JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, December 29 – The first African football drama of 2012 will unfold in a Swiss boardroom as Namibia continue a battle to get Burkina Faso kicked out of the upcoming Cup of Nations.
Namibia claim Cameroon-born Herve Zengue was ineligible to play against them in qualifiers for the 2012 African showcase and want to replace Burkina Faso at the January 21-February 12 tournament in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
Having had two appeals rejected by African football governing body CAF, the Namibians have turned to the Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to reverse what official Barry Rukoro calls a “travesty of justice”.
CAS will meet early January and hear the case against Chechnya-based Zengue, who is married to a Burkinabe but does not fulfil any of the FIFA criteria to play for the country of his wife.
Although Burkina Faso coach Paulo Duarte has been dismissive of the Namibian appeals, he did not include the left-back in his provisional squad for Group B fixtures against Angola, Ivory Coast and Sudan.
Ivory Coast and Ghana are favourites for the Cup of Nations in the absence of defending champions Egypt and other regular participants like Algeria, Cameroon, Nigeria and South Africa.
New CAF Footballer of the Year Yaya Toure heads a galaxy of stars seeking a second title for Ivory Coast while third-place Andre Ayew, a son of legend Abedi ‘Pele’ Ayew, is a potential match-winner for four-time champions Ghana.
Senegal are blessed with an abundance of consistent scorers like Moussa Sow and Demba Ba as they chase a first crown and Gabon, Guinea, Morocco and Tunisia could go far.
Botswana and Niger appear for the first time along with Equatorial Guinea, who owe their place to being co-hosts of a tournament which switches to uneven-number years from 2013 to avoid clashing with the World Cup.
With two Cup of Nations tournaments in as many years, the 2013 qualifiers kick off early January before the 2012 tournament starts and the 15 teams to join hosts South Africa will be decided over three knockout rounds.
Nigeria will not relish a February visit to Rwanda, who have been revitalised by new Serb coach Milutin Sredojevic, and record seven-time African champions Egypt face a potentially tough task at improving Central African Republic.
Unless the Pharaohs play sooner, the February 29 Bangui fixture could offer 178-cap midfielder Ahmed Hassan the chance to overtake retired Saudi Arabia goalkeeper Mohammed Al Deayea and become the most capped footballer.
Fixture congestion means these second round fixtures are scheduled for the last day of February while the return games will be staged only in mid-June after two weekends of 2014 World Cup qualifying action.
Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia are seeded to win the 10 four-team World Cup groups and reach the final qualifying phase.
But the Ivorians must get past Morocco, Ghana have to contend with Zambia and Sudan and Guinea threaten Egypt, whose American coach Bob Bradley will be acutely aware that African successes have not been matched in the World Cup.
Cameroon, another team under new management with Frenchman Denis Lavagne replacing Spaniard Javier Clemente, must face Demcratic Republic of Congo and Libya without suspended star striker and captain Samuel Eto’o.
The record four-time CAF Footballer of the Year did not appeal against a 15-match ban after instigating a cash-related players’ strike that forced the cancellation last month of a friendly against Algeria.
Esperance of Tunisia defend the CAF Champions League title with the biggest threats to the ‘Blood and Gold’ possibly coming from former winners Al-Ahly of Egypt and TP Mazembe of DR Congo.
Surprise CAF Confederation Cup winners Moghreb Fes of Moroocco, are among the Champions League hopefuls next year and runners-up Club Africain of Tunisia look set to mount another strong title challenge in the second-tier competition.