Amidst the worst economic and social crisis Spain can remember, there is an iconic institution living its most glorious days. The Spanish national football team, commonly remembered in the past for sour losses and unforgettable mistakes, has taken world football by storm after winning a World Cup and two European Championships in the last five years. This indisputable success of a golden generation of players has raised the team to such heights of praise and public importance that any criticism is rare.
The knockout phase of the Cup of Nations started this weekend and by next Sunday we’ll have a new champion. Events in Port Said, along with the Zimbabwean match-fixing scandal have made it a dreadful week for African football–but there has not been any question of postponing the remaining fixtures. The quarter-final line-up is without the tournament’s biggest losers, Senegal. Morocco and Angola also miss out. Earlier today red-hot Zambia played Sudan (in the end, Sudan came up short) and hosts Equatorial Guinea take on favorites Côte d’Ivoire as I am writing. The two major surprise quarterfinalists are Equatorial Guinea and Sudan, but they have very different back-stories.
In May 2000 The Economist ran a cover story: “Africa. The Hopeless Continent.” People talked about it for a while afterward. It spawned countless op-eds about Afro-pessimism and -optimism. It even became the basis for “Contemporary African Politics” college courses for a while. Now last week, they ran a feature cover where the magazine predict a more hopeful scenario for the continent’s 54 states.