For over half a century, the African Cup of Nations has been the continent's flagship football tournament. Today the tournament has assumed a growing global profile--it is no longer an African event but a global showcase. Peter Law previews the shape of things to come in Ghana, from 20 January through to 10 February.
This January, football fever descends on Ghana, the country of gold, as it hosts the African Nations Cup for a third time. In 1963 (under the patronage of Kwame Nkrumah) and also in 1978, Ghana's Black Stars walked off with the title on home soil. As co-hosts with Nigeria in 2000, the Ghanaians watched from the sidelines as the final went to Lagos for resolution.
So will the hosts prevail for a third straight finals on home soil? Or will one of the other contenders come through? When looking for possible winners, look hard at the West Africans who make up seven of the 16 finalists.
With no fewer than nine past winners lining up, this edition has no outstanding favourite. Even the defending champions, Egypt, were hardly convincing in negotiating their unbeaten progress through the qualifiers. A record has already been set even before the first ball was kicked: Sudan return to the finals after a 32-year absence! After strong performances in 2007, at both club and national levels, the Nile Crocodiles have rediscovered their bite after some long lean decades.
The draw held in Accra on 19 October was presided over by Abedi Pele and Basile Boli, and cast an open and well-balanced tournament. With big screens planned for an influx of travelling supporters and four new stadiums across the country, Ghana has pulled out all the stops to make this edition one to remember and savour. With an African World Cup growing ever nearer, the stakes have never been higher.
Group A: Ghana, Guinea, Morocco, Namibia--based in Accra
With Morocco being the only other past winner in this group, Ghana might think they have an easy ride to the next stage, but their experienced coach, Claude Le Roy, knows better than that. Facing Guinea, Morocco and Namibia, he cannot afford any complacency whatsoever.
Guinea are ranked third in Africa by Fifa and are strong outsiders to move from this group to the knockout stage. With plenty of talent at their disposal, the Guineans should prove a dangerous adversary.
Morocco too boosted their confidence after qualifying for Ghana 2008 unbeaten. In November, they held France to a 2-2 draw...