Africa Cup of Nations: Ghana named in Top 5 contenders

Black Stars players celebrating a goal during the qualifiers

The 29th edition of the Africa Cup of Nations gets under way at South Africa’s Soccer City stadium on Saturday.

The 2013 iteration of the CAF tournament—which has been moved forward a year to prevent it clashing with World Cup years—will not feature traditional African powerhouses like Egypt, Cameroon or Senegal.

But it will feature reigning champions Zambia, Didier Drogba’s Ivory Coast… and plenty of vuvuzelas.

Here are the most likely contenders for the Nations Cup trophy, and the key players to watch out for.

Ivory Coast: 

The Ivory Coast have won the competition only once—in 1992 when the final against Ghana went to 11-10 on penalties!—but they enter this year’s tournament as favorites.

In their final preparation game, the Elephants beat seven-time winners Egypt 4-2, with two goals from Arsenal’s Gervinho. They are now unbeaten in 23 games.

All but one of the Ivory Coast’s squad play in Europe, with familiar faces including Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou, the Toure brothers (Yaya was ill for the Egypt game but is expected to recover), Emmanuel Eboue, Cheick Tiote and Didier Zokora.

Drogba is an ambassador of the game across the continent, and his teammate Gervinho believes winning this tournament is his final objective before retiring.

The Ivory Coast are expected to top Group D, which is informally being considered the “Group of Death.” It contains Tunisia, Togo—who will boast Emmanuel Adebayor —and potential dark horses Algeria.

Ghana: 

Four-time AFCON champions Ghana may not have won the competition since 1982, but James Kwesi Appiah’s side are strongly tipped to go far in this edition.

The Black Stars boast a strong midfield, which features Juventus’ Kwadwo Asamoah, Osasuna’s Anthony Annan and Udinese’s Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu. At right-back, they are likely to benefit from the experience of journeyman defender John Paintsil, formally of Fulham and West Ham, and currently playing in Tel Aviv.

Controversy has surrounded the absence of Marseille’s André Ayew from the squad. He was given until Saturday to report to Ghana’s training camp in Abu Dhabi, but he didn’t turn up, even though he had been released by his club and assigned plane tickets

And don’t expect to see a penalty from captain Asamoah Gyan. He missed from 12 yards in the 2010 World Cup and last year’s Nation’s Cup, and his mother told him not to take penalties anymore before she died in November (via BBC).

Ghana—who beat Group D side Tunisia 4-2 in a friendly over the weekend—will contest Group B with Mali, Niger and DR Congo.

Nigeria

Nigeria have won the Nations Cup twice (in 1984 and 1990) but have become serial bronze medalists in recent years: they finished third in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2010.

The Super Eagles didn’t qualify for the 2012 edition of the competition, but they are third favorites with the bookies to take the glory this time.

Their squad includes Chelsea pair John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses, Villarreal striker Ikechukwu Uche and former Everton centre-back Joseph Yobo.

Coach Stephen Keshi has also selected six local players, the largest amount in more than 20 years (via BBC).

Nigeria have been based in Portugal prior to the tournament, but could only draw 0-0- with tournament minnows and debutants Cape Verde in a friendly last week. They will play their last practise match against FC Rotterdam before jetting to South Africa.

They will kick off their Group C campaign against Burkina Faso on January 21st, and will also face Zambia and Ethiopia at the first stage.

South Africa:

South Africa haven’t qualified for the Nations Cup in the last two attempts, but they will want to capitalise on home advantage. When they won the tournament in 1996, they were handed the Neil Tovey trophy by president Nelson Mandela on home soil.

The Bafana Bafana also boast the most players who still play in their homeland, with 16 of the 23-man squad featuring in the ABSA Premiership. Local heroes like Kaizer Chiefs striker Bernard Parker and Orlando Pirates defender Siyabonga Sangweni will surely be buoyed by rapturous support.

Players based abroad include Crystal Palace midfielder Kagisho Dikgacoi, Oldham’s Dean Furman and PAOK defender Bongani Khumalo.

But Gordon Igesund’s side may struggle without South Africa’s most famous player, Steve Pienaar, who retired from international duty last October.

The Bafana will contend Group A with Angola, Morocco and aforementioned debutants Cape Verde.

They have an unbeaten record against all three teams in competitive and friendly matches so will feel confident of progressing to the knockout stage.

Zambia 

The Ivory Coast were denied the trophy in last year’s Africa Cup of Nations by plucky underdogs Zambia, who took them to 8-7 in a penalty shootout.

The reigning champions, led by Frenchman Hervé Renard, will be looking to pull another surprise victory this year, but their recent form has been troubling. The Chipolopolo haven’t scored in any of their four pre-tournament warm-up matches, and have cancelled a final friendly with Namibia on Tuesday to give players a rest (via Eurosport).

Preparation has also been disrupted by the absence of defender Stopilla Sunzu, who has been allowed to leave the training camp to take a trial with Reading.

Players to look out for include Southampton forward Emmanuel Mayuka, Petro Atletico’s Felix Katongo and his older brother, national captain Christopher Katongo.

Zambia face fellow title contenders Nigeria in Group C, along with Burkina Faso and Ethiopia (who are contesting their first Africa Cup of Nations in 31 years).

 

READERS COMMENTS

  1. Papadinho says:

    This piece is full of shit. fuck the person that wrote this stuff. What’s all this shit about Gyan and Adre? u guys are a bunch of dicks

  2. Zed says:

    Talk time is almost over,so brace yourselves cos show time is about to be!

  3. Zambia Soccerman says:

    Talk is cheap, good lucky to all the teams.

  4. Zambia Soccerman says:

    luck, I meant to say!

  5. tank God we are not zambians says:

    soccernet is wack

  6. loso says:

    @zambiagbemiman nevermind,we all know how u zambians struggle with common english due to high illeracy

  7. Kwame Adu-Gyamfi says:

    I think Cape Verde will be a suprise to team in the tournament. Watch out for them.

  8. Obbie says:

    Let the Afcon 2013 start. we want to teach these people another lesson because they can not still believe that Zambia is a strong team. We may seem to arrogant when we tell pipo that Zambia will get it again but that is the truth. We know our team very well and we know that among these other 4 favorites, there is no team that can beat Zambia. If Egypt ant Tunisia were among the favourites, i would be worried, not these west Africans. To be frank, Zambia is far Mich improved now than it was in Gabon. I can bet my ass, not west African team will beat Zambia in RSA, Mark my words. These analysts never repent.

  9. pike says:

    I BET ZAMBIA WILL GO HOME AFTER THE GROUP STAGES…YOUR LUCK IS GONE!!!!BURKINA WILL KICK YOUR ASS TO ASHES.MARK MY WORDS

  10. Show time says:

    Mali will continue 4rom where they left last year when they beat u 2-0 in a competitive match and Congo won’t spare u either!

  11. Phemostiga says:

    Nigeria wn it in 1980 and 1994 nt 1984 n 1990 plz tk note

  12. zambia is our toilet hole says:

    Whatever it is,Zambia will exit in the first round to go home for a rest.Nigeria will destroy them.

  13. Dan says:

    Da Zambians deserved their win da last tym, cos they’ve bn one consistent team on da Continent neva had won it. But I don’t ce them winning again ds term, cos it’ll tk a lot of grits, nd hard wrk 2 defend da title wch only Ghana nd Egypt hv managed 2 win bck 2 bck in da past. Gd luck 2 all da competing teams.

  14. May his peace prevails says:

    Nigeria

    Ethopia

    Burkina

    Zambia
    That is how I see things. AMEN!

  15. junior mafia says:

    Zambia has been in camp for the past 6weeks,have not won any friendlies do dey luk lyk defendn da cup.? Ma moni is on nigeria n ethiopia

  16. shinto says:

    It vexes my ass to the ground that Black moons consider themselves as favourites.They too much get puffed up by the media attention and srew their asses on the pitch.Wise up and do work on the pitch

  17. Observer says:

    I am glad real competition is around the corner so that we can see who has done their home work in the practice matches.