The AFCON and AFC Asian Cup finals are upon us. We take a look at how both incredibly intense tournaments will serve as a primer for a stacked year of international football.
Mid-season international tournaments have typically not been well received by the footballing public. For starters, it leaves many large European clubs without key players, increases unnecessary travel, and disrupts the typical flow of the footballing calendar.
Yet, AFCON 2023 (the date was moved into 2024 to avoid the rainy season in Cote d’Ivoire) and the 2024 AFC Asian Cup have shown that regardless of when these tournaments are played, they are worth watching. While these tournaments typically do not receive the attention they deserve, this year’s iterations have been sparkling examples of what international football should feel like.
In AFCON, almost every match has had the intensity of a cup final. We’ve seen stoppage-time goals, penalty kick heroics, and monumental upsets from countries that were counted out before they even kicked a ball in the tournament.
In the AFC Asian Cup, the story is much of the same, as these condensed tournaments become great equalizers, with team cohesion, luck, and tactics playing a bigger role than pure talent (otherwise, South Korea and Japan would have cruised to the final).
For these two tournaments, there has been a significant amount of discourse about the respect that they receive and how Western media chooses to portray them. For AFCON, the teams and players are continually described as “explosive,” “counter-attacking,” and “physical,” while atthe Asian Cup we’ve repeatedly heard the word “technical” being strewn left and right.
While none of these terms are inherently wrong when mentioned in singular instances, they are often used regardless of the actual attributes of a player and are a form of reducing a player down to the stereotype of footballers from their home nations.
An example of this is how the Italian media describes Nigerian striker Victor Osimhen, whose club duties lie with reigning Serie A champions Napoli. To paraphrase some of the quotes I have seen, Osimhen is typically described as a physically imposing, fast, yet occasionally wasteful striker.
That’s not a totally inaccurate description of Osimhen, but it’s not a complete one. In my research, I could barely find a single discussion or quote about how intelligent his movement is, how talented he is at playing with his back to the net in order to connect the play, or how hard he works to continually press defenses and create chances for himself and his team.
Thankfully, the coverage of both AFCON and the Asian Cup has been receiving more attention through social media-based news outlets, which have been doing an excellent job instead of just showing content that pokes fun at the tournaments and their various quirks. It feels as if the world is waking up and realizing that the World Cup, EUROs and Copa America aren’t the only international tournaments worth watching.
Don’t get me wrong, the quirky, surprising moments from these tournaments are great. I mean, who doesn’t love to see a video of an assistant coach pouring water over the manager’s head after a loss or seeing a guy ask a girl for her number while being caught by the cameras and having to post a public apology video?
Regardless of how entertaining the off-field moments have been, on the field is where AFCON and the AFC Asian Cup have shone, and nothing should overshadow the pride, passion, and talent spotlighted throughout these tournaments.
Another highlight of these competitions is how wonderful it’s been to get a taste of international football at this time of year, as both a palette cleanser and primer for a huge summer of international football. Summers have traditionally been a celebration of football, and with the World Cup being played in the winter of 2022, it has felt like years since we have had a proper summer of football.
With the EUROs, Copa America, and the Olympics all taking place during the summer months this year, you might spend more time in front of the TV than at the beach.
CONMEBOL has chosen to host the 2024 Copa America around the United States, meaning that there will be the addition of a select group of CONCACAF teams participating in the incredibly illustrious tournament. It will also be a test for some of the infrastructure that will be used for the 2026 World Cup.
As always, the EUROs do not need an introduction. This year’s edition will be based in Germany, and as always, expect surprises related to how England finds a way to lose in heartbreaking fashion.
So, have you been tuning into AFCON and the AFC Asian Cup? Or are you living under a rock and missing some of the most exciting football of the year? You’ll have one more chance to take it all in as Qatar and Jordan face off on February 10 and Nigeria takes on host nation Cote d’Ivoire on February 11.