Report: Africa Cup of Nations 2015

Who will dazzle in Africa Cup of Nations 2015?

Friendly football match Equatorial Guinea vs Spain at the Olympic stadium in Malabo on 16 November, 2013
Friendly football match Equatorial Guinea vs Spain at the Olympic stadium in Malabo on 16 November, 2013 AFP PHOTO/ Valentina Lizard

Desperation influenced the choice of Equatorial Guinea for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations. Morocco had been anointed as hosts but as the Ebola epidemic claimed victims by the thousands, the Rabat government expressed concern about holding the tournament.

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By refusing to postpone the event, the Confederation of Africa (CAF), ensured that it wouldn’t only be the football under the spotlight.

The ethics of the leading administrators is in question. They’ve given the tournament to a country that had been thrown out of this year’s event for fielding an ineligible player during the qualifying rounds.

But with Ghana, South Africa and Angola declining the chance to take over as hosts – after Morocco was stripped of the right – expediency appears to have overridden the concept of fair play.

Equatorial Guinea have been reinstated, Morocco disqualified and President Teodoro Obiang Nguema has done the CAF boss Issa Hayatou, a huge favour.

Three years ago, Equatorial Guinea co-hosted the Cup of Nations with Gabon. Back then, Malabo and Bata put on the games with Franceville and Libreville. This time Mongomo and Ebebiyin will replace the venues in Gabon.

The stadiums have a capacity of 15,000 and 5,000 respectively. Far from monumental but when needs must, small is beautiful.

At least the opening match, pitting Equatorial Guinea against Congo and the final itself will be in a stadium more appropriate for the pomp and circumstance of the first game and the final.

Over the next few weeks, who will succeed Nigeria as champions will become clearer. Côte d’Ivoire have the African player of the year – Yaya Touré – in their midst. They’ve come close before. Runners-up in 2006 and 2012, they were semi-finalists in 2008 and such is their status that quarter-final finishes in 2010 and 2013 were both considered setbacks.

The Ivorians are undoubtedly a testament to consistency. It will be intriguing to see whether coach Hervé Renard, who led Zambia to the title in 2012, will be able to inject the missing ingredient and transform them into champions for the first time since 1992.

West African teams such as Ghana, Senegal and Cameroon will dominate the attention but it will be the progress of Algeria that will interest many observers. The North Africans gave the Germans a run for their money in the last 16 at the World Cup in Brazil.

Can they recreate that sparkle against less vaunted opposition? Or will they flatter to deceive? Will the 2013 surprise package of Burkina Faso be able to repeat their exploits? Coach Paul Put is still at the helm and the lightning quick strikeforce of Jonathan Pitroipa and Alain Traoré will be in full health.

Lorient attacker Traoré was hampered by injuries in South Africa two years ago. He’ll have a point to prove. And he won’t be alone.

If the tournament becomes mired in administrative messes and organisational glitches, the folly of the CAF bigwigs who insisted on staging the competition will be unyieldingly exposed.

Organisation at Cup of Nations is disjointed at the very best of times when countries have enjoyed a few years preparation. Equatorial Guinea has had but a few months to click into gear. Hayatou and Nguema will be hoping the nation’s petro dollars can fuel an impressive coup.

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