2012 is undoubtedly a significant year for football lovers in Africa as Gabon and Equatorial Guinea host the main football competition in Africa, the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON). The tournament has been held every two years since 1968. However, the tournament will now move to odd-numbered years from 2013.
Writing about the tournament on FourFourTwo, Jonathan Fadugba (@JustFootball) shows how Africa's 41st best footballing nation, Equatorial Guinea, came to host the AFCON:
As one of the smallest countries in continental Africa, what do you do if you cannot play your way to a major international tournament? In Equatorial Guinea's case the answer was simple. You buy your way in.
Aided by the discovery of vast oil and gas reserves that prompted huge economic growth in the mid-1990s, Equatorial Guinea found the resources possible to mount a joint bid with neighbours Gabon. After seeing off competition from Nigeria, in 2006 they were named joint hosts for what will be their first ever African Cup of Nations.
In a sense, therefore, the challenge is already won for the Nzalang Nacional. As a nation with just 2,300 registered players merely competing on such a stage is impressive enough.
He continues to describe what Equatorial Guinea’s Head of State is expecting:
President Obiang has boldly declared that he expects Equatorial Guinea to go all the way at this Cup of Nations. “Not only do we want the national team to display attractive football and sporting values, we also want them to win the Cup. The trophy must remain in Equatorial Guinea,” he stated. But really this is a pipe dream. The squad is arguably the weakest in the competition
Krobea D’Bee (@kwame_amoh), a Ghananian sports columnist, roots for his team the Black Stars – the nickname for Ghana’s national team. He starts by saying:
The 2012 Africa Cup of Nations will be one of the keenly contested continental showpieces irrespective of opinions making rounds that it will not live up to the billing as a result of the absence of nations like Egypt, Cameroon and Nigeria
Truly, the joint-favourites tag carried by Ghana and Ivory Coast is deserving though it puts pressure on the two West African neighbours. For Ghana’s Black Stars, the pressure is doubled some sort because of their performance at the global showpiece before this tournament
Erick E. Cleves, a blogger based in Venezuela, predicts a Ghana-Ivory Coast final:
Although the tournament has many interesting and powerful sides, the favourites are surely the Ivory Coast and Ghana. Both teams have a strong base of experienced European-based players, and both have experience of international tournaments at the highest level.
My support and heart is with the Black Stars! And I hope to be able to watch some African football from here in South America!
A 15-year-old blogger (@NathSalt1) notes the ‘headache’ that teams in the English Premier League have to undergo while losing their players for a month or so to the continental competition:
Every Premier League manager’s nightmare, but spectators and a scouts dream. With some of the best and hottest worldwide talents on display the African Nations Cup is always a delight to watch. The tournament illustrates the strength of talent Africa can offer top clubs around the world. With competition in the tournament improving hugely every two years that it’s staged a lot of teams will feel they can make a push to win it.
Mark (@twoht) has quite a detailed preview of the 2012 showcase:
Sudan are no longer a nation, after partition in July 2011, although the fledgling South Sudan national side still has international affiliations to sort out. While Libya are a very different nation indeed after the bloodiest of cabinet reshuffles last spring… Libyan football was hugely complicated by the fact that Colonel Gaddafi’s son Saadi could play the game properly – even if his career was boosted by the predictable “helping hands.” So “politicised” was almost a euphemism.
Libya’s pre-uprising captain, Tariq Ibrahim Al-Tayib, openly declared his and his team’s support for Gaddafi. But that was probably why he was captain. Others thought differently as they metaphorically battled on at neutral venues while real battles were fought at home (never were metaphors of war to describe football more inappropriate)….
Gabon’s qualification as co-hosts comes two years after they were squeaked out of a quarter-final place in the Angolan tournament’s tightest group. However, Equatorial Guinea have no such competition tradition and are internationally-ranked lower than the earth’s core – the lowest Fifa-ranked team (and by some distance too, at 151) in the tournament
He also discusses an article that looks at the relationship between the tournament and ‘oil-rich” nations:
A thought-provoking article by Sam Wallace in the Independent newspaper likened Equatorial Guinea to Qatar – in the “lots of lovely oil” sense, as much as “the only way Equatorial Guinea were going to play in the African Nations was by hosting it”. But this blazed no trail, as Austria and Switzerland showed in Euro 2008. Wallace was also scathing of the African Confederation (CAF) for selecting politically “unsuitable” tournament hosts (Libya were due to be 2013 hosts until their “regime change”)… Wallace’s basic point was a good one, well-made. The event has become “the target of oil-rich nations with dubious track records and in need of a PR-stunt.”
Finally, a popular sports analyst, Gary Al-Smith (@garyalsmith) looks at the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations through Sex, Love and Magic:
The sex tales are applicable to Botswana as well. First-timers at the tournament, they reek of naiveté.
Why else would the team have to order (not suggest) grown men not to ‘boink’?
The Zebras [the Botswana national team] have been warned to stay away from sexual activities, with boss Stanley Tshosane warning that “sex drains energy from a player and I expect my players to abstain till end of the tournament”. He’s also issued drug abuse warnings, touting “face-to-face and group talks with the players.”
While some of the methods were based in medical science, rumour mongers accused Ghana of jinxing their Group D opponents by using ‘charms.’
Magic is not new to the African Cup. From the failure of South Africa to qualify being blamed on non-payment of a sangoma to the assertion that Michael Essien’s injury at Angola 2010 was caused by psychic powers, there are countless stories.
Ask players with Cameroon why there never seems to be peace between their star-studded lineup, and you may get whispers of how there are “too many marabouts working for the same team”, thereby cancelling out the efficacy of their powers. Is there any truth to these stories? That is certainly open to question.
Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, the hosts, will use every trick in the book – fair or foul – to get as far as they can. After all, it’s what hosts do. Equatorial Guinea have offered $1 million USD to the team for every victory, in addition to $20,000 for every goal.
Outrageous amounts of money have been splashed before but not like this.
He ends the post by saying:
As ever, there are bound to be many subplots in the tournament which starts (on January 21st) and ends on February 12. Here’s hoping there isn’t too much boinking in obscure places