Africa football heavyweights have been preparing feverishly with friendly games even as the competition gets set to begin on January 19.
Giants; Ghana, Nigeria and the Ivory Coast who many see as favourites, were all in action this week in the lead up to the 29th AFCON tournament in South Africa.
Defending champions, Zambia, who have been struggling to find their rhythm in recent games came up against European side Norway in Ndola on Saturday and failed yet again to find a more positive result. They played out a 0-0 draw with Norwa; their fourth straight game without finding the back of the net. Unless their form improves drasticly a repeat of last years romance looks like a pipe dream for Zambia.
After the game, captain of the side and reigning BBC African footballer of the year, Christopher Katongo mentioned that his side are satisfied with their preparation thus far and the Chipolopolo of Zambia will be ready to defend their crown despite not winning a single game in the lead up to their January 21st clash with Ethiopia in Rustenburg.
The Black Stars of Ghana, who have been at the Zayed Sports Complex in far away Abu Dhabi preparing for the competition, have recorded some impressive results in recent times as they fine tune the team for the tourney, having come so close, yet so far, in recent tournaments. After beating seven times champions, Pharoahs of Egypt 3-0 in their training base on Thursday, January 10, the Black Stars stepped up their game by firing four past the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia after falling behind 2-0 in the game.
Al Ain striker and captain of the side, Asamoah Gyan once again came from the bench to score the Stars’ third goal after defenders John Boye and Mubarak Wakaso had put the Black Stars back in the game. Bristol City midfielder, Adomah got the other goal. The four time champions, Black Stars, have thereby recorded two victories from their two preparatory games, scoring some seven goals and conceding just two, looking in fine form in the build up to this much anticipated tournament.
Hosts, South Africa were unable to beat AFCON rivals, Algeria as they were held to a pulsating 0-0 draw at home. South Africa were triumphant when they last hosted the tourney in 1996 but recent performances leave much to be desired from the rainbow nation, who will want to prove to the world that they have stepped up since they hosted the 2010 World Cup.
Algerian coach, Vahid Halilhodzic however had some praise for the host nation after their barren game saying the hosts “are a good team, composed of great players who are also skillful.”
South Africa will play the first game of the tourney against Cape Verde at Johannesburg on Saturday, January 19.
The Super Eagles of Nigeria on Saturday rounded up their preparations for the tourney with a friendly against Dutch side, Sparta Rotterdam in Portugal.
A solitary goal by Emenike in the 55th minute was enough to ensure that the West African side went to South Africa in full confidence ready to exhibit their attacking brand of football that they are so much known for.
Hot favourites for the AFCON title, Ivory Coast like their West African rivals, Ghana, wrapped up preparation for the tourney after beating the Pharaohs of Egypt 4-2 in Abu Dhabi on Monday afternoon.
Two goals from Arsenal striker, Gervinho and one each from Lacina Traore and Didier Ya Konan ensured that the
Elephants outclassed Egypt who took the lead through a Mohamed Aboutrika header earlier in the game.
Gedo had pulled a goal back for Egypt in the 60th minute hoping for a more positive score when the score was at 3-1 but Ya Konan made victory certain with the final nail in the coffin eight minutes from the end of the game.
Seven times champions, Egypt who lost the game 2-4 will not make it to South Africa after failing to qualify for the African showpiece.
The Africa Cup of Nations brings sixteen teams together to battle for ultimate glory. The Chipolopolo of Zambia are the current champions after winning the competition in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea in the 2012 edition of the tourney.
By Benjamin Agyei-Boateng (@AngeloBenjy)