Africa Cup of Nations 2012 preview
Once upon a time, African football was dominated by the likes of Nigeria, Cameroon and South Africa. Past footballing icons from the aforementioned include Jay-Jay Okocha, Patrick M’boma and Mark Fish. However, the African Cup of Nations this year symbolises a power shift in football across the continent.
The three countries are nowhere to be seen in Gabon or The Republic of Equatorial Guinea, whilst Egypt, winners of the last three tournaments, also went out at the qualifying stage. Instead, we see countries such as Botswana and Niger competing in the tournament for the first time.
However, despite the presence of debutants, there are still a number of teams that fans of African football will be familiar with.
The Ivory Coast come into the tournament as favourites, at 6/4 with most bookmakers, and possess several Premier League superstars. The ability of the ‘Elephants’ current squad is apparent with just their reserve goalkeeper, Daniel Yeboah, the only player to not ply his trade in Europe. The 1992 winners will be bitterly disappointed should they not make the final this time around, despite what recent history may suggest.
Didier Drogba spearheads their attack, and with the likes of Yaya Toure, Gevinho and Salomon Kalou all supporting the 33-year-old in attack, it’s no wonder they are ranked 20th in the FIFA world coefficient rankings.
Ghana, second favourites for the tournament at 4/1, find themselves drawn in a tough group, however they will be expected to progress and make a significant contribution to this year’s event. The 2010 finalists will be without their most recognisable name, Michael Essien of Chelsea, who continues to fully recover from his long-term injury; however, they still hold a number of decent players in their ranks. The Ayew brothers from Olympique de Marseille provide energy, whilst Asamoah Gyan, John Mensah and Sulley Muntari can all provide a bright spark when needed.
However the tournament isn’t just about the top African countries fighting for a trophy, or the best players from the continent showcasing their skills trying to earn a big move to one of the world’s best clubs. In this year’s event, there are several smaller stories that may not be as well documented, but are just as important.
Libya, a country recently surrounded by hostility and violence, overcame the struggles of national conflict by defying the odds on the football pitch and qualifying for the event.
The side, represented under a new flag, a new national anthem, and a new strip had a squad unity, despite the country’s fighting ripping the motherland in two.
And now, after an unbeaten qualification process, many are hopeful the team have a chance of performing well, and emulating the 1982 squad that came second in the tournament.
Co-hosts, Equatorial Guinea, enter their first ever African Nations, and the son of long-serving president Teodoro Obiang Nguema, has promised that should the ‘National Lightening’ come out victorious in their opening match against Libya, the squad can share a one million dollar win bonus.
They start the tournament as the lowest ranked side, lying 151st in FIFA’s ranking system, and they’ll be looking to overturn the 2-1 loss they suffered to Libya during the 2014 world cup qualifying fixture with the morale boosting lift the news has given the national team’s camp.
As much as each country wants to reach the final, they will all have a realistic ambition, and making their home country proud will be amongst the top goals on their list. Not all are blessed with an array of talent, but African football is about celebration, unity, and atmosphere, as it was shown just two years ago in the 2010 South African World Cup.
Whether it may be celebrating with the trophy in Gabon on 12th February, pocketing a substantial amount of money by making a country proud with a win, or celebrating a togetherness in a nation through the means of football rather than seeing a country ripped apart by war, this year’s African Nations look set to create tales, in one way or another, that may be passed on to generations for years.
The Africa Cup of Nations 2012 starts on 21st January