The biennial AFCON gets underway in Ghana on January 20. Almost all the African talent that is ruling the roast in the World’s major leagues will be on display as 16 teams slug it out. Since Africa is where great players are from, many European managers and scouts will, without doubt, be keenly watching the tourney either looking at the progress of their players or searching for future stars.
It will be a tournament whereby African titans, Egypt, will be looking forward to win it for a record six times while Ghana and Cameroon would want to equal Egypt’s current record of five titles.
The 2008 tournament might, however, prove to be, once again, difficult for North African teams.
North African teams, including Egypt, do not play well in tournaments held outside their hemisphere. Since the 2008 AFCON will be in West Africa, West African countries are, once again, the hot favourites.
This year’s AFCON will also be the one at which southern African teams will be looking to make their presence felt because they failed in the past. Since the inception of the tournament in 1957, only one southern African team clinched it. It was South Africa in 1996 as they participated in the tournament for the first time after having been barred for its apartheid policies.
South Africa also reached the finals in 1998 where they lost 2-0 to Egypt in Burkina Faso. Previously, Zambia also reached the finals in 1974 and 1994 and lost to both the then Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) and Nigeria, respectively.
In this year’s tournament, southern African teams stand no chance of winning, let alone reaching the finals. Although many soccer pundits from southern African countries might be patriotic and say football is a sport of miracles and tables can turn around, it looks unlikely and it is going to be tough for the four representatives.
Southern African clubs are rarely seen in club Championships. It is mainly an affair of North and West African teams. It was only in 1995 when South African side, Orlando Pirates, won the Championship finals. Previously, only Zambian side, Power Dynamos, reached the finals. What also puts southern Africa on the darker side is that only a fraction of their players are making an impact in the major leagues around the world while North and West African countries have countless players plying their trades outside Africa.
Even the coaches of the North and West African teams always have headaches when selecting their final squads. The tournament might prove to be a monumental one for both Angola and Namibia. Southern Africa’s sole winners, South Africa, have been on a terrible downward spiral since winning the tournament eleven years ago and this year it looks no different. Two years after winning, they reached the finals where they lost to Egypt 2-0 in Burkina Faso.
In 2000 they managed to reach the semifinals where they won a bronze medal. The performance went down further in 2002 when they were knocked out in the quarterfinals in Mali. Two years latter, they did not go beyond the group stages. 2006 was even more terrible as they did not only fail to go beyond the group stages but failed to even score a single goal.
This time around, the coach of the team, Carlos Alberto Parreira, has only picked a relatively inexperienced squad with only a few experienced ones. The dismally performing team of 2006 was also inexperienced and many wonder whether the respected Brazilian did not learn a thing or two from that.
Parreira even shocked many people when he did not select top striker, Benni Mcarthy, who is playing for English Premier League side, Blackburn Rovers. This then leaves only Steven Pienner and Aron Mokoena who play for Everton and Blackburn Rovers, respectively.
Another striker, Sibusiso Zuma, might be playing in Germany but he failed to lead South Africa in previous seasons while at the top of his game. Pitted against a fellow southern African country, Angola, along with Tunisia and Senegal, South Africa stands little chance.
South Africa have also proved to be poor performers against physical sides meaning that Senegal already have an edge. Tunisia, on the other hand, is Africa’s power house and has assembled a very experienced side from mostly major leagues around the world.
Zambia, on the other hand, shocked many soccer pundits around the world in 1994 by bowing out in the finals. Just a year and half before that, they lost almost all their entire squad in a plane crash and had to rebuild. However, they are yet to produce a team such as one that reached the 1994 finals.
Since then Zambia’s biggest achievement was reaching the 1996 semifinals where they finished third after defeating Ghana. Lately, they have been bowing out in the initial stages. Also, most Zambian players are not playing in tougher leagues compared to their fellow group C members, Cameroon, Sudan and Egypt.
For Cameroon, everything is there for everybody to see and Zambia is going to be in the lion’s den. As the defending champions, Egypt would not want to disappoint their supporters.
Sudan, on the other hand, is the newcomers after a 30-year absence but the Zambians might even find them tougher than other fellow group members. What, however, catapults Sudan is that their two teams reached the late stages of African Club Championships. The only two popular players in Angola are Flavor, who plays in Egypt, and Mantras, who is in Portugal. Also in previous participation in the tournament, Angola failed to live up to expectations.
Namibia, on the other hand, had lady luck smiling on them to qualify for the tournament. Most of their players are home based while only a few are based in South Africa. In their last participation, which was in 1998 in Burkina Faso, they lost all their games heavily almost.
They do not stand a chance against the host Ghana, Guinea and Morocco.