The lessons Africa's leaders must learn from AFCON

Africa Cup of Nations match between Tunisia and Mali ends in controversy (1:20)

Ed Dove explains to Kay Murray why the Group F opening match between Tunisia and Mali ends in in controversial circumstances. (1:20)

With the celebrations finally settling down in Dakar, nearly two weeks since Senegal won the Africa Cup of Nations final, there's been time to reflect on one of the more memorable, and most tragic, of AFCONs.

Senegal defeated Egypt on penalties in the final in Yaounde, to win their first title and bring the curtain down on a fiesta of African football that showcased the best of the continent's talent on the field.

The competition also shone some light on many of the broader issues facing the sport, so as while the money and land get dished out and the stadium named after Sadio Mane gets drawn up, ESPN examines what the AFCON showed us about the state of African football in 2022.

In memoriam

Any review of the tournament cannot begin without acknowledgement of the tragic stampede at the Stade d'Olembe on January 24, ahead of hosts Cameroon's Round of 16 meeting with Comoros.

Eight people lost their lives in the tragedy, with a further 38 injured, as one of African football's familiar wounds was pursed open once again.

CAF, in the aftermath of the disaster, withdrew the quarterfinal from the stadium -- pending an investigation -- and vowed to establish the causes of the tragedy before putting in place measures to ensure there would be no repeat.

The semifinal and final took place at the Stade d'Olembe, without incident, but it remains to be seen whether the deaths will have a lasting impact or be yet another chapter in African football's sorry history of stadium disasters.

"We can't say that things in Africa will be at lower levels than global standards," CAF president Dr Patrice Motsepe told ESPN in the aftermath of the incident.

"Whether it's safety or security, we have to ensure we're in line with Europe and the rest of the world.

"Even in the best stadiums there are accidents and problems do happen, but we have to make sure that at all times the infrastructure is world class."

It's an aim that all of the continent can get behind as CAF seek to ensure Olembe is the last chapter in a litany of disasters from Accra to Abidjan, from Oppenheimer to Port Said, but will Motsepe's statement prove to be anything more than just words?

The lack of transparency around CAF's decision to reinstate Olembe so quickly was concerning, and until a revamped toolkit is commissioned to provide local organising committees and broader security authorities, the threat of such repeat incidents will remain.

Scheduling confusion

Concerns about the Stade Japoma in Douala were of a different nature, but ultimately resulted in the 50,000-seater stadium on the outskirts of Cameroon's economic and commercial capital losing hosting rights for three matches, ostensibly due to the state of the turf.

No official explanation was ever given for the decision to move matches midway through the competition with only four days' notice, and CAF did not reply to ESPN's request for further information.

In perhaps another example of the internal confusion that besets the organisation, the decision to move the third-place playoff forward by one day to the Saturday rather than Sunday was also made only days before the fixture, to the chagrin of Cameroon coach Toni Conceicao.

The Indomitable Lions had to play their third-placed playoff less than 48 hours after their semifinal defeat by Egypt, prompting the Portuguese head coach to point the finger at CAF.

"It's a shame for African football that the coaches and players are not at 100 percent," he told journalists. "[CAF] have to organise it to find what is best for safety and security of players.

"We are just the actors who must follow the regulations as everyone else does, but it's not easy to recover in 48 hours, science proves that players can't be recovered totally."

Spotlight remains on Motsepe

The Olembe disaster is the biggest setback in Dr Motsepe's nascent reign as CAF president, although the Mamelodi Sundowns owner was ultimately repaid for his strong stance to push forward with the tournament, despite brooding opposition from FIFA and some of Europe's biggest clubs.

Beyond the pressure from outside forces, Motsepe also had to juggle the threat of ongoing conflict in Cameroon's Anglophone region, while ultimately had no impact on the competition, and of COVID-19... which did.

"I want Africa, I want Cameroon to show the world that we can host a successful tournament," he told the Olembe crowd in a public address before the opening back on January 9.

"This will be the best tournament that has taken place, and we want to inspire all the people of Africa. All of us being here shows that we believe in ourselves, we believe in the people of Cameroon, we believe in the people of Africa."

While positive coronavirus test results disrupted team's preparations, and both the Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang fiasco and Comoros's lack of a recognised goalkeeper were among the big talking points of the opening rounds, the only major consequence of hosting a tournament during the global pandemic was reduced crowds in light of the vaccine-related criteria required to enter stadiums.

CAF protocol that supporters attending stadiums must present a vaccine certificate and a negative test result also led to some improvement in vaccination rates among a sceptical local population.

"I think the return of expats, the diaspora, and others who came into Cameroon and even the players who are here to play football has boosted confidence and encouraged the local population to take vaccines," Thomas Joly Ngbonga, Director of Communications at the Africa Centres for Disease Control, told journalists [as per the Evening Standard].

"There's the example of football stars and other international personalities who have gathered in Cameroon for the tournament. They have made it known publicly that they have taken a vaccine.

"This has motivated a large number of people to get vaccinated before going to watch matches."

While Motsepe moved to present CAF as standing shoulder to shoulder with the Local Organising Committee and Cameroonian authorities in the aftermath of the Olembe tragedy, CAF and the Cameroonian Football Association (FECAFOOT) have been at loggerheads since the competition concluded.

Spearheaded by Samuel Eto'o, and outlined in a statement as seen by ESPN, FECAFOOT are pushing back on CAF sanctions handed over to them for allegedly favouring companies during the competition who did not have official sponsorship agreements with the Confederation.

FECAFOOT are also reserving the right to take legal action against CAF for alleged defamatory remarks made against the organisation, regarding the distribution of complementary tickets.

It may prove to be a side issue, but it's a disaccord that may bring Eto'o and Motsepe -- two of the fresh faces of African footballer's current crop of movers and shakers --- into conflict sooner than either would have hoped.

A case could be made that this is an example of the new punchy attitude of Eto'o's presidency, although making an enemy of CAF this early in his tenure might not be such a shrewd move considering his other stated (sizeable) priorities of eliminating corruption from local football and promoting the women's game.

Farcical refereeing leaves CAF blushing

Another big talking point of the Nations Cup was the continent's refereeing, both in the performance of Zambian official Janny Sikazwe, who blew the whistle (twice) to end Mali vs Tunisia before the clock had struck '90, and as a general theme throughout the tournament.

Red cards spiralled as VAR alerted officials to fouls that would have gone unpunished in years gone by, while the fastidious performance of certain referees -- the Moroccan umpire in Burkina Faso's Round 0f 16 springs to mind -- threatened to overshadow certain matches.

VAR, which was being used in the tournament for the first time, definitely helped overturn several critical refereeing decisions -- penalties not given in the opener between Cameroon and Burkina Faso, penalties that were given in Senegal's victory over Burkina Faso -- although the introduction of video technology had its detractors too.

Certainly, it diluted the fast and furious, intense and tenacious character of previous tournaments, while overzealous VAR officials appeared to intervene slightly more often than fans have been used to in Europe's major leagues.

"Refs are also humans who make mistakes, and mistakes are part of the game, we accept that," CAF Refereeing Instructor Jerome Danon told ESPN.

"Footballers miss goals, and the football world accepts that, but when a ref makes a mistake, they're never forgotten.

"We're largely happy with our refs, although we agree there's room for improvement, and that's why we train every day, work hard every day and get up at six."

Nonetheless, progress appears to be being made in some areas, with the introduction of four female officials -- including centre referee Salima Mukansanga of Rwanda -- an encouraging sign for CAF during a tournament that again highlighted the size of the task ahead for African football's organising body.