Without the Pharaohs, who will be king in Africa?

2012-01-17 09:03

Libreville – Egypt’s Pharaohs made the last three Africa Cup of Nations tournaments their own, but this time around they will be conspicuous by their absence.

However, the three-times reigning champions will not be the only powerhouse missing at the 28th edition of the tournament held in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon from January 21 until February 12.

Nigeria, Cameroon and 2010 World Cup hosts South Africa also failed to qualify.

In their absence, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Senegal are the favourites to lift the trophy after the final in the Gabonese capital of Libreville.

The 2002 World Cup quarter-finalists Senegal take on co-host Equatorial Guinea, Libya, Senegal and Zambia in group A and will expect a smooth ride into the quarter-finals.

First-timers Equatorial Guinea are the lowest ranked team in the competition (150) and their preparations suffered a serious set-back in December when former French coach Henri Michel resigned.

He has since been replaced by Brazilian Gilson Paulo, who had only a week of training with the team before announcing the squad.

The line-up of the tournament was only finalised last week, when the Court of Arbitration for Sport turned down Namibia’s appeal to have Burkina Faso thrown out of the competition over the usage of an improperly registered player.

Having been given the go-ahead to compete, the Stallions face a daunting task in group B of the competition against Ivory Coast, Angola and Sudan.

Burkinabe coach Paulo Duarte surprisingly included 16-year-old Bertrand Traore, who last year still played in the African under-17 championships in Rwanda.

The younger brother of Auxerre midfielder Alain, who was also included in Duarte’s final squad of 23, could become the third-youngest player to feature at the finals if he plays.

The only players younger than Traore to have appeared in the finals were Shiva Star Nzigou, who was 16 years two months and 30 days when he played for Gabon in 2000. Mohamed Kallon was less than two weeks older when he played at the 1996 finals for Sierra Leone.

African Footballer of the Year Yaya Toure heads an Ivory Coast squad filled with stars like his brother Kolo, Didier Drogba, Gervinho and Salomon Kalou.

Angola coach Lito Vidigal surprisingly called up uncapped former Germany youth international Nando Rafael, who plays his club football in the Bundesliga for Augsburg, but has not yet received permission to play for Angola.

Football’s world controlling body Fifa confirmed that they had not yet received an application to change nationalities from the striker, whose parents fled from Angola’s civil war as a child.

Ghana’s Black Stars will be competing in group D with a virtually all European-based squad, the only exceptions being goalkeepers Ernest Sowah and Daniel Adjei.

Their Serbian coach Goran Stevanovic has taken a gamble by including Asamoah Gyan in the 23-man squad as the striker is still in the process of recovering from an injury.

“Gyan is an important player in our squad and he has made good progress. We need him at the tournament,” Stevanovic said.

The West Africans, who were losing finalists two years ago in Angola, take on rookies Botswana, Mali and Guinea in the Franceville-based group.

Botswana, who had previously come close to qualifying for the finals only once, caused a sensation by topping their qualifying group ahead of Tunisia, and are now looking for a continuation of their footballing fairy-tale.

They were recently crowned African team of the Year, prompting the president of the Botswana Football Association David Fani to say that it had been a remarkable year for them.

“Though we have not yet won any major trophy, we achieved a lot by qualifying for Afcon and winning a CAF award,” he said.

Co-hosts Gabon face Nations Cup first-timers Niger, as well as north Africans Morocco and Tunisia in Libreville.

Gabon coach Gernot Rohr said in a radio interview that “We inherited this terrible group”.

But Rohr, who spent 12 seasons playing for Girondins Bordeaux in France, said they were targeting second place and then hoping to be carried further by local support.

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