The greatest African showpiece is back and this time the excitement is not any different albeit the absence of several football powerhouses’. Egypt, Cameroon and company will be missing but not in any way will the flavor, passion and the spice African football carries with it be missing. This is the stage where several great African names make their mark, from the likes of Samuel E’to, Djibril Cisse , Rigobert Song, Mohhamed Aboutrika , super sub Mido, Niang’ Mama to the likes of the current generation Asamoah gyan, Jordan Ayew, Barcelona’s Keita just to mention a few proves the AFCON aint going to stop carving out great talent any soon.
A quick look at the teams that will be participating in the showpiece, you quickly realize that youth and flair rules African football for the moment. Most teams are bringing youth into the tournament and the ‘big boys’ as I am fond of refereeing to them are conspicuously missing and will contend with having to sit back on the sofa like me and watch the new boys do their thing in Gabon and Equatorial guinea.
Looking at the teams again, I’m so torn in between three teams to carry the trophy home. Ivory Coast, Ghana and Senegal in no particular order for me are the favourites to win this tournament. This does not mean locking out any team I have not mentioned among my top three. Ivory Coast did not loose any game on their way to this showpiece; this already gives them a psychological advantage going into the group stages. I really don’t expect them to struggle at the group stage. Sudan the ‘surprise package’ of the tournament should comfortably see off Burkina Faso (with all due respect) and maybe fight for second place with Angola. The strike force of Ivory Coast is fearsome, Gervinho, Drogba and Kalou doing the damage. The first match should be so crucial; Sudan is able of causing upsets to any team, the CECAFA tournament recently showed that. Yaya Toure gives the steel in the middle of the park and his brother Kolo Toure at the defence should assist Eboue and Sol Bamba at the backline. Ivory’s answer to Ghana’s Essien Check Tiote going by recent performances should be a gem in Ivory Coasts’ quest for the trophy.
One wonders what Ghana’s coach has in mind coming into this tournament. Could it be lots of defensive work plans to employ or is he expecting his team to ride on Gyan’s impressive penalty record? Coming into this tournament with a not so fit Gyan, dropping Kingsley the preferred number man between the sticks and such a talented midfield leaves a lot to be desired. He only comes with three strikers what could cost him amidst the array of talent he boasts in midfield in the names of the Ayew brothers, Soulley Muntari (the man who can shoot from any distance), Kwedo Asamoah and Derek Boateng. No real big names at the back, but that’s Ghana for you, no big names but the results is what matter, should they go through and win it, I wont be so surprised but I don’t see them just doing it. Botswana, Mali and Guinea should be easy for them, I bet on Mali to take second place and let God take care of the rest.
The most exciting squad to watch for me is Senegal. What do you think of the names, Ba, Moussa Sow (New Newcastle recruit), Papiss Cisse and Captain Mamadou Niang’? Goals, goals and more goals. This is the new face of Senegalese football. The midfield is not so familiar to most of us as well as the defense which to me is so French oriented. Diawara, Ludovic Sane alongside other defenders including Armand Traore of QPR should be exciting to see how they will line up. The goalkeeping department is what worries me most; Khadim Ndiaye should fight for his place with Bouna Coundoul who’s a free agent (not something good for a goalkeeper). Otherwise they should comfortably see off Equitorial guinea, Zambia (another emerging powerhouse) and Libya. The tournament wont be fair to the hosts if it ended with them knocked out, the 12th man should help them qualify directly other than wait for the two slots awarded to the best loosers.
Chamakh, Abdel Taarabt and company shall be failures should they not guide their country to at least a quarter final place. At the defense, players I would love to watch are Mehdi Benatia and El Khadourri. The midfield is not one I would really want to speculate about, but taarabt should help bring the high ball for Chamakh to head in. Youssuff Hadji too should get his Rennes runs and probably nick a goal or two for the North Africans. Tunisia another Giant should provide stiff competition ahead of Niger and Gabon. Whoever gets first and second position in this group is not to be speculated. 270 minutes of football should shape the table standings for me; some barren draws expected too taking into account the cautious nature of these teams.
One way or the other, my firm faith is that officiating, an aspect that has been questioned at some times in previous tournaments be improved. It hurts the reputation of the game and the players/officials involved. Controversies are bound to arise in several aspects especially at the knockout phases, level headedness; concentration and never say die attitude should bring to the table the best AFCON tournament the world will witness in a long while in recent times. Finally, my thoughts ahead of the tourney is that the midfield will win the games for any team, long range shots are not bound to be any fewer and poor goalkeeping is something Africa really needs to improve on. On a lighter note, you want to see the craziest celebrations, wait for the goals, you wanna see tears and smiles, wait for knockouts, you want to see football wait for the Africa Cup of nations and you want to see Africa? This is Africa.