African football fans are looking forward to the 28th edition of the continent’s premier event, the Nations Cup tournament. The 16-team competition will see a new African champion crowned on February 12, when the final is held in Libreville, Gabon.
The Pharaohs of Egypt, the three-time defending African champions, did not qualify for the African soccer tournament, which officially kicks off January 21 with two matches in Bata, Equatorial Guinea. Equatorial Guinea will host Libya in the opening game, and that will be followed by a match between Senegal and Zambia.
In addition to the Egyptians, three other traditional powers in African football – Nigeria, Cameroon and South Africa – also failed to qualify for the Nations Cup, perhaps an indication that African soccer is on the rise and new players and teams are
ready for the spotlight.
The 2012 tournament will feature three teams that are making their Nations Cup debuts – Botswana, Niger and co-host Equatorial Guinea. All three are expected to have a hard time advancing out of the first round group stage.
Two of the favorites are neighbors Ghana and Ivory Coast, which both qualified for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The Elephants of Ivory Coast are currently ranked #1 in Africa by FIFA, world football’s governing body, while The Black Stars of Ghana are #2.
Ivory Coast has several star players based in England, including Didier Drogba of Chelsea and Yaya Toure of Manchester City. Drogba is a two-time African Footballer of the Year (2006, 2009), while Toure recently won the 2011 award in Accra, Ghana.