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The counterpart of the European Championships of the UEFA, the African Nations Cup will take place in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea from the 21st of January until the 12th of February. The first two matches already took place yesterday: Equatorial Guinea won 1-0 against Libya and Senegal lost 1-2 against Zambia. It’s only the second time that such a big African competition is staged by two countries. In 2000, Ghana and Nigeria hosted the CAF which was won by Cameroon. This year, many big teams such as Cameroon, Egypt and Nigeria aren’t among the 16 teams of the final tournament what can be considered as a big surprise. An even bigger surprise though, are the teams that are playing instead of those top-class teams such as Libya, Botswana and Niger. The favorites of this year’s CAF are undoubtedly the Ivory Coast, Morocco, Senegal and Ghana.
All those underdogs create a tension because it could be that the big teams will underestimate them. They better don’t because the little ones highly deserve their starting place. Guinea, for example, has kicked Nigeria out in the qualification matches. Nigeria has won the African Nations Cup twice and played at the World Cup 2010 in South Africa. Just saying… Libya has come through the difficult qualifications despite the difficulties (civil war, Ghadafi etc.) in their home country. The favorites should be aware of the Sudan as well who benefit from the very good performances of Al-Hilal and Al-Merreikh in continental competitions. There are also some new teams that haven’t been part of the CAF for a long time: Equatorial Guinea, Niger and Botswana. Those teams mainly want to get some points to ascend in the hierarchy of African football.
As already mentioned above, Morocco, Senegal, the Ivory Coast and Ghana are considered as the four strongest teams of the CAF 2012. Some experts, e.g. Patrick Mboma, who played for Paris Saint-Germain and FC Sunderland (among other clubs) and won the CAF twice with Cameroon in 2000 and 2002, say that Morocco was the frontrunner for the title. Actually Eric Gerets, an old acquaintance of the Bundesliga and manager of the Moroccan national team adores the offensive game and thus Morocco’s offense is very strong. Their best players are playing in Europe but also in the own league and they are pretty well organized.
After only North-African teams have won the CAF in the past 8 years (Tunisia in 2004, Egypt in 2006, 2008 and 2010), many experts are expecting a sub-Saharan winner. The Ivory Coast has one of the best forward lines in the world with Didier Drogba (Chelsea), Yaya Touré (Manchester City), Seydou Doumbia (CSKA Moscow) and Gervinho (Arsenal). All those players and their team mates can show the world masterstrokes that let the spectators go nuts but they can also turn into the most selfish group of players ever. Just like in every African team, jealousy looms large between the stars playing in Europe and the players of domestic or African leagues.
Senegal who has an amazing forward line as well with players like Papiss Demba Cissé, Demba Ba (both Newcastle United), Moussa Sow (Lille), Mamadou Niang (Al Sadd) and Dame N’Doye (FC Copenhagen). They haven’t lost any of their qualification matches and kicked out Cameroon. But they have similar problems as the Ivory Coast as seen yesterday when they lost 1-2 against Zambia.
Ghana, runner-up of the CAF 2010 and quarter-finalist of the World Cup in the same year have less individual strong players but their team spirit is all the more better and stronger than the one of Morocco, the Ivory Coast or Senegal.
Other teams that could surprise those Big Four are Tunisia that qualified for the continental championships after a sensational comeback, Zambia that rarely fails in the final stage (as seen yesterday against the favorites from Senegal), Burkina Faso with its trio Pitroipa-Kaboré-Traoré and Mali where Barca’s midfielder Seydou Keita is doing a great job. Mali has lost Frédéric Kanouté (end of his international career) and Mahmadou Diarra who is a free agent at the moment, therefore he’s lacking match practice and hadn’t been nominated.
African football has lots of problems off the pitch. The organization of the CAF has been a disaster since ever, the big teams are advantaged and the little ones struggle to even get to their training ground. Recently, Sudan’s manager has complained that his team had to travel more than one hour to the training ground, would only sleep in a simple bar whilst the Ivorian squad resides in a luxurious hotel and only has to travel 15 minutes to their training ground. Furthermore the politics is pretty much involved in the African football. It has already happened that two teams have booted each other just because of political situation between their countries. Some politicians even want to decide about the starting line-ups (the members of their clan are being benefited and so on, many ethnic reasons) and the tactics. Many managers have already left their federations because of that. So did Henri Michel, the former French coach of the Ivory Coast. Meanwhile though, many federations do trust native managers such as the Ivory Coast (François Zahoui) and Senegal (Amara Traoré) what is a good sign for the African football.
Thank you a lot for reading my article, I hope you enjoyed it and are willing to write a comment and write it! Have a nice Sunday evening!
PS: I’m going to write a lot about the CAF in the upcoming days and weeks.