PARIS, France, January 16 – Didier Drogba may lead a star-studded cast list at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations — but this year’s competition which gets underway on Saturday is bereft of some of the continent’s top names.
For while Ivory Coast captain Drogba and the Toure brothers Kolo and Yaya and company head for South Africa, the likes of Samuel Eto’o, Demba Ba and Papiss Demba Cisse are missing out, forced to watch the action on television.
Ba and Cisse failed to join the party when Senegal were kicked out of the 2013 tournament by organisers CAF as punishment for crowd trouble which flared up at the qualifier against Drogba’s Ivorians.
Senegal’s disqualification must have been greeted with quiet relief, though, at the pair’s respective Premier League clubs.
Ba, who moved from Newcastle to Chelsea in the January transfer window, is one of the deadliest strikers in the league, and made an immediate impact for Chelsea when scoring twice in the 5-1 FA Cup third-round triumph at Southampton.
At Newcastle, the 27-year-old forward’s prowess helped lift the Magpies to fifth place last season.
While sorry to see Ba head to London, Newcastle manager Alan Pardew still has a Senegalese ace up his sleeve in the shape of Cisse.
He joined Newcastle on a £10 million (12,033 million euros/$16,093 million) deal from German Bundesliga outfit Freiburg and has proved a major hit, scoring 13 goals last term.
While the Africa Cup showcases the cream of the continent’s abundant talent, joining Ba and Cisse on the absentee list is one of Africa’s biggest names in the shape of Eto’o.
The 31-year-old is Africa’s most decorated player, being voted African Footballer of the Year in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2010.
After standout spells at Barcelona and Inter Milan, he is currently one if not the highest paid footballers in the world, with a reported weekly pay packet of some £350,000 (421,000 euros/$563,000) at Russian big-spenders Anzhi Makhachkala.
With three World Cups and six Nations Cups under his belt, the Cameroon captain and his team will be sorely missed.
Cameroon’s shock defeat to Cape Verde in the qualifier also robs the 2013 Nations Cup of talented midfielder Alex Song, who moved to Barcelona from Arsenal last August.
He made a name for himself at the 2008 Cup of Nations in Ghana when he was selected for the team of the tournament, an honour he also picked up three years ago.
As in 2012, the former continental kings Egypt have once again been excluded from the feast of African football.
The Pharaohs have suffered a startling dip in fortune since rattling off three consecutive titles in 2006, 2008 and 2010.
Their bid to qualify for 2013, against the sombre backdrop of the Port Said stadium disaster in February which cost the lives of 74 people, came to a premature end with a first round 4-3 defeat to the Central African Republic.
Their absence deprives the Nations Cup of such Egyptian luminaries as goalkeeper Esaam al Hadary, defender Wael Gomaa and midfielder Mohamed Abou Trika.
Of the teams who qualified, Ghana will have to do without the services of Marseille’s star midfielder Andrew Ayew and striker Yahaya Mohamed, who are both injured.
Morocco’s Queens Park Rangers’ midfielder Adel Taarabt, Arsenal’s striker Marouane Chamakh, on loan to West Ham, and Qatar-based midfielder Houssine Kharja all failed to make the Atlas Lions’ squad.
Hosts South Africa must do without retired midfielder Steven Pienaar, Mali’s Mahamadou Diarra is injured, while Nigerian duo Danny Shittu and Shola Ameobi declined their country’s call.