Drogba upbeat on African Nations Cup 2013
The 2013 Africa Cup of Nations kicks off in South Africa on Saturday with Didier Drogba’s hugely gifted yet trophyless Ivory Coast favourites again to march off with the continental soccer crown.
The competition has grown from humble beginnings into a global event watched by a TV audience running into hundreds of millions viewing the top players on the continent.
Aside, that is, from those conspicuous by their absence, including Samuel Eto’o's Cameroon and seven-time champions Egypt.
South Africa, hosts of the 2010 World Cup, stepped in to stage this year’s event, originally designated for Libya.
And over the next four weeks, venues in Soweto, Nelspruit, Rustenburg, Port Elizabeth and Durban will witness Drogba and company cross swords in pursuit of the honour of being crowned kings of Africa.
The 16 teams vying to walk off with the title on February 10 are also battling for a seat at the 2013 Confederations Cup table in Brazil in June, where world and European champions Spain, South American champions Uruguay and little Tahiti await the African champions.
The Ivory Coast are desperate to shed a reputation for falling short when it matters most, having failed to justify their favourites’ tag in the past four editions.
Agonising penalty shoot-out defeats in the finals of 2006 against Egypt and last year against Zambia will only serve to motivate the Elephants in what is 34-year-old Drogba’s last throw of the Nations Cup dice.
“We have a team capable of great things at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations,” remarked the Chinese-based striker.
“It would be great to win the trophy now. Honestly, we are getting tired of losing out each time.
“We showed great solidarity against Senegal (in the qualifiers). We fought together, everybody gave of himself and this helped us to win.
“And now everybody expects a trophy. We hope to give the cup to our country.”
Africa’s top-ranked team are drawn in Group D with former champions Algeria and Tunisia, as well as Togo.
Zambia are back to defend the title they clinched 12 months ago against all the odds in Gabon/Equatorial Guinea.
Herve Renard’s side might have failed to impress in their warm-ups, but turn out with a better squad, on paper at least, than last year.
Other contenders include west African heavyweights Ghana, Morocco, hosts of the 2015 edition, Algeria and Tunisia.
The 2010 hosts Angola boast a five-match unbeaten run in their build-up.
And, with their vuvuzela-blowing fans behind them, South Africa cannot be discounted, as they seek to add to their lone title won 17 years ago on home soil.
The tournament runs from January 19 to February 10.AFP