Let us imagine a FIFA world cup without the presence of Brazil, Italy, Argentina, Germany, France and Spain, will anyone bother watching it? It’s seriously doubtful that anyone will or at least care short of the fans of qualified nations.
In a similar and more regional way at the Africa Cup of Nations (CAF), the absence of reigning champions Egypt and previous champions Nigeria, South Africa, Cameroon and Algeria. A look at the number of times these nations have collectively won the championship in the last three decades shows the popularity of these teams.
Therefore, it’s very likely that the upcoming CAF African cup of nations will be tasteless compared to the previous years with absence to five of the most popular teams in the continent, the ones that actually have fans outside the continent and have made presence felt in International football like Cameroon, Nigeria and Egypt.
The case of Egypt is quite strange, since Egypt is the unprecedented title holder for the last three consecutive tournaments 2006,2008 and 2010 with a record of seven titles overall, yet in the eyes of FIFA and CAF they seem not qualified enough to participate in the tournament automatically. Egypt have to thank Sepp Blatter for that controversial decision of 2002 preventing any title holder from automatically qualifying for the titles.
That decision that led Egypt to play their qualification matches in restless conditions in the country as well the determination of the squad has faded a bit since they Egypt became the first ever side that failed to defend its title because of these new regulations.
While the absence of these African giants will minimize the joy of the competition, there are still good names available to watch over and likely they will be the main contenders for the title. These names specifically will be Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Tunisia and Morocco.
These former title holders especially 1992 champions Cote d’Ivoire a side that always shine in the previous tournaments will try to give it their for a title that is long lost It will be an excellent opportunity for the Veteran striker Didier Drogba and his veteran players to take a last bow and show how they were unlucky to clinch the title which they were deprived from in the past decade thanks to African powerhouse Egypt that clinched the last three titles and defeated Cote d’Ivoire in two of them.
Aside from that four times champions Black Stars Ghana are ready to put an to three decades of no trophy excellent performances and show the world that their Youth World cup championship and being finalists of the last 2010 cup were no flukes. They as well as Tunisia and Morocco are the powers to be in the current championless championship.
But at the same time, we cannot neglect the Hosts Gabon and Equatorial Guinea attempts to show that they are not just hosts in a tournament held on their own turf but capable contenders especially with the case of Gabon who have shown great football in the qualifications round. Other Serious contenders like Senegal, Mali and Angola will likely to also have a say in the competition and though they might not be the trophy holders in the end but they might be king makers to say the least.
Other noteworthy teams that did well in the qualifications and beating odds in qualifications are Libya and Sudan the latter who won the 1970 champions are longing for a good performance to retrieve an old glory. Libya are also seeking to make history in the aftermath of a bloody revolution that ended the regime of the former dictators and Libyans are keen to send a message that a new Libya is on the horizon and the Libyans are determined to build a new country and overlook the bloody past civil war.
The Gabon/Equatorial Guinea 2012 tournament starting on January 21,2012 and ending on Feb 12 is not expected to be the most competitive of CAF competition due to the absence of the traditional powerhouses but it can very exciting to witness a new champion to be crowned and new African football powers on the rise.
The 16 particpating and battling nations of the tournament are as follows :
Group A : Zambia , Senegal , Libya, Equatorial Guniea
Group B : Sudan, Angola, Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso
Group C: Gabon, Morocco, Tunisia, Niger
Group D: Mali , Guinea, Ghana, Botswana
From the above groups’ schedule we can speculate that Cote d’Ivoire have a relatively easier journey than the rest of the contenders with group C being the hardest featuring the hosts Gabon and the two former champions Morocco and Tunisia as well the very surprising Niger who managed to beat title holders Egypt in the qualifications and qualify instead of Egypt in one of the biggest surprises in recent African football history.
Mali, Guinea and Ghana will have a hard fight for the two tickets to quarter finals. Similarly with Zambia , Senegal and Libya who also battle for a place in the African football charts.
Again, the surprise factors will remain the joy factor in the next championless tournament and we hope that the quality of football will be better than we expect in absence of the African giants.