Jake's Africa Cup of Nations Preview
Below is one image that nobody will be able to attain for this winter's game – Egyptian celebrations. The seven-time record winners were dumped out during an abysmal qualification campaign which totalled to six points. Teams like Cameroon and Nigeria won't be making the finals and only two African teams that featured in the World Cup two years ago will be making the finals. Am I not selling the tournament to you yet?
Even the hosts of the said World Cup, South Africa failed to qualify which leaves the likes of Ivory Coast, Ghana and Tunisia as the favourites of the 2012 games. You just cannot look beyond either Ivory Coast or Ghana for this tournament.
Ghana will be joined in Group D by the debutants Botswana who qualified first, back in March of last year who are making their debut appearance in the tournament. However, the Ghanaians main issue will be the pressure that both Mali and Guinea will bring in a group which everybody expects the World Cup quarter-finalists to run out winners.
When you search for a winner in this tournament and the players brought to the tournament – Ivory Coast jump out at you every single time. The star quality of Drogba, Gervinho, Tiote, Kalou, the Toure brothers, Eboue, Zokora and Doumbia mean that they are the team with the biggest threat in the entire tournament. No wonder they are the highest ranked African nation at 16th in the latest FIFA World Rankings.
The Ivorians are a team draped in the experience of top European leagues and the likes of Max Gradel and Abdul Keita mean that the Cote d'Ivoire have strength in depth. This new breed of Ivorian playing ability in the past decade leaves many a neutral European fan wondering how on earth they haven't managed to win this tournament with this group of players yet.
It's not like they haven't come close though, coming runners-up in 2006, fourth in 2008 only to crash out in the quarter finals against Algeria last time round – another team who shockingly were eliminated at the qualification stage.
Looking to Group C, it is definitely a tough group for the hosts Gabon which includes the likes of Morocco and Tunisia, who have both won the tournament once. Morocco and Tunisia, on paper look to be certain favourites but as the tournament is being staged in Gabon, definitely expect the home crowd to give their players a good backing and do not be surprised if they make the quarter finals.
Niger make up Group C as a third and final debutant of the tournament and could spring a little shock or too. If there's anything to be learnt for these type of tournaments past and present, don't assume anything.
If Niger are the underdogs of Group C then the co-hosts Equatorial Guinea are most definitely looking to be the outsiders of Group A. On paper, Senegal look like the evident winners with very much one from three in the remainder of the group to qualify alongside them. Libya are by no means a bad team but shouldn't pose a threat to Senegal and with the element of Equatorial Guinea being the hosts, you can never write them off.
When you look at the past, eleven of the 28 African tournaments have been won by the hosts so you can never count out a host. However, the fourth side in Group A in Zambia have a knack of putting in a good account of themselves when it comes to tournament football. They have appeared in 15 tournaments and topped a group containing Cameroon and Tunisia in 2010, only to lose out on Nigeria on penalties in the quarter finals.
Those are two forces that won't be stopping Zambia this time out.
I wouldn't put it past Zambia to replicate their performance of two years ago and maybe go one better and make the final four. They might even top Group A, you know. Senegal, who didn't even qualify for the last tournament and haven't reached the knockout stage since 2006, might have the likes of an in-form Demba Ba but he won't be in the same company that he is in Newcastle.
Whether or not Ba will be in a different league of support for his national side, Senegal will still be one to watch and there's a reason why they are third favourites to go all the way.
My predictions for the tournament see Ivory Coast going all of the way but as recent years are to be emulated then do not discount the outsiders as the Africa Cup of Nations is a complete lottery of a tournament.