This one is for West Africa

2012-01-15 07:21

This year’s edition of the Africa Cup of Nations will present the last chance for a host of big-name players to win the tournament or bow out as continental underachievers.

The 16-nation championship, co-hosted by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, kicks off on Saturday and ends on February 12.

After defending champions Egypt and other previous title- holders Cameroon and Nigeria failed to qualify for the showpiece, Ivory Coast go to the event as odds-on favourites to lift their first trophy since 1992.

With the event?most likely to be the last for the majority of the Elephants’ stars, the players will want to bow out with the honour of having won the prestigious contest on the African continent.

However, in the past three tournaments – hosted by Egypt, Ghana and Angola – Ivory Coast went as pre-tournament favourites but their star-studded sides failed to live up to expectations on those occasions.

Once again the 2006 finalists approach the showdown as firm favourites as they boast a number of English Premier League players in Didier Drogba, brothers Yaya and Kolo Toure, Gervinho and Cheik Tiote.

And for the likes of Chelsea’s Drogba and Didier Zokora, the 28th Afcon edition presents the two with a chance to salvage something as they near the end of their international career.

However, the Elephants’ undoing in recent contests has been their over-reliance on individual players, particularly their captain Drogba.

But with the newly crowned African Player of the Year Yaya Toure on top form at Manchester City, those who bet on Ivory Coast to win the event might just get a big pay-out.

Ghana’s Black Stars are also up there among the favourites, especially after their 2010 offering in Angola.

Even with the absence of midfield maestro Michael Essien, the 2008 hosts have the depth in their squad to go all the way to the final.

However, there are doubts regarding the fitness level of star striker Asamoah Gyan, who is racing against time to be fit ahead of their first game against Botswana on January 24.

Ghana have a mixture of young and experienced campaigners, and this boosted them in their quest to the finals in Angola 2010.

All eyes will be on the Ayew brothers – Andre and Jordan – to see if they could emulate their legendary father Abedi Pele, who won the tournament in 1982 for the country.

But in any tournament, there are dark horses and surprise packages capable of spoiling it for the big boys.

Three other West African nations – Senegal, Burkina Faso and Mali – cannot be written off as their sides have equally talented players.

Despite the trophy going to North Africa in the past three editions, Tunisia and Morocco lack the pedigree of Egypt who remain Africa’s most successful team with a record seven titles.

While the Pharaohs’ failure to qualify has opened the door for a new champion, the challenge is on Ivory Coast and Ghana to live up to their billing.

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