Gabon and Equatorial Guinea will host the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations that kicks-off from January 21st with the final set to be played on February 12th. Should the tournament follow in the same path as the qualifying campaign, it could be quite a ride. Before a ball is even kicked in the forthcoming tournament there is plenty of intrigue that surrounds the upcoming showpiece for African football.
African football continues to develop but it still has a long way to go before it can catch up with Europe. The World Cup last year in South Africa though went well and it was a massive occasion not just for the country of South Africa but the entire continent.
There are still though massive amounts of corruption in many of the football associations around Africa. It’s things like fake teams being played, overage players played in youth level football, ineligible players and just plain old greed (all very recent occurrences) that are preventing the continent’s football from developing further. There is the good and the absurd in Africa and there is also still the shadow of the terrible machine gun attack on the Togo team last year.
The best example of mixing the good with the absurd is Group G that featured South Africa, Niger, Egypt and Sierra Leone. The good: Niger qualifying for the first time ever whilst astonishingly Champions Egypt finish bottom. The absurd: South Africa, the last World Cup hosts, fail to understand the rules of qualification and believed goal-difference was enough to secure their route through. They were eliminated on head-to-head records.
In another case that is perhaps typically unique to football in Africa – former Zambia manager, Dario Bonetti, filed a €1.2m lawsuit against his former employers at the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) to FIFA just last month on the grounds of unfair dismissal. The FAZ counter saying that they have not received any letter of claim from Bonetti and that the separation between the FAZ and Bonetti was through mutual consent – whilst FIFA confirm the lawsuit. It is a fitting summation of the level of incompetence that many football associations in Africa operate at.
More surprisingly is that after Bonetti, who successfully ensured Zambia’s qualification into the Africa Cup of Nations, was fired just 48 hours after qualification and was replaced by former manager Hervé Renard. Renard is the man who left Zambia to take a larger contract to become manager of Angola before resigning after just 6 months.
Egypt (winners for the last 3 tournaments) are not the only surprise exclusions from the forthcoming tournament and you will not be seeing any of these previous winners either: Nigeria (3rd place 2010), Algeria (4th place 2010), or Cameroon.
Going into the tournament two clear favourites emerge after the shock of some of Africa’s major teams failing to qualify. The Ivory Coast and Ghana are odds on with the bookies to win the tournament, with the Ivory Coast slightly ahead. The likes of Senegal, Morocco and Tunisia make up the outside bets.
François Zahoui’s Côte d’Ivoire side on paper is indeed a fairly daunting prospect for any opponents, the likes of captain Didier Drogba, Gervinho, and the brothers Touré. Goran Stevanović’s Ghana will feature the likes of Asamoah Gyan, Sulley Muntari and promising youngsters like André Ayew and Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu but will be without Michael Essien.
The two teams could well meet in the impressive 40,000 capacity Stade d’Angondjé (developed with help from China) in Libreville, Gabon which is the favourite to host the final of the tournament. Where as the Estádio de Bata, Equatorial Guinea will host the opening games.
It’s another interesting point though that although the two nations are co-hosting the Africa Cup of Nations there is still some friction between the two countries – both still disputing the claim over who it that actually owns Mbanié island, a tiny uninhabited island off the coast of oil-rich Corsico Bay.
The fact that Equatorial Guinea and Gabon can join together to host a huge sporting occasion and yet have long-standing disputes over a tiny lifeless island that has been causing friction since the 80’s is another perfect example of the state of African football at the moment – for the good there’s usually the absurd somewhere around the corner.
Expect the two sides of African football to be on show come January when the tournament begins – for all the good football there will certainly be something absurd.
You can follow Richard on Twitter @filippoinzaghi.