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Absences leave 2012 Africa Cup of Nations wide open

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Piers Edwards | 14:30 UK time, Friday, 20 January 2012

This month's Africa Cup of Nations is the most open tournament in years and as much about those that haven't made the finals in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon as about those who have.

The absence of defending champions Egypt, Cameroon and Nigeria means that the trophy will have a different name on it for the first time in 20 years - unless Tunisia win it, that is.

The Carthage Eagles, who lifted the trophy on home soil in 2004, are the only team at the finals to have won the competition since the early 1990s. In 1992, this year's favourites, Ivory Coast, beat Ghana in a final played in Senegal - and these three countries headline the leading acts at this month's tournament.

The Senegalese are the first in action, playing in Saturday's opening round of Group A matches, meaning that Newcastle United fans won't have to wait long to catch a first glimpse of their new number 9 - but whether the freescoring Papiss Demba Cisse starts against Zambia is open to question.

Senegal coach Amara Traore has top-quality strikers in the shape of Moussa Sow (last season's Lille hero who is now seemingly Fenerbahce-bound), Newcastle's Demba Ba, high-flying Montpellier forward Souleymane Camara and former Marseille man and current national captain Mamadou Niang - but five into three clearly doesn't go, so someone has to miss out.

Most bookmakers have Senegal at what seems a generous 6/1, with Ghana rated at 4/1 while Ivory Coast are the stand-out favourites at 6/4 - but whether they can handle this tag is another matter.

Ivory Coast are bookmakers' favourites, but come with a reputation as chokers

The Elephants earned a "chokers" tag following failures in 2006, 2008 and 2010 (fully deserving the label on the last occasion after they blew a 90th-minute lead in the quarter-finals against Algeria) and coach Francois Zahoui is fully aware of his side's previous mental failings, saying this week that the Ivorians' status as favourites is one "we need to manage psychologically better".

As Yaya Toure says, it's time to deliver and while Manchester City fans may hope the Elephants stumble early on so that he can help their nervy title campaign, long-suffering fans in Ivory Coast will only accept one result from this supposedly gilt-edged generation.

Any slip-up in a group containing Burkina Faso, Angola and Sudan could lead them to face Senegal in the quarters since the Teranga Lions should comfortably depose of Equatorial Guinea, Libya and Zambia in Group A. Indeed if all goes to plan, the Ivorians are set to meet likely Group D table-toppers Ghana in the Libreville final on 12 February.

The Black Stars look well-placed to win their first trophy since 1982 and enjoy that trusty blend of youth and experience - with old-timers like John Mensah and John Paintsil mixing with Asamoah Gyan (still only 26) and youngsters Andre "Dede" Ayew, Emmanuel Agyemang Badu and Kojo Asamoah (who could do with a decent finals).

Coach Goran Stevanovic - who seems to have taken over from World Cup coach Milovan Rajevac effortlessly - makes no secret of his belief that his charges have the ability to be African champions and relishes the pressure in a way Ivorians appear not to.

While these may be the major players, although Morocco's Atlas Lions (boasting Premier League names in Marouane Chamakh and Adel Taarabt) look strong too, the supporting cast is just as intriguing.

All those involved with Zambian football are feeling raw emotions as the Chipolopolo contest a finals in an area where most of the national team died in a plane crash in 1993 - the plane coming down off the coast of Gabon en route to a game in Senegal who, fittingly perhaps, Zambia meet in their opening game.

Niger are among a trio of Cup of Nations debutants, along with Botswana and co-hosts Equatorial Guinea

Libya are also set to steal many headlines as a team representing a new nation comes out in new colours, with a new nickname, anthem and flag, and boasting former rebel soldiers among their number.

The newly named Mediterranean Knights meet an incredibly limited Equatorial Guinea side in Saturday's opening match, when a team that has never come close to qualifying for the Nations Cup makes its tournament debut.

Given that they lost their last competitive match 2-1 to Madagascar - a World Cup qualifier in November - and that their coach took charge just 18 days ago, any point is going to be welcome for a side whose naturalisation of foreign players has rankled many with genuine Equatoguinean heritage in the squad.

Some have been critical of taking the tournament to Equatorial Guinea, a country that has been criticised over its human rights record, and to Gabon, which put its oil wealth to such effect that the Central African nation once had the world's highest per capita consumption of champagne.

There is also the question of how many travelling fans will actually be there, given the problems many journalists have had acquiring visas, and whether we are set for another Nations Cup where the stands are depressingly empty for any game not involving the host.

The Equatoguineans are joined by Niger and Botswana as debutants at the finals, but it will be a major upset - albeit a most welcome one - should any of them get out of their groups.

For aside, obviously, from the absence of any repeat ofa Cabinda-style tragedy, what would be most welcome at these finals would be some decent games. Too often, recent Nations Cup matches have appeared one-sided affairs - and I can only recall four games with any fondness from the last finals (where, as discussed before, teams seemed to win through not because of their class but simply because one of them had to).

From a neutral's perspective, it would enjoyable if the big teams' absence leads to a more even playing field - one where teams that go behind have the wherewithal to fight back to win (as has happened just six times in the last 68 matches) - and if a new generation of stars can seize the opportunity this power vacuum leaves.

With Samuel Eto'o, Osaze Odemwingie and Ahmed Hassan among the notable absentees, can the likes of Alain Traore and Jonathan Pitroipa (Burkina Faso), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon), Oussama Darragui (Tunisia), Modibo Maiga (Mali) and Alhassane Bangoura (Guinea) steal their thunder?


  • Comment number 1.

    Looking forward to CSKA's Moscow's Doumbia in action,

    and first post ;)

  • Comment number 2.

    Where and when can we watch tv highlights?

  • Comment number 3.

    Do the new stars include those allegedly involved in the Equitorial Guinea cash-for-passports scandal?

    Shame about Egypt this time around but I guess bigger events were taking place in that country and as for SAfrica, well we can all still laugh at that.

    Hosts will struggle, IC might win but I think Ghana this time.

  • Comment number 4.

    Ghana or Senegal

    if you put first your actually last

  • Comment number 5.

    "2. At 16:56 20th Jan 2012, celery_shtick wrote:
    Where and when can we watch tv highlights?"

    Eurosport have all the games, ITV4 has "extended" highlights and 4 live games throughout the tournament.

    Even as a Newcastle fan I for one love this tournament, it always seems to be the last place we see players we rarely get to see playing (like the World Cup used to be) in strange places where you don't generally get people going holiday with a totally different culture.

    As a toon fan I don't mind that Ba and Cisse are out because of when it's held, I hope they do get to play together to get a bond going and hope they are on fire for the late season run in.

  • Comment number 6.

    Senegal because of Cisse and ba and sow. Gabon are pretty good with manga and that pierre emerick guy

  • Comment number 7.

    Got to be Ghana for me, Andre Ayew to light the tournament up for The Black Stars, shame they don't have a fully fit Essign otherwise i think they could be more clearer favourites

  • Comment number 8.

    I for one have a bit of a emotional connection with Zambia for various reasons. I seriously hope they cause an upset against Senegal! But I think the smart money is on Ghana to win the competition.

  • Comment number 9.

    Ghana are the dons of football but Guinea will win. They have an amazing squad

  • Comment number 10.

    As long as it comes to west africa, I don't mind. Guinea or CI prefered because of proximity.

  • Comment number 11.

    @2, ACN is live on British Eurosport and highlights on ITV 4.

    Now, this indeed promises to be one of the most balanced tournaments in years. No big egos of the likes of Cameroon and Nigeria. The Ivorians for all their brilliance are not snobbish but neither are they contenders. Everyone watches the European leagues in Africa so teams have figured out how these so called big sides play no wonder why its been almost 10 years since any one has one it and that means 5 tounaments as the nations cup is bi -annual.

    We will certainly miss the industry and teamwork of the Egyptians, which has seen them dominate this tournament. But we will be in for some great entertainment, colourful fans, empty stadiums, one or two player bonus revolts and there is always something unexpected that happens.

    Far from the players mentioned here, the Nations Cup always unearths a new African name each time. Examples include Benin's Stephane Ssessagnon from last time, Egypt' Mo Zidan the one before it, Ivorian Yaya Toure in 06, Brazilian F Dos Santos in 04, Senegal's El Hadji Diouf in 02, and who can forget Lucas Radebe in 1996?

    We African know our football and love our Nations Cup. We might not be well-organised but thats the way we are. After all, not everyone is German!!!

  • Comment number 12.

    From the English fans' point of view, I'm sure there will be many who will be biting their nails in case their stars get injured. Are African nations rough on their tackles at times or is it my idea?

  • Comment number 13.

    I don't understand why a good player like Moussa Sow would want to play in Turkey. A league that has less media attention, less competition and an overall lower quality of football than the French league.

  • Comment number 14.

    #11 tgtaxi

    Enjoy your tournament, do you have any tips on who will be the star this time round?

    #9 Busquets_diving_instructor

    Why Guinea? Has Martinez gone out to Africa on loan?

  • Comment number 15.

    @14 Cos Guinea are the best. Tho Botswana, niger and Equatorial Guinea all stand a strong chance. Im gonna stick to guinea being the winners. Guinea v Niger final!. can't wait. Guinea have the strongest international team!

  • Comment number 16.

    tho even Guinea cannot compare to the brilliance and power that is Wigan Athletic. the DW stadium is full of passion and love.

  • Comment number 17.

    This present Ghana squadie is hard to break...and worse of it they are blessed with this new goalie who is on fire. I saw them take on the Brazilians at Fulham last year and they they were pretty tight. I am keen to see them, and if they perform, I shall add them to my close collection of teams.... Go Stoke City. Go Team GB. Go Ghana!

  • Comment number 18.

    Hard to the look past Ghana, Ivory Coast or Senegal. But Gabon deserve to win just for the names of their club teams...I mean Missile? and Mangasport beats Wigan any day

  • Comment number 19.

    I really think this is Ghana's time. Gyan's been on good form at Al Ain, 10 goals in 11 games I think? And with the Ayew brothers in the squad they have a fairly good chance.

    I mean I can see why the Ivory Coast are odds on, they have excellent individuals but as a whole just can't seem to gel when the time comes. Sometimes I look at the big-name players they possess and I have the impression they get complacent against 'lesser opposition' in their eyes.

    Then again I could be wrong, but that's why it's great. I'd have to agree with the Pierre-Emerick comment, he could certainly be on the shopping list of those in Europe. And for that matter no-one's been trying to snap up Pitroipa or Kaboré, always had a soft spot for their style of play.

  • Comment number 20.

    doumbia to shine, lets all raise our glasses to an unpredictable football tournament.

  • Comment number 21.

    Along the years, a number of African nations have shone in football, after the Cameroon exploits in the World Cup when they managed to get past Argentina 1-0, besides being down to 9 men. Perhaps it was the awakening call for football in Africa.

    20 years later, some of the finest footballing talent comes from this continent. I don't have a clue who will win the trophy but what I know for sure is that it's going to be fascinating and all the talent seekers in the world will be watching the games keeping notes. Let the best win.

  • Comment number 22.

    African footballers are enriching the Beautiful Game across the Planet. Like in the rest of the footballing world, we in India love watching skillful African strikers, astute midfielders and sturdy defenders in our I-League Divisions.

    Wishing the African footballers, their national teams, fans, organizers, media and the international audience an exciting 2012 Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 23.

    Best of LUCK to all the teams! I go for Libya , just like Iraq did in Asian cup, it will be wonderful to see.

  • Comment number 24.

    Best of LUCK to all the teams! I go for Libya to win, just as Iraq did in the Asian cup, go Libya go!!

  • Comment number 25.

    I fully agree with Dr Cajetan Coelho about African foorball!
    Watch out for the Eagles of Mali with Seydou Keita and their coach Alain Giresse! Allons les Aigles! Inch' Allah...

  • Comment number 26.

    @18 Nothing deserves to beat wigan!

  • Comment number 27.

    Feed the sheep and he'll go BA. Senegal to win against Cote D'Iviore in the final

  • Comment number 28.

    Should I watch any of these games on the box, the 'mute button' will be my best friend. Noty because of the commentators for once, but because of the crowd and their stuuuupid drums constantly playing.

  • Comment number 29.

    Much as I would like to see the Ivory Coast win (no I'm not Ivorian), I think the likes of Ghana and Senegal will have the hunger to see them to the final. Senegal to edge it for me, with a front-line to die for.

  • Comment number 30.

    @14, cashforhonours,

    To be quite frank, I don't know. What I can say for certain is it won't be a name we already know or one of the ones being mentioned here by the journos or those who know African football. Why that is always the case, I don't know either. That's the magic of the Cup. I remember when Nwanko Kanu burst on to the scenes in 1994, after which Jay Jay Okocha became a household name in Burkina Faso '98 then went to show his ball trickery antics at France '98. What a lovely sight it was. The only ever favourites who have gone to win the cup in the past 10-15 odd years have been Egypt, but even then sometimes they weren't even favourites e.g Angola 10 when the Ivorian collapsed like a deck of cards against the Algerians.

    @28 leeroy111

    Im afraid you are watching the wrong tournament. That is what makes it unique. Nowhere in the world will you get such an atmosphere and such drum rolling, vuvuzela playing or singng and dancing except Africa. Thats why we love our Nations Cup.

  • Comment number 31.

    From what I can plainly see ,nobody expects The Atlas Lions to win this "CAN 2012" , despite having a savvy Eric Gerets and a roster laden with talent and versatility, I'm quite sure they will be one of the surprise teams of the tournament, avoiding a disappointing result in their opening game on Monday must be their chief priority, and the nation's overwhelming reliance upon the injury-prone Oussama Saidi and co to progress to the later stages sounds perfectly legitimate this time, they're without doubt a major favourite alongside Ghana & Ivory Coast , so it baffles me a lot when people underestimate the Moroccans or consider 'em underdogs . Allez Les Lions d'Atlas !!!

  • Comment number 32.

    So in one of the most corrupt, least democratic nations on earth, its football team have won a million dollars for beating Libya 1-0. And people complain about Premier League footballers - it makes one wonder.

  • Comment number 33.

    @32, But the fundamental difference is the money comes from OIL which is an abundant NATURAL resource in their country. Where does the PL money come from??? SKY? Don't even start me on that one.

    The nations Cup is never about Africa's governance. Its about the football.

  • Comment number 34.

    @ 33 - the money comes from a natural resource harboured by a corrupt Government and if the Nations Cup is never about Africa's governance but its about the football then how do you explain the Zambia team being killed in a clapped out crate of an aircraft?

    African players are mostly only good because they play in Europe - sad but true.

    The PL money MIGHT come from Sky and other broadcasters but if the African product is so good then how come the only time you ever hear anything about it is when the African Cup of Nations is on? African football, much like Asian football, is only where it is because of the sheer indulgence of FIFA - FIFA wanting to make money is why African football is where it is today - I'm not saying there are not talented African footballers but they are made world class once they leave Africa, not because of them playing in Africa.

  • Comment number 35.

    @14 cashforhonours, It seems like there could be a new star in Zambia's number 17 Rainsford Kalaba. I told you the Nations Cup would surprise you. So much talk about the Cisse's and Ba's. Africa has the so called stars figured out.

  • Comment number 36.

    Ill be tuning in to watch a couple of matches. Hope to see some sorta highlights on the BBC website. Would have thought you'd be showing the matches on the BBC which is kinda disappointing.

  • Comment number 37.

    @ Grand Falcon Road, You seem to know a lot about politics but not so much about African football (in Africa) at all.

    For all Africa has been through, from being ENSLAVED by the Europeans and Americans, the wars, the military coups, Dictatorships by Western Proxies, the only time we as Africans ever forget about our problems is when the Africa Cup of nations is on, that is why we have it every two years. Why can't you be HAPPY for us just for 4 weeks??

    You talk about corrupt governments? How so patronising?? Tell me any African Dictator who has been in power without WESTERN backing or without the WEST having put them there in the first place? Who turns to benefit the MOST out of Africa's misfortunes? Corrupt governments? Don't make me laugh, the so called squeaky clean Western Governments wasn't it recently that we heard about the expenses scandal with Westminister MP's even buying duck ponds on the taxpayer???

    What do you mean mostly good because they play in Europe? Isn't it the other way round? Don't you have to be good FIRST before you can even play in Europe? Are you saying they get into European clubs via sympathy then get good?

    For the record, the African players that are good in Europe have rarely made an impact in a Nations Cup anyway, testified by 7 time winners Egypt who had 99% of their team based in Egypt. So it depends where you are standing when you say good. So you wanted to hear about the African product during the Euro's? Obviously you are going to hear about it when AFCON is on.

    So what if FIFA makes money? After all football is a business. Dont the EPL want to make money as well? UEFA? The FA? Who doesn't? If it wasn't about money why did the FA want to host the World Cup? If it wasn't for FIFA Africa wouldn't have ever hosted a World Cup in my lifetime. Im grateful for just that. Everything else doesn't matter to me.

    The Zambian disaster was a tragedy. How dare you bring it up? Thats a cheap shot even by your standards. It was a military plane and if there is anything I know in Africa is militaries receive the best fundings in govt. We have never heard the ZAForce 's side of the story so we will never know what truly happened.

    All I said to you is for 2 weeks can you stop going on about whats wrong about Africa, and be happy for us that we are hosting our tournament. After all 90% of Africa's problems are are a direct result of the WEST.

  • Comment number 38.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 39.

    well well well, I guess all your prognostics about senegal are starting to evaporate.
    Thank you for ignoring morocco as a contender despite the talented squad. we don't need your jinx.

  • Comment number 40.

    "Isn't it the other way round? Don't you have to be good FIRST before you can even play in Europe?" - I think the phrase is rough diamond?

    However there is a certain irony that you're complaining about "the West" on the British Broadcasting Corporation website tells us all we need to know.

    It takes two parties to sellout the people so at least one party was African after all - from history to today including the Kaunda government that gave that team a crate - indeed it was their coffin.

  • Comment number 41.


  • Comment number 42.

    Senegal in the quarters since the Teranga Lions should comfortably depose of Equatorial Guinea, Libya and Zambia in Group A. lol interesting. will teach you not to write off teams huh.

  • Comment number 43.

    I have to say the African nations really know how to put on a show, I love seeing the bright colours and the fans especially. Every game has a sense of the unknown with crazy defending and even crazier goal keeping. It's fantastic fun and i'll look forward to seeing more of the same.

  • Comment number 44.

    Typical of British (Western) Media, tipping your favorite teams just because they have most players in the Money rich Premier league, you are in for a shock. And by the way, An African team is more likely to win the World Cup before England.

  • Comment number 45.

    Zambia 4Geee

  • Comment number 46.

    @44 - No. Its typical of the British media to produce an article aimed at British readers. I believe Piers listed Ghana as one of the favourites and then went on to list several players all of whom don't play in the Premier League. Keep up the good work mate. And perhaps maybe bother to read the article next time.

  • Comment number 47.

    "You talk about corrupt governments? How so patronising?? Tell me any African Dictator who has been in power without WESTERN backing or without the WEST having put them there in the first place?"

    Robert Mugabe.

    What do I win?

  • Comment number 48.

    At 23:19 21st Jan 2012, tgtaxi:
    Thanks very much for your response to GrandFalconRailroad. Not many people know what they are talking about, you know?

  • Comment number 49.

    @47- "You talk about corrupt governments? How so patronising?? Tell me any African Dictator who has been in power without WESTERN backing or without the WEST having put them there in the first place?"

    Robert Mugabe.

    What do I win?

    Your point is understandable, but just like Mugabe, Mobutu was also supported by the West for years until he lost favour. Mugabe has now lost favour with the West, but was at first supported by them.
    With that said, hope we continue with the football debate rather than politics. I think there will be many upsets in this tourney. The Ivorians usually flatter to deceive, but let's see what they have to offer this time around. The Senegalese have a deadly strike force, but not so good midfield or defence and that could be a problem. The Ghanaians usually don't have a very good strike force, but usually have good defence and midfield and as to how they always manage to make good progress with their young players and relatively unknown players (bar Gyan and a few others), I think they only can tell us. Hope England will learn to do same.

    In totality, we all look forward to a very good tournament!


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