlos Alberto Parreira’s Bafana also rather fluffed their lines, failing to win a match or reach the quarterfinals. Also in Tamale, a rather deluded Chief Mwelo Nonkonyana announced at a press conference that Bafana would win the 2010 Fifa World Cup. That worked out well.
I had an Afcon hiatus for two editions after that, as did Bafana, before attending the Afcon on home soil in 2013.
I was based in Durban, where Bafana were camped, and Gordon Igesund did fairly well to get the side to the quarterfinals, where they lost on penalties to Mali. Being at home, I have to say, took away some of the romance of the tournament for me – I felt the same at the World Cup in 2010.
Finally, two years ago, I was in Equatorial Guinea as Bafana flopped again, failing to win a game for the fourth successive Afcon that they played on foreign soil. Mongomo was a strange place, the president’s hometown flush with a shiny new hospital, library and airport, but no regular citizens seemingly able to use them.
The football stadium was mighty impressive, mind you, and decent crowds turned up for most of the games.
And so, what will Gabon 2017 bring? I can’t wait to find out.
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