The Africa cup of nation which is the biggest football tournament in Africa, will kick off in South Africa from January 19th to February 10th 2013, promising to be an incredibly exciting tournament.
As always the case at the AFCON, last year was filled with some beautiful football, great goals, drama and passion. Zambia surprisingly emerged as winners of the last edition after defeating favourites Ivory Coast in the final. The last time they reached the final was in 1994, just a year after 18 of their national team members died in a plane crash as they took off from the Gabonese capital Libreville. For Zambian football it was a devastating plane crash. Coincidentally last year final also took place in Gabon. Media reported it would be a David versus Goliath clash and most of them were in favour of Ivory Coast winning the competition. Few left Zambia a chance to win, but after a crucial penalty miss from Didier Drogba the final ended goalless. Zambia played with passion and a die for your country attitude. This was enough to win the trophy after a dramatic penalty shoot-out. Finally Zambia exploded in joy and celebrated an emotional victory in memory of their team mates that died in 1993.
Africa has produced some of the best footballers in the world with the likes George Weah from Liberia, who is the only African player to have won the Fifa world player of the year (1995). These days Africa produces star players like Yaya Toure of Manchester City, Chelsea legend Didier Drogba who scored Chelsea’s winning goal in the champion’s league final last year. They can also boast of upcoming talents like Morocco’s Younès Belhanda and Ghana´s young star Christian Atsu. Little wonder top scouts in European football were often spotted in the past tournament, scouting on some of the best footballers Africa has at their disposal.
In the 2008 edition of the AFCON hosted by Ghana, BBC reported that three quarters of Premier League clubs had sent scouts to watch the tournament. This shows how important clubs in Europe rate the tournament.
The two best teams in each group will proceed to the quarter finals. The group games will be played in 5 different host cites in South Africa and the winner of the tournament will go ahead to represent the continent at the 2013 Fifa Confederations Cup.
South Africa, Cape Verde, Morocco, Angola
This is a very tricky group. South Africa, Morocco and Angola will fancy their chances of reaching the next stage.
Cape Verde, a small country with a population of about 500,000, are making their first appearance at the AFCON but cannot be taken for granted. They caused one of the biggest ever upsets in Nations Cup qualifier’s by knocking out one of Africa football giant, Cameroon. Remember Cameroon were the first African team to reach the quarter finals at the world cup; they also have qualified for the world cup more than any other African team. In FIFA’s football rankings for November 2012, Cape Verde came in at 63rd place, ahead of nations such as Austria and Scotland.
Players to watch out for:
Ryan Isaac Mendes ( Lille, France) Jose ‘Ze’ Luis (Braga, Portugal)
South Africa hosted the world cup in 2010 and can boast of some of the best stadium´s in the world. They failed to qualify for the last edition of the AFCON, this year they
qualified automatically as the host. They will fancy their chances of qualifying from this group as host. The only time South Africa won the tournament was in 1996 when they hosted it, they were runners up in 1998 and third in 2000. Will history repeat itself? Only time will tell.
Players to watch out for:
Siphiwe Tshabalala (Kaizer Chiefs, South Africa) Bongani Khumalo (PAOK, Greece on loan from Tottenham Hotspur)
Morocco hold the record as the first African team to win a group at the World Cup, they are a force to reckon with when it comes to African football. This is their 15th appearances in the AFCON which they have won once and that was in 1976. QPR star, Adel Taarabt and former Arsenal forward Marouane Chamakh, were dropped from the squad that will represent them at the tournament, I can understand that as Marouane Chamakh wasn’t playing much at Arsenal so maybe a good reason not to have included him in the squad; Adel Taarabt who has been in fine form for Queens Park Rangers came as a surprise to most football pundits.
Players to watch out for:
Mehdi Benatia (Udinese, Italy) Abdelaziz Barrada’s (Getafe, Spain)
Angola qualified for their first African Cup of Nations in 1996 which was the same year South Africa hosted and won the tournament. In 2006 they qualified for the world cup for the first time ahead of favourites Nigeria; they lost their first game to Portugal and drew their last two games against Mexico and Iran. A win in their last game against Iran could have seen them qualify for the next round of the world cup. Most of the players from that era are retired, but they presently have a team mixed with young and experienced players.
Player to watch out for:
Mauncho (Real Valladolid, Spain)
As the tournament approaches, there are many questions craving for answers. Can Zambia defend the trophy? Can Ivory Coast who parades some of the best footballers in the world live up to their potentials by winning the trophy? Or Nigeria who missed out on the last edition come back stronger to prove they are a force to reckon with in African football? What about Ghana who parade some of the best upcoming talents in world football. These are few of the many questions that will be left unanswered until the tournament kicks off and come to an end in February.
Follow Victor on Twitter here: @MarinFan