Sixteen teams will be competing on equal grounds in the Africa Cup of Nations football tournament starting from January 17. But who among the competitors will lift the crown from Super Eagles of Nigeria, who failed to qualify for the tournament? The answer is blowing in the wind until February 8 finals is played
| By Anayo Ezugwu | Jan. 26, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT |
THE 30th edition of the Africa Cup of Nations, Afcon, is starting in Equatorial Guinea, from January 17 to end February 8 without the Super Eagles of Nigeria, the reigning champions. Sixteen countries including Ghana, Algeria, Tunisia, Cote d’Ivoire and Cameroon are fielding their national teams in the competition which will engage the attention of all soccer fans across Africa especially in Nigeria where some people are still mourning the absence of Nigeria, as defending champions in the game because the Super Eagles failed to qualify.
With the absence of Super Eagles, other competitors will fight to clinch the trophy. Based on the predictions of the football watchers, any of the teams competing could win the tournament but the most favoured are from Ghana, Algeria, Tunisia, Core D’ Ivoire and Cameroun while a dark house could emerge from the remaining 11 teams.
But football is not easy to predict even by the bookmakers because the game of soccer is not always won by the best but the most organised team. Organisation on and off the football field is hugely important in football tournaments like Afcon and explains why Zambia national team won the tournament in 2012 not because it could boast of stars but because of coordination. Herve Renard, former coach of the team, got the team a playing system and he equally sorted out logistical issues like hotels and transport, and made things as easy as possible for his team so that they could not be distracted but concentrate fully on the game.
Likewise when Nigeria won the trophy if failed to defend, it wasn’t the strongest side, but Stephen Keshi, coach of the Super Eagles, had them very well drilled. He made it very clear early on that if any player step out of line then he would drop him. He didn’t pander to egos. It made him very unpopular, of course, but he won the tournament. With this new trend, there is a recognition that organisation is vital in football tournaments. This indicates that any of the participating 16 nations can write its name in the anal of African football as the winner when the champions of the 30th edition of Afcon are crowned at the Nuevo Estadio de Malabo.
The performance of Cote d’Ivoire in the last three editions of the tournament and the formidableness of the team has made analysts to favour them to be the champions. The country currently parades the best of African exports in European football, including, Yaya Toure, arguably the most talented African player in the Premier League and currently Africa’s player of the year for the fourth time in succession. Toure is a match-winner and an enterprising footballer, who has demonstrated industry, and leadership qualities in the field of play. But the Cote d’Ivoire team will travel to Equatorial Guinea, without Didier Drogba, who retired from international football after the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
Cote d’Ivoire had lost two previous Africa Cup finals it played in the last decade, but analysts are, however, worried that having been the favourites in the past three editions and failed to live up to the billing, more pressures are being placed on the team to perform. If, indeed, the team were in its best in the last edition when it was also favourites and still could not get the job done, analysts now wonder what the Cote d’Ivoire would do now that they have passed their prime. But failure is what the aging golden generation of Cote d’Ivoire team would not like to contemplate as it fights for honour in Equatorial Guinea.
Should Cote d’Ivoire fail to carry the Afcon cup, Algeria is the next best team expected to do so because of its performance at the World Cup in Brazil. Samir Nasri, former France international and Manchester City of England midfielder, told Supersports that Algeria would win. “I really appreciated Algeria’s outing at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. It was widely unexpected and many people were stunned. They almost knocked out the eventual winners, Germany. It was awesome and I was greatly flattered. I can confirm that Algeria have progressed under new coach Christian Gourcuff. I have been following the team and I can boldly tip them to lift the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations trophy. Algeria will battle Senegal, Ghana and South Africa in Group C,” he said.
But Austin “Jay Jay” Okocha, former Nigeria international, told Supersports that he is not envisaging any surprises at the Afcon. He believed Ghana, Tunisia, Algeria or Cote d’Ivoire, would win the tournament. He said the 2012 Afcon saw a determined Zambia emerge as surprise winners but doubted if they could repeat that feat at the Equatorial Guinea tournament. “I do expect no surprises during this Afcon, as was the case in 2012 when Zambia won the trophy. “For me, the favourites are Algeria, Ghana, Tunisia and Ivory Coast who for some time now have always been tipped to win the Afcon,” he said. Okocha is, however, baffled that “The Ivorians have a team of talented players. I do not understand how they keep missing the trophy every time. Maybe 2015 will be good for them.”
Assessing Algeria’s chances in the group of death, Okocha said the widely tipped favourites could go all the way. “Algeria is likely to advance to the quarterfinals. I would say the team has the chance to win the African Cup. We saw how well they performed at the last World Cup advancing to the last 16 was a respectable achievement. Algeria also had a very good run in the Afcon qualifying which shows continuity,” he said.
Following on the heels of Algeria as favourites are the Black Stars of Ghana. Going by this year’s tournament, Ghana is one of the most successful. The Black Stars have won the tournament four times, placed second once in 2010, won bronze in 2008 and came fourth in 2012 and 2013. Although their records in pre-tournament friendly matches were not impressive, they have the capacity and determination to rise to any occasion. Also, with the present crop of young stars in the squad, Ghana is good enough to win the cup, but its inexperienced youngsters will need a little bit of luck and grit determination to succeed. Even if they fail in their bid, they would have shown enough to tell the world that they are no pushovers.
Leading the pack of dark horses in the tournament is South Africa. The Bafana Bafana has continued its steady, with big achievement of qualifying ahead of Nigeria, the defending champions. Although the national team has not been doing very well since the disappointment of not making it past the first round of the 2010 World Cup and Afcon 2013, which the country hosted, analysts say it could ride on the tide of emotive support if it gets off to a good start and win over sceptical fans.
Prominent among other underdogs are Equatorial Guinea, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Congo and Cape Verde. Others are Senegal, Mali, Cameroon and Guinea. Winners and runners-up in the four mini-leagues usually advance to the quarterfinals. Indeed, all the favourites and the so-called dark horses, have a chance to win the tournament, but whoever wins the championship on February 8, would have gone through the grit, anxiety to produce spectacular performances with a bit of luck.