On 24 October, the draw for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations was made in Durban. This tournament will be, among other things, the first since 1965 to be held in an odd year – CAF (the African federation) have changed the tournament to odd years going forward to avoid clashes with World Cups in particular. South Africa is hosting the 2013 tournament after Libya ducked out due to its minor ongoing internal political issues. 5 of the stadia used at the last World Cup will be used in this tournament, including 2 of the most white-elephanty in Nelspruit and Rustenburg. Durban, Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg will be the other host cities for the tournament.
The draw has pulled out some intriguing clashes. Regular readers (if there are any) of this blog will be aware that Cape Verde have qualified for the tournament for the first time; they will play the opening match of the tournament on 19 January against South Africa at the gargantuan Soccer City. Given the Blue Sharks’ wonderful performances in qualifying for the tournament (beating Cameroon 2-0 in Praia being the obvious highlight), I fancy them for a shock result or two in Group A, where they sit with South Africa, fellow former Portguese colonists Angola and an ever unpredictable Morocco. That said, South Africa and Morocco should be the strongest sides in this group (Morocco certainly looked decent at the Olympics).
Moving away from footblawl’s undoubted Cape Verde bias, Group B has two obvious qualifiers for the last 8 in Ghana and Mali. Niger will be rank outsiders though are capable of a shock (their mere qualification for two successive tournaments is a shock in itself), while Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire if you’re feeling retro) will fancy their chances of nicking a point here or there against the big guns in their first finals since 2006.
Group C contains reigning champions Zambia, returning giants Nigeria, returning sleeping giants Ethiopia (in their first Cup of Nations since 1982) and Burkina Faso. The obvious two should qualify here though I think Zambia could have a tougher time of it – their performances in qualifying for this tournament (needing penalties to get past Bobby Williamson’s Uganda in particular) don’t bode well.
Group D is undoubtedly the toughest of the four and the one where probably the most quality resides. Perennial runners up Ivory Coast will have one last shot at winning Didier Drogba an international medal (of the right hue), Tunisia return to the tournament after their Arab-Spring-related break in 2012 while fellow northerners Algeria also have quality in their squad. Probably the best story in this group is the return to competition of Togo, after their tragic appearance at the 2010 competition in Angola. Outrageously banned by CAF after refusing to play on having had their team bus attacked by Angolan rebels (the ban was subsequently and mercifully dropped), the chaps from the northwest return to the tournament in good spirits and with Emmanuel Adebayor back in the fray.
Trying to pick a winner out of those 16 is not easy. Nigeria have impressed in the ease with which they qualified and they have the likes of Victor Moses and team-mate John Obi Mikel to call on. Ivory Coast, as I allude to above, will fancy a last hurrah for the more ageing of their star players (the aforementioned Mr Drogba in particular), while Zambia and their charismatic coach Herve Renard will no doubt, if they get through their tricky group, fancy putting another unlikely run to the final together. It’s also worth pointing out that the last time South Africa hosted this tournament, in 1994, they won it.
What is certain is that the profile of the Cup of Nations, and of African football in general, is increasing and improving all the time. A successful Cup of Nations with entertaining and athletic football on show will only increase that profile further, and galvanise the claim that the Cup of Nations is the second strongest of the major continental tournaments.
I am also tempted to invest in a Cape Verde shirt… but that might be a step too far.