Drop your Vuvuzela and meet me by the Baobab tree because its time to buff up on Africa’s ‘Euros’.
For those who know a little bit about the continental football of Africa, the list of teams going to Gabon and Equatorial Guinea makes interesting reading. The final groups for the tournament are:
So no Algeria, no Nigeria, no Cameroon, no Egypt, and no South Africa. In fact, only five of the qualified teams have won the cup before (it’s traditionally a fairly open contest). The smart money has to be going with four-time winners Ghana, or the Ivory Coast. I’d like to put Tunisia in with a really good shout this year too.
The qualification had a few points of interest, namely something more shocking than if Jaws had apologised to Steve McQueen and become a community support officer. Yes, Sepp Blatter was actually involved in something correct! Togo were reinstated to qualification after their ban was lifted. They failed to qualify anyway but it was good to see justice done, especially when you consider what their ban was for.
The real action came in Group G which lined up seven times winners (including the last three) Egypt and World Cup 2010 hosts South Africa, with Niger and Sierra Leone. The script read Egypt going through, with South Africa clinching a best runner-up place, however this was not to be.
Niger’s formidable home form saw them grab wins against all three teams in their backyard, Sierra Leone keeping pace with South Africa against the poor Egyptian team. The final ties left SA and SL needing a win topple Niger who were sitting at the top. Niger went to Cairo and lost 3-0 keeping in theme with their contrasting away record, this left Bafana Bafana and the Leone Stars fighting for a win to take the group.
What occurred next is one of the biggest fails in footballing history. South Africa, knowing they had +1 goal difference over Niger, played for a draw against Sierra Leone in Nelspruit. SA manager Pitso Mosimane sent out a conservative team and succeeded in playing out a 0-0 draw, the team celebrated (even multiple dances!) at the whistle, and the South African Football Association president went on TV to congratulate Mosimane and his team.
But uh-oh, turns out the ACN qualification ties are decided by head-to-head record rather than goal difference. The embarrassed aforementioned SAFA lodged an appeal, and the shamed Mosimane said “Africa is a jungle, my friend. The European and South American formats are so much better because everything is running smoothly, but it’s very difficult to play in Africa.”
Players to watch
Issam Jemaa – Tunisia + Auxerre: Jemaa was the qualifying rounds top scorer, racking up six goals including at hattrick against Chad. With Tunisia’s fairly prominent attack he could have a great tournament. He also once scored one of the flukiest goals ever:
Demba Ba – Senegal + Newcastle: Assuming the striker continues his form for the Magpies he could have a great time in front of goal for the Senegalese. Scored a crucial 92nd minute winning goal against Cameroon.
Yaya Toure – Ivory Coast + Man City: The player’s impressive form for City is no less impressive for The Elephants. I would expect him, along with the likes of Drogba and Gervinho, to make the final.
Jerome Ramatlhakwane – Botswana + Vasco da Gama: Although debutante Botswana’s chances are slim, Ramatlhakwane’s five goals can’t be overlooked for their importance – four were winners. Could be a surprise package.
Moussa Sow – Senegal + Lille: Making up Senegal’s formidable attack with Ba and Mamadou Niang is Sow. The 25 year old has a great scoring record in Ligue 1 and 2012 could be his moment to make an impact on the grand stage. Check out this cracker against Lyon:
The lovely men and women at Puma who make nine of the qualified team’s kits decided to get creative with their ACN editions. They drafted in a local artist from each country to design parts of their respective country’s kit. This culturally adept move has produced some decent results too:
Some more can be checked out here. Namibia’s is pretty swish too.
The tournament begins 21st January.