Outsiders can win African Nations Cup 2013
AT LEAST half the field are viable contenders for the African Nations Cup crown, including, as unlikely as it might seem now, Bafana Bafana.
The tournament has a long tradition of paying no heed to the form book. Almost always at least one outsider rises to emerge among the contenders, if not go on to win as Zambia did amid emotional scenes in Libreville just 12 months ago.
This time they start among the favourites, but not as fancied as Côte d’Ivoire or Ghana, two countries heaving under a burden of expectation. The others who must be considered are Algeria, Mali, Morocco and Nigeria, back at the finals after missing out on the last edition.
The Ivorians cut an impressive sight on arrival at Lanseria late on Wednesday, flown in on their presidential jet and with a steely look to go with their impressive physical appearance. They looked as if they were here for business.
On paper, they have the strongest squad, albeit not without weak links. Sven Goran Eriksson tinkered severely with their defence when they were last here, at the 2010 World Cup, and current coach Sabri Lamouchi will have realised there is still no solution to a sluggish back four that bares no comparison with the potential he has upfront.
Last Sunday the Ivorians beat Egypt 4-2 in a friendly in Abu Dhabi that offered impressive evidence of their attacking prowess.
They were leading at half-time, having started with their two reserve strikers. Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou came on in the second half to help continue a dominant performance and to double the goal tally, as if to rub in the richness of their resources.
Ghana are much changed from the side South African fans adopted at the 2010 World Cup and who came so agonisingly close to a new African benchmark on the cusp of the semifinals.
The unfortunate Asamoah Gyan returns, captaining the side now but unwilling to take any penalties, he insists. Michael Essien and Kevin-Prince Boateng continue their hiatus from international football, while John Mensah and Sulley Muntari have completed their careers with the national team.
Instead, it is again a young squad, with Juventus’s Kwadwo Asamoah in the engine room. It is similar to the injury-ravaged side Ghana had to field at the 2010 Nations Cup in Angola and that surprised by going all to the way to the final.
Mali have been ravaged by injury but are still able to pick a strong selection. Seydou Keita will lead again, albeit past his prime, but Mahamadou Diarra is not coming because of injury.
Last time they finished third and although there has been much upheaval in their country since, the squad can again make it to the business end of the tournament.
Nigeria’s current generation are not of the same standard of golden teams of the past, although still with plenty of promise. Just like South Africa.
Stephen Keshi coaches the Super Eagles this time, having lifted the trophy as captain when Nigeria were last continental champions, almost 20 years ago now.
Algeria and Morocco are full of French- or Dutch-born talent from the North African Diaspora, but there is always the impression they lack the necessary drive.
“Before Morocco had players of quality, now we have a team of quality,” said their new coach, Rachid Taoussi. Whether that is true will be verified when they play Angola on Saturday.
Algeria have a classy midfield but lack a decent striker. As the second-highest ranked team in Africa, they must be taken seriously.