African football fans are looking forward to a big weekend of qualifying matches for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations tournament in South Africa. The final qualifying round features 15 home-and-away series. The 15 winners, to be determined by total goals in the two games, will join host South Africa at African football’s premier event.
One of the marquee match-ups this coming weekend will be in Abidjan, where The Elephants of Ivory Coast will host The Lions of Teranga from Senegal. African football analyst David Legge describes this qualifying series as worthy of a Nations Cup final.
The Elephants, Africa’s highest-ranked team, are led by veteran striker Didier Drogba, who recently moved from Chelsea in England’s Premier League to Shanghai Shenhua in the Chinese Super League.
Ivory Coast, the 1992 Nations Cup champion, reached the final of this year’s competition, losing (8-7) to underdog Zambia in a dramatic penalty kick shootout in Libreville, Gabon. Senegal, meanwhile, is hoping to bounce back after a very disappointing 2012 Nations Cup campaign. The Senegalese lost all three of their group matches and left the tournament as perhaps the most embarrassed team.
Zambians are very proud of their team, The Chipolopolo, for lifting the Nations Cup trophy for the first time in Libreville. To get to South Africa and defend their title, the Zambians will have to beat The Cranes of Uganda, who last competed in the Nations Cup tournament in 1978.
Football Association of Zambia president Kalusha Bwalya is not looking past the Ugandans, though, and he says they’ll provide a tough test. This series will kick off Saturday in Zambia’s Copperbelt city of Ndola, near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. The return match is scheduled for mid-October in Uganda.
The 2013 Nations Cup tournament will begin January 19th and goes through February 10th. Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg will stage the opening match and the final. Soccer City was also the venue for the 2010 FIFA World Cup final, in which Spain defeated the Netherlands, 1-0, in extra time.