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Fri. Jul 19th, 2024
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Mory Kouyate, Charles Cooper Jr., and Ambroise Ngande from AAC present Guinea with championship of tournament.

If there’s one way to bring the people from the various countries of Africa together then soccer is the way to go. This has been proven tried and true in the Bronx for the last four years with the African Advisory Council (AAC) soccer tournament leading up to Bronx Week.

Every Saturday and Sunday at Macomb Dam Park with Yankees Stadium as its back drop you will be at a soccer game but feel like you’re surrounded by old friends and family. Men and women are congregating along the field and in the stands talking amongst themselves enjoying the game in front of them.

“The African Advisory Council was trying to find an element to bring Africans all together and in our home country the only thing that doesn’t have boundaries is soccer,” said Ambroise Ngande, Director of the AAC soccer tournament and chairman of social community of AAC.

This year’s soccer tournament has grown from a modest four teams in 2010 to 20 teams this year representing several countries in Africa. The top eight teams: Ghana, Togo, Mali, Zimbabwe, Liberia, Guinea, Gambia, and Burkina Faso.

The planning for the tournament started as early as January this year with each team needing 22 players to qualify. When new countries wanted to start their own team word of mouth and Facebook helped bring players from that country together.

“As the quarter finals start the crowd was anticipated to get bigger, especially as the weather got warmer. “When we get into the playoff the place will be packed,” said Ngande in the beginning of the tournament.

Despite the rain and cold weather the first three weekends had a good turnout leading up to the finals. Depending on the teams playing the crowds were bigger than others. Cameroon was one of the teams with a larger crowd.

“Were supporting our country playing and they won and we’re happy,” said Felix Ebodetsaga, from Cameroon, with excitement during the second week.

“We come to support our son and young brothers,” said Victor Mekang, as the two watched the games from the sideline along with the other men around.

By the final game the crowds were huge leaving Ngande surprised at its outcome. “This is more than what I expected; this crowd is unbelievable,” said Ngande.

The tournament brought together Africans from all the different communities to enjoy the games and meet new people along with seeing old friends.

“Everyone comes together just having fun,” said Baffour Acheampong, coach for the Ghana team while enjoying the other teams play on a Sunday. “I just love meeting my other friends and former colleague players from different countries; just the camaraderie, it’s a beautiful thing.”

It’s a time to be social.“We don’t come just for the soccer,” said Ebodetsaga.

Watching the games as a community is what it’s really about for those who come out to enjoy themselves.

“Watching the game with other communities we have more fun,” said Mekang.

Although rooting for their home team goes without saying, “we watch the whole tournament with the other teams but we only support our team, Cameroon,” said Ebodetsaga.

Cameroon did really well in the tournament, but unlike Ghana didn’t make it to the semi-finals this year.  Ghana was a popular team because it’s the previous year’s winners against Senegal.

Acheampong, former soccer player, attributes his team’s success to discipline. Discipline for him has nothing to do with athleticism, but everything to do with self control and respect in showing great sportsmanship.

“Not fighting on the court or cursing people,” he said when describing the discipline of his team. “On the Ghana team I don’t tolerate that because we are representing a nation so one bad apple expose a whole lot.”

This type of discipline has been successful for his team in the last three years as champions, and performance also plays its part. The 22 players comprised of former national, youth, semi-national, and college players along with mature players.

Observing the others teams playing Ghana’s coach thought that Gambia was its biggest competition this year, noticing they have the discipline and performance to potentially see them in the final game on May 17.

“If [Gambia] make it to the semi-finals I’m anticipating playing them in the finals. It’s going to happen,” said Acheampong, feeling very sure about his prediction, but Guinea, Burkina Faso, and Zimbabwe were the final four teams.

Guinea ended up being his competition in the semi-finals, and knocked Ghana out of the tournament completely.

Last year, Guinea made it to the semi-finals with its at the time temporary coach, Alpha Jollah, he continued to coach them this year and they were able to win and break Ghana’s winning streak. In the final game they faced Burkina Faso, another strong team, but an underdog in this year’s tournament.

Overall, this year’s tournament was a huge success this year and had an unexpected ending with Guinea taking home the title with a score 2-1.

“It’s been a complete success this year,” said Mory Kouyate, community liaison for AAC. “It was a complete team effort to make it successful this year,” said Kouyate, attributing social media effort, individual teams, and AAC members for spreading the word about the games.

One thing for sure is that the growing success of the tournament is bringing interest in something more long term for the African community to enjoy soccer.

“We want to form an African team from the best 25 players that can now be able to compete on a different level for competition on a permanent team that we can expose all year around,” said Ngande.

“Hopefully we will maintain this for years to come because it’s good for the community,” Kouyate.

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