Africa sets to rumble come this weekend

By Hilton Yip Source:Global Times Published: 2015-1-12 22:53:01

One week after the Asian Cup kicked off, we are set to enjoy another continental tournament.

After a late change of host country, the 2015 African Cup of Nations starts Saturday in Equatorial Guinea. Stars like Ivorian Yaya Toure, the Manchester City midfield behemoth, and Newcastle's Papiss Cisse from Senegal, will be in action.

At one point, it was not even certain if this tournament could have been held as scheduled. Ebola concerns had prompted original hosts ­Morocco in ­November to ask to postpone the tournament for later in the year as they did not feel capable of handling the expected crowds. The African soccer confederation refused and shifted the tournament to Equatorial Guinea, who had actually been disqualified during the qualifying stage.

While Equatorial Guinea must be lauded for stepping up on such short notice, the tournament will feel a little subdued. The country's ­largest stadium holds 37,500 but its fourth and smallest venue holds a mere 5,000.

Nonetheless the action on the field should be exciting enough. The favorites include the continent's big names like Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana, but defending champions Nigeria will not be defending their crown, having failed to qualify. Algeria are considered the top contenders.

There is always an unfancied team that manages to punch way beyond its weight, such as Zambia, who won in 2012, and Burkina Faso, who reached the final in 2013. These two teams are in the mix this time as well, but South Africa might be a dark horse. Bafana Bafana qualified top of a tough group, and they will also be on an emotional high after their captain and goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa was killed in October during the qualifying campaign.

On paper, Senegal boast one of the more talented squads. But they have been woeful in the last several years, as squad instability and lack of teamwork always hinder them from playing to their potential.

Despite its low profile and logistical issues, the African Cup is the third most important regional tournament in international soccer. It has become increasingly competitive and the action, even if not widely shown, can be exciting. Hopefully this year's edition will live up to this reputation.

The author is an editor with the Global Times.

Posted in: Extra Time

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