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Chronic. “Did you see that sick free kick from Hakimi? “, “Mané, he is a warrior, he takes a blow to the head and he stays on the ground”, “The Stallions of Burkina Faso, normal that they play like nags”, “You will see that at the place of the pyramids of Egypt, they will put a statue of Salah! »… These comments, passionate or funny, I have heard for several weeks in the corridors and classes of schools where I intervene for writing workshops.
I’m used to conversations about football in college and high school. The students never tire of recounting the exploits of Mbappé, Benzema, Ronaldo, Messi, Ibrahimovic, Lewandowski, etc. But since January 9, the African Cup of Nations (CAN) supplants the European championships in the playgrounds and the competitions of valves which take place there daily.
When I was growing up in the suburbs in the 1980s, continental competition hardly interested anyone. I don’t remember concerts of car horns in the streets or parades to celebrate a victory. African teams emerged every four years, the time of a World Cup, then disappeared.
But the relationship to national selections has evolved. A first reason is probably sports. Many African players wear the colors of European clubs, some are world stars. It is easier to admire athletes that we follow all year round than strangers or second-rate fighters. We may recognize ourselves in a flag, the passion increases tenfold if it is embodied. Salah, Mahrez, Mané, Hakimi, Aubameyang, etc., draw attention to their team, but also to the entire African tournament, in the same way that the transfer of Messi to PSG has enhanced the whole of Ligue 1.
This is not enough to explain the enthusiasm around African selections. We saw it during the Arab Cup, which took place without stars. Intermittent competition, it had been entitled until then only to a relatively indifferent reception. Algeria’s victory in the 2021 edition caused the crowd to overflow onto the Champs-Elysées, where it was nevertheless prohibited. The way of claiming one’s identity has changed. Pride in one’s origin is not greater, but it is more visible.
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