All eyes on Africa

Essien - Chelsea blog

Hello, and a Happy New Year to each and every one of you!

It’s the start of another year and I am sure you have made a resolution or two. Mine is to stay fit and healthy throughout the year and I hope you can stick to yours however tempted you may be to ditch it.

It’s also that time of year when the African Cup of Nations kicks off in earnest and although I cannot be there with Ghana due to my injury, my friends Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou from Chelsea will be representing Ivory Coast. As such I thought it will be good to preview the tournament before it begins in the middle of this month.

Many commentators have argued the tournament should be moved to the summer but CAF have resisted moving it for years and this year the tournament will be co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea from January 21 to February 12. It is a straightforward format with four groups of four teams each and the top two in each group will advance to the quarter-final stages.

This tournament is more about the missing teams than the ones that qualified. For the first time in a while Nigeria, Cameroon, South Africa and Egypt all failed to qualify. They have been replaced by surprise entrants like Libya, Niger & Botswana. I am not for one saying these teams are not good enough, it’s just that we are not used to seeing them at major tournaments.

Without some of these ‘big teams’ will the tournament be as good as it has been in the past?

I definitely think so because there are still some good football nations left fighting for the top prize. The favourites will no doubt be Ivory Coast and Ghana, in my opinion, and possibly the surprise packages will be Mali or Senegal.

Ivory Coast probably have the best squad at the tournament and they don’t need any introduction. They have some of the top players in African football and will be a match for any team. The spine of their team includes the likes of Drogba, the Toure brothers, Didier Zokora and Kalou. And let’s not forget Gervinho who is doing very well at Arsenal and will be a handful for any defence.

They always look strong on paper and although they have not won a tournament for a while and in actual fact haven’t made the final in any recent tournament, it is difficult to see past them. If they can get their squad to click and play as they do in the various European Leagues for their clubs, then I can see them at least making the final.

Then there is my beloved Ghana who were runners up two years ago and I have no doubt will be up there again this year. I can see us playing Ivory Coast in the final if our paths do not cross earlier. Unfortunately I am unable to be there and as a matter of fact the team were at the last African Cup and World Cup without me so there is nothing new there.

The Ghanaian team is full of experienced tournament players mixed with hungry young players and that is a very good combination for this year’s African Cup. There is captain John Mensah, Asamoah Gyan, Andre Ayew and Sulley Muntari among many other players.

This team knows how to play at tournaments and nearly made the semi-final at the last World Cup. They are a proper unit and play for the nation and that’s why I fancy them to make the final and probably win it.

My outside bets Mali and Senegal both have experienced players who play at the highest level round the world and have also played at major tournaments. Senegalese will tell you about their World Cup win against France, albeit almost 10 years ago, and they still have the spine of that team and will always give anyone a good game.

Mali’s Seydou Keita and his team are winners who will always fight to the end. I fancy them to surprise a few teams at the tournament and most probably make the last four or thereabouts.

Although we will be missing big names such as Samuel Eto’o, John Mikel Obi, Yakubu and Benoit Assou-Ekotto to name a few, the tournament should still be a mixture of good football and true African entertainment.

By the way there will be another African Cup of Nations tournament next year (January 2013)in order to allow CAF to organize the tournament in odd years. This will ensure the tournament does not clash with the World Cup which takes place in even years. The 2013 competition will be held in South Africa.

Let me know your predictions and for now sit back and enjoy the 2012 African Cup of Nations!

Ess

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