NAIROBI, January 8 – This year’s African Cup of Nations could not be more open with several teams in with a chance of lifting the continent’s biggest piece of silverware.Here’s a look at the favourites.
Didier Drogba’s Ivory Coast is the name on everyone’s lips. Having scored a staggering 29 goals in qualifiers, the Elephants possess a devastating attack backed by a formidable midfield led by Barcelona’s Yaya Toure.
Their defence is also solid though Kolo Toure is having an uncomfortable time at Manchester City.
The only chink in their armour is to be found in their last line of defence. Goalkeeper Boubacar Barry does not inspire confidence especially when one recalls his performance 2008 semifinal defeat against Egypt.
That defeat to Pharaohs also brings out the other question mark over the Ivorians-their mental strength.
They went to Ghana as favourites but could not cope with the Egyptians. And 2008 was not a one off. They were favorites again in 2000 only for them to bow out without as much as a whimper and isn’t it odd that they have only ever won the trophy once in their history despite the abundance of talent?
The big question in Angola therefore will be, can they cope with the pressure of being favourites this time round?
Easily the most decorated African team on the continent, Cameroon has enjoyed a remarkable turn of fortunes under Pal Le Guen.
The Indomitable Lions were struggling to qualify for the world cup when the former Lyon and Rangers manager took over and the change has been stupefying.
Le Guen has returned discipline to the side, handed Eto’o the captaincy and the Lions are roaring again as the top ranked African side in the Fifa rankings.
The emergence of Alex Song, Stephen Mbia and Jean II Makoun has provided Eto’o with much needed help while the old stalwarts, Rigobert Song, Geremi Njitap and Achile Emana are providing a guiding hand.
Add that they have arguably one of the best keepers in the continent in Carlos Kameni and they could yet again walk away with a fifth CAN trophy.
The Super Eagles are looking to re-establish themselves as a top African nation.
Despite its plethora of riches, Nigeria has won the Cup of Nations only twice in their history.
Coach Shoiabu Amodu will be in the spotlight as rumours persist about his future despite qualifying for the world cup and he will need a strong showing if he is to continue being in charge.
But the problem goes deeper than Amodu. In truth, the current crop of players has struggled to measure up to the standards of the 1994 team or even the 2000 side.
They will be missing Ikechukwu Uche-widely regarded as one of the most creative players while Obafemi Martins is just back from injury.
The onus will thus fall on Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel to finally take over from Jay Jay Okocha as the team’s leader in the middle of the pitch. Nwankwo Kanu will provide experience mostly from the bench.
Also watch out for Osaze Odemwingie- a player who has really come of age in Russia.
Another thing that may work for them is their sheer confidence. Nigerians have an almost impossible belief that they will win every match and this sense of belief and destiny saw them finally edge our Tunisia in the world cup qualifiers.
The Desert Warriors sneaked through to the world cup almost unnoticed and don’t bet against them pulling off another stealth march to the crown.
Underestimated by everyone, Coach Rabah Saadane has quietly put together a formidable side capable of taking the game to anyone.
The presence of several players who were raised in Europe like Madjid Bougherra, Hassan Yebda, Nadir Belhadj and Mourad Meghini has added steel and belief.
They are something of an unknown quality and could yet surprise a few teams.
For a country that prides itself with good organization and an extremely strong team spirit, the Black Stars go into Angola a disjointed and dispirited side after withdrawals due to injuries, indiscipline and disquiet ion the squad.
Inspirational skipper Stephen Appiah and his deputy John Mensah are missing through injury while Sulley Ali Muntari was omitted due to disciplinary issues.
Muntari’s omission has raised most interest especially after stand in skipper Michael Essien wrote a passionate letter asking for Muntari to be included in the team.
Though coach Milovan Rajevac has stood his ground, one feels that the Ghanaians will not be as united as we are used to seeing them. The inclusion of several youngsters from the team that won the U20 World Cup last year smacks of desperation as they will certainly not be ready for an assignment of this magnitude.
Add the fact that Essien is just returning from injury and quarterfinals will be a huge achievement for Ghana.
The two time defending champions are still licking their wounds after Algeria beat them to a world cup place.
However that defeat probably heralded the end of a great era for Egyptian football. The Pharaohs seem to be going down hill pretty fast. That excellent crop of players that so mesmerized the continent in Ghana are two years older and its showing.
This decline is evident even in club competition with Al Ahly and Zamalek failing to make impact on the continental scene.
To make matters worse, they will also be missing Mohammed Aboutrika, Amr Zaki, Mohammed Shawky and Ahmed Mido who all played vital roles in the 2006v and 2008 triumphs.
The onus will thus fall on the brilliant but erratic playmaker-Mohammed Zidan- a striker capable of infuriating and thrilling in equal measure and a quarterfinal place will be a bonus for the Pharaohs.
Of the outsiders, Mali seems best equipped.
Led by the cerebral Fredi Kanoute of Seville, Mahmadou Diarra of Real Madrid, Seydou Keita of Mali and Momo Sissoko of Juventus, The eagles certainly have the ammo.
The presence of experienced Stephen Keshi on the bench will provide guidance. They however seem to choke when it gets to crunch and Keshi’s biggest job will be to get his superstars to produce their club form in the colours of Mali.