Photo courtesy of CAF
Ahhh the blues... The hangover from Chinese New Year celebrations here on our tiny island has resulted in many having to drag their feet to work or to school today. Etched on their faces is the misery from the need to sit through lectures as entertaining as watching paint dry, and the dread of starting on the work which just seems to keep on piling up. Yours truly is no different from all you readers out there.
Work has to be done no matter what though, and whilst many of us engaged in four and a half days of pure unbridled joy in feasting and resting, over in the continent of Africa, or more specifically in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, the 2012 African Cup of Nations (ANC) had kicked off to little fanfare.
To many footballing fans, the ANC is arguably one of the least recognised and followed international tournaments around. The fact that any of us even know about its existence is mainly due to notable African players such as the Toure brothers of Manchester City, Demba Ba’s recent free-scoring exploits with Newcastle, and forgotten hitman Marouane Chamakh of Arsenal, to name a few.
These players will miss a good four weeks of BPL action due to their international commitments with their countries in the ANC, and the fact that their absence has become notable probably signals the deepening inroads that African football has made into the top European leagues in recent years.
Held right smack in the middle of the club footballing calendar, this tournament has had much criticism and yet year after year, it continues to go ahead during this period. This year however, the ANC has created fairy tales in the making. Three countries are taking their continental bow: the two host nations Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, along with Niger.
I am sure question marks are appearing in your head right now, and honestly speaking, I never knew these countries existed before; no disrespect to any readers that OPOD may have coming from these countries though! And no, Equatorial Guinea and Guinea are NOT the same country.
The surprise stories for this ANC have already happened even before it has started, in the form of the absentees from the tournament. Take for example South Africa. The Bafana Bafana read the rules wrongly and thought they only needed a draw in their last game to qualify where they took off a striker for a defender, when they actually needed a win. Joining them are reigning champions and seven-time winners Egypt, Cameroon, Nigeria, who all inexplicably stumbled and missed out on qualification during a whirl-wind period which proved that football is indeed a beautiful game and that miracles can happen.
Moving on, let us focus on the teams present in the tournament, shall we?
The favorites this time round has to be perennial underachievers Ivory Coast. Didier Drogba may be heading towards the twilight of his career, yet he remains the main man of his team. Backed up by reputable names such as Gervinho, Cheick Tiote, Salomon Kalou and the Toure brothers, Les Éléphants have everything on paper to romp their way to the title. They have already kicked off their ANC campaign with a 1-0 win over minnows Sudan, the three points earned after having to slog and work hard for the victory.
A team ready to challenge them would be Ghana, who captured the world’s attention during their stupendous run to the World Cup Quarter Finals in 2010. If you have already forgotten, the Black Stars were defeated by a certain Luis Suarez and his very own intepretation of the “hand of god”.
Check out this link just to refresh your memory (also, enjoy the beautiful World Cup song in the background) : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qyR1FOGQRg4&feature=related
We then move to the dark horses Senegal, who have undoubtedly the strongest forward line in the tournament. Mamadou Niang of Marseille, as well as Newcastle teammate Papa Demba Cisse and the name on everyone’s lips: Demba Ba. The Newcastle hitman has been making headlines for his prolific strike-rate in the BPL so far. He signed for them after being deemed not fit enough by Stoke, and boy has he proved them wrong. Carroll who? Fueled by his daily dose of strawberry syrup (really, I am not kidding), he will hope to fire his country to glory.
Yet, in a further sign that upsets are to be expected, Senegal went down 1-2 in their opening game to a resurgent Zambian side. Beautiful round ball; oh do you know how much havoc you have caused? (insert clichés here about the ball being round etc etc)
Anyhow, football will never be football without the miracle teams, or the fairy tale boys. Hosts Equatorial Guinea have to be the standout candidates in this category. They are the continent’s richest nation per capita, and yet they are the lowest ranked football team in the tournament in 150th place in the world.
Just for the sake of comparison, Singapore is at 147th.
So yes, we all love a story, or two, about the underdogs. True enough, in an epic showing, Equatorial Guinea triumphed 1-0 in their opening game against Libya. To truly understand the magnitude of the win, you might want to consider the fact that the players were promised a million dollars if they managed to win their opening game. Ka-ching, ka-ching! You can bet that there are many happy faces on that team bus back to the hotel after that match for sure.
You would most likely have not heard of any of the Equatoguinean players, while perhaps Niger’s most notable player is defensive midfielder Olivier Bonnes, who has two appearances for Nantes to his name, and is in Lille’s B team currently. His team earned shock wins over giants Egypt and South Africa on their way to the tournament, and will seek to prove they are not there to make up the numbers.
Meanwhile, fellow debutants Gabon will be led by a certain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who Football Manager fans will know was on the books of AC Milan during his youth career days, along with brothers Willy and Catilina. He never made it to the Rossoneri first team though, being constantly loaned out to various French teams, before eventually settling down at Saint Etienne last season. The striker, who is still only 22, has already shown his quality by scoring one and setting up the other as his country beat Niger 2-0 in their first game, and might just become a breakout star during this ANC.
Along with the likes of unheralded Sudan, Zambia, Libya, Burkina Faso and Botswana, there is still plenty of potential for further upsets in the ANC this year.
Whatever the case, the tournament promises to have its fair share of quality and dumbfounding results. If our OPOD readers are interested, games are shown live on StarHub channel 205 at 0000 hours and 0230 hours every night for the group stages. So dust off your vuvuzelas from the World Cup and get ready to disturb your neighbours every night again as you enjoy the ANC 2012! Just don’t blame us if the men in blue come knocking at your door.
(As of press time, Senegal have been eliminated from the tournament after two losses *gasps*, after they crashed 1-2 in injury time to Equatorial Guinea, who have qualified for the next round after two consecutive wins. Well done to the hosts for exceeding all expectations already!)