THE absence of Egypt, Nigeria and Cameroon from this year’s edition of the Africa Cup of Nations will bring an uncomfortable level of scrutiny on two African giants, Senegal and the Ivory Coast. Simply put, if it does not happen this year for the Teranga Lions or the Elephants, it simply never will
By Paul Mbuga
Saturday on SS4, SS9
Opening ceremony, 6.30pm
E. Guinea v Libya, 9.30pm
Senegal v Zambia, 12:00am
I. Coast v Sudan, 7pm
B. Faso v Angola, 10pm
THE absence of Egypt, Nigeria and Cameroon from this year’s edition of the Africa Cup of Nations will bring an uncomfortable level of scrutiny on two African giants, Senegal and the Ivory Coast. Simply put, if it does not happen this year for the Teranga Lions or the Elephants, it simply never will.
Senegal appears beautifully refreshed this year and its chances are not merely founded on the absence of the automatic favourities from the competition. The Lions embarrassingly failed to qualify for the 2010 edition and have used that experience to re-group and un-earth a few gems. More importantly, the corrosive cancer that was El Hadji Diouf has been expunged.
Diouf was banned by the Senegal Football Federation (FSF) for five years last year for terming their officials “a corrupt bunch” during a radio interview in July. In Diouf’s highlights reel of penal offences, that infraction ranks as one of the least serious but something had to be done.
“El Hadji Diouf is a pride to our country; no one can doubt or deny that. But also, don’t forget he has been involved in disorders, causing great harm to our national football and leading to the exit of the Teranga Lions from a number of African Cup of Nations editions,” FSF president Augustin Senghor commented.
How true and Diouf can count on the fact that he won’t be missed. With a front-line of Newcastle hitmen Demba Ba, Papiss Demba Cisse and Mamadou Niang, Diouf may never find his way back to the national team. With Souleymane Diawara at the back and Issiar Dia in midfield, Senegal is superbly balanced and should do well this year.
Expectations lie even heavier on the Ivory Coast. The Elephants have been favourities in every edition since 2006, thanks in part to the emergence of Didier Drogba. In 2008 and 2010, in particular, the Ivorian collapsed shockingly in matches against Algeria and Egypt respectively that they were primed to win.
This year, the team composition is as threatening as it has been over the past half-decade. Arthur Boka, Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue return in defence and Didier Zokora, Cheick Tiote and Yaya Toure will line up in midfield. Drogba, Salomon Kalou, Abdul Kader Keita, the maturing Gervinho and the highly-rated Seydou Doumbia are all available for selection upfront.
The Ivorians’ advantages are clear. The team has also had the benefit of playing together for a considerable period and familiarity never breeds contempt in football. They key question here is whether the Elephants can finally shoulder the burden of expectation.
There is one same quirk in the draw that could twist the fate of these two hopefuls. Should one of Senegal or Ivory Coast finish second in their group, and the other first, they will meet in one of the quarterfinals of February 4. Wager with caution!
With around 50 players having left France for the Africa Cup of Nations that starts Saturday, Ligue 1 clubs have to juggle their resources in order to keep their seasons on track.
For some, like mega-rich Paris Saint-Germain, it is simply a case of dipping into the transfer market to recruit a replacement for a player bound for the continental showcase in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
When Siaka Tiene was drafted into the Ivory Coast squad, PSG moved quickly to sign Barcelona’s Brazilian left-back Maxwell, who made an assured debut in the leaders’ 3-1 win at home to Toulouse last weekend.
Champions Lille have also been active on the transfer front, with French striker Nolan Roux poised to arrive from Brest.
Roux will cover for the absence of Senegal’s Moussa Sow, although Sow has been tipped to leave for Fenerbahce after rejecting Lille’s offer of a new contract.
Elsewhere, the need to balance budgets means clubs have been obliged to test the unchartered depths of their squads.
Marseille have been particularly affected by the Africa Cup of Nations, with Senegalese centre-back Souleymane Diawara and Ghana midfielder Andre Ayew leaving two gaping holes in Didier Deschamps’ first XI.
The favourites in 2012 Nations Cup