The Names are in, as Bafana Bafana await their Afcon Opposition
With qualification for the African Cup of Nations coming to a head last weekend, the line-up for the tournament is complete. Soccer Laduma takes a brief look at the field of competitors South Africans will be welcoming in 2013, and examines Bafana Bafana’s potential group stage opposition.
Unlike 2012’s tournament, when so many major teams and big stars were absent, the qualifiers this time around contain many of Africa’s finest national sides. Ten of the tournament’s previous winners will be competing in the Rainbow Nation, and many of Africa’s greatest players will be flying down to South Africa to challenge at the continental high table.
The 16 competitors have already been seeded, and on Wednesday the four pots will be sorted into groups. As hosts, Bafana Bafana find themselves in Pot 1 along with the tournament’s top seeds: holders Zambia, Cote d’Ivoire, and Ghana. With recent performances doing little to inspire South Africa fans, optimism is limited within the Rainbow Nation. Avoiding three of the continent’s more dangerous teams in the opening round will be an encouragement, but dangers lurk in the other three pots.
In Pot 2, all four teams are capable of causing problems. Mali finished third in this year’s tournament, Bordeaux striker Cheick Diabaté impressing with three goals, whilst Tunisia won the competition as recently as 2004, and offer organised and competitive opposition. Angola disappointed at the previous Afcon, only managing a draw with Sudan in the Group Stage before crashing out after defeat against Cote d’Ivoire, but Valladolid frontman Manucho could easily be capable of troubling Bafana Bafana’s backline.
Nigeria complete the line-up in pot 2, returning to the Afcon after an extended absence. Traditionally among the continent’s giants, they have endured a difficult few years, but redemption began with a 6-1 home victory against Liberia in the qualifiers, and they will be keen to continue their road to salvation in South Africa. No one will relish squaring up to the Super Eagles.
The third pool of competitors contains two North African heavyweights expectant of success, and two West African nations who struggled at the previous tournament. Morocco and Algeria have slipped out of the continent’s limelight recently, as the balance of power has shifted to the West. With both squads laced with players capable of creating magic, neither will be an easy prospect. Burkina Faso and Niger however failed to assemble any points at the Afcon 2012, both struggling with a steep learning curve and inexperienced personnel. The 2013 Cup of Nations will provide each with a chance to continue their education among the continent’s finest – the pair will be hoping to improve on their recent showing.
Finally, the minnows of Pot 4 complete the set. Ethiopia and Congo DR have both previously tasted success at the Afcon, although titles have been hard to come by in the last thirty years. It’s a pleasure to see these great names sat back at the continent’s high table, although neither possess the quality they once did. The Cape Verde make their Afcon debut, and while many may imagine the Sharks are merely content just to make up the numbers, defeating Cameroon in the qualifiers demonstrates their capabilities. The tiny island nations will be keen to show that they belong. Finally, Togo qualified after defeating Gabon over two legs – in Emmanuel Adebayor they have a striker who can challenge any defence on the continent, but the quality in the rest of the team may prevent them from truly challenging in the tournament’s latter stages.
Whichever teams are drawn alongside Bafana Bafana on Wednesday, new boss Gordon Igesund will be acutely aware of the myriad of challenges that may await them come January.
Ed Dove
The Names are in, as Bafana Bafana await their Afcon Opposition
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