21 January 2012
I don’t know why, but the air is not filled with much enthusiasm about the 2012 Cup of Nations.
Maybe that has to do with the absence of usual suspects and powerhouses Nigeria and Cameroon or recent champions Egypt.
Maybe it also has to do with the surprise qualifications of Libya, impressively achieved while the country was in a state of chaos, and Sudan. Whatever it is, I hope it ended last night with the first game of the 2012 African Cup of Nations.
This is a very easy tournament to preview because of all the usual favourites, only two made it, the Ivory Coast and Ghana, which is interesting because the two teams have a combined 50 years since they last won the African title – Ghana 30 and the Ivorians 20.
Ivory Coast are the star studded squad that we have gotten used to over the past few years: Didier Drogba, Solomon Kalou, Yaya Toure, Kolo Toure and Gervinho.
A most interesting addition to the Ivory Coast outfit this year is the presence of Cheick Tiote of Newcastle, a player who has established himself as one of the best defensive midfielders in Europe. A central midfield partnership of Yaya Toure and Tiote is surely something to really get excited about – strength, pace, thrust, agility – this is the kind of engine that can lead any team to glory.
Ghana will play the tournament without their biggest star in Michael Essien and they will also miss the services of AC Milan attacker Kevin Prince Boateng who chose to retire from national duty. Asamoah Gyan travelled with the squad despite being injured so he will start the tournament in the treatment room.
Ghana still has enough quality in their squad with the likes of Sulley Muntari, Kwadwo Asamoah, Anthony Anan and Prince Tagoe. There is also the rising star Andre Ayew of Marseille who is a world champion at under 20 level and has made a successful transition into the senior squad.
Ghana have always played as a unit and relied less on star power and I expect they will not deviate from that template this year and that is what makes them so effective.
Outside this two, the teams I tip to go far are Senegal who come back to the tournament with a revitalised squad containing the likes of prolific Newcastle front man Demba Ba, the leading striker in France last season Moussa Sow and Papa Demba Cisse who has just joined Newcastle from German side Freiburg.
Senegal have carried seven strikers and five midfielders which says a lot about their intentions. I also think Tunisia and Morocco will have a good go at this tournament.
If there is a surprise package in this tournament, I reckon it has got to be Mali who come into the tournament a mostly youthful squad after the retirements of the likes of Kanoute and Momo Sissoko. Barcelona’s Seydou Keita will lead the young ones in 2012 and who knows we might just find a new crop of African stars from the Mali side.
I expect Senegal to breeze through a Group A containing Equitorial Guinea, Senegal, Libya and Zambia. I expect the Ivory Coast to do the same in Group B where they will compete with Burkina Faso, Sudan and Angola.
I expect total battle in Group C between Morocco, Tunisia and Gabon for the two top spots and Niger will probably take the brunt of the beating. I expect Ghana to win Group D although I doubt they will do so easily with Mali, Guinea and Botswana all possible problematic opponents.
Prediction: I pick the easy one; Ivory Coast and Senegal final with the former winning.
AllAfrica – All the Time