The African Nations Cup 2015 in Equatorial Guinea kicks off in a matter of hours and majority of the attention is on the scourge of Ebola. A competition that threatened to evaporate over the health concerns would finally kick off amongst the same fears. Morocco were kicked out of the tournament by CAF for strong arming them into postponing the showpiece event. Step in Equatorial Guinea and step in relief, many fans would not have contained their anger should the tournament have been moved.
For many Nigerians, motivation isn’t at its peak due to the Super Eagles failure to qualify as defending champions. Truth be told one thing is certain come February we would have new champions of Africa. It a shame really but it shouldn’t come as a shock. Much internal ramblings that led to the coach Stephen Keshi being fired by the NFF and then re-instated by the President of the Nation was maybe an insight into the turmoil that gulfed Nigerian football. The next time they would compete on the continent would be in 2017…..if they qualify.
The best 16 teams would do battle for the ultimate prize as well as the continent’s best players. Newly crowned African player of the year Yaya Toure would be looking to lead, what might be a last charge for this golden generation of Ivorian stars, to the title for the first time in over two decades. Top ranked Algeria, who are in the world’s top 20, must ensure their performance at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil was no fluke and unleash their best players on the tournament.
Well maybe we could call them defending runners-up of the Nation Cup or not but Burkina Faso come into this competition with a lot more expected from them than the last time out. They are paired alongside host Equatorial Guinea, 2012 co-host Gabon and Congo who knocked out Nigeria. Over the last few years we have seen an emergence of stars from the Burkinabes and those players would look to go one further than the last time. Paul Putt has a well-structured team and with top scorer in the whole of qualifying Jonathan Pitroipa, he has a player who can lead the attack and get them the goals needed. Gabon were paired and finished above Burkina Faso in qualifying and that should give them massive confidence against the best side in the group on paper.
For Equatorial Guinea the chance to host the tournament also brought with it the chance to play in it. They had long been ousted from the qualifying process. Hosting a competition does wonders for a team’s confidence (ask South Africa who hosted in 1996) and Equatorial Guinea would aim to capitalise on that. Congo became the first team in 33 years to win a qualifying match in Nigeria and with Coach Claude Le Roy are the dark horses in the group.
Former Champions Tunisia and Zambia are in this group with recent new comers Cape Verde and DR Congo. Zambia won the tournament in 2012 but their reign lasted only a year due to the re-organization by CAF of the year in which the tournament takes place. Captain and top scorer Christopher Katongo would sit out this one as coach Honor Janza fields a young and new team. Only eight players from their triumph in 2012 are in this squad. Experience is key for the coach who was assistant to Herve Renard when the team lifted the trophy.
Tunisia probably qualified through the toughest group to get here, edging Senegal and Egypt along the way. The Cartage Eagles have been in fine form and memories of 2004 linger in the squad to perhaps nudge them towards the trophy again. Cape Verde are the dark horses after impressing on their debut two years ago. An excellent blend of skilful football and a young coach in Luis Antunes can inspire the team past the group stages again. DR Congo are a team filled with stars from the TP Mazembe side, none more than goalkeeper Robert Kidiaba who should his team score again would get into that bum-bouncing celebration he made famous at the Club World Cup a couple of years ago. Experience is key for this team with Coach Florent Ibenge, who was an assistant to Claude Le Roy and also coach of CAF Champions league finalist AS Vita, providing that at the highest level. Certainly no team can be written off in this one.
This is the ultimate group of death, comprising of Ghana, Algeria, South Africa and Senegal. Algeria should be the favourites to progress but North African teams always struggles south of the sahara due to the heat and conditions, that might prove to be a stumbling block latter on in the competition. South Africa have been rejuvenated under coach Shakes Mashaba, playing an exciting brand of football. They have finally qualified for a tournament whilst not hosting it and in doing so not losing a single game against Nigeria in qualifying, which at a point was deemed impossible. Youth is on their side coupled with an experienced manager but they would have to be dark horses in this one behind Ghana and Algeria.
Ghana have won the competiton four times in their history but not since the 1980s, star player Asamoah Gyan would want to do so before he hangs up his boots on the international scene. Controversial players Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari have been left out of the squad as well as Qwadwo Asamoah due to injury. It would be Coach Avram Grant’s first chance to test his ability on the African continent. Senegal have always flattered to deceive only making the final of the showpiece once when they had an array of stars including El-hadji Diouf. They have had similar stars over the last few years but have still not lived up to our expectations. This competition shouldn’t be any different for them more so giving the group they find themselves in.
Also a very tough group Cameroun find themselves facing up to arch rival Ivory Coast again. Having met in qualify the Indomitable Lions must be confident of their chances against another team who has failed to live up to its name in the competition over the years. Cameroun defeated the Elephants and all their stars a resounding 4-1 in Yahounde during qualifying. It’s probably the last chance for Yaya Toure and the likes to get their hands on that trophy. Not much is needed to be said about Ivory Coast, they have a manager who has won the tournament before in Herve Renard and players who have won major trophies in Europe, nothing but a victory here would suffice.
Mali and Guinea are both dark horses although their chances appear slim at best. Mali after reaching the semi-final last time out must push their old legs to take them as far as possible. Guinea probably should be given real credit for qualifying for the tournament despite playing all their home matches in Morocco away from their fans.
Bottom line, there might be many stars of African football missing at this show piece and some big teams but never has there been an opportunity for us to welcome new stars unto the global stage than now. You might just see many of this players dawning the shirt of your favourite teams across Europe come the summer.