Sometimes you open your mouth and put your name forward for something that seems like a good idea at the time. Then the reality hits you like a train and suddenly reporting on the African Cup of Nations seems like my worst nightmare. So, after much contemplating whilst sitting in a dark corner of my room, I had a moment of clarity. Who cares if the tournament lasts 3 weeks? Who cares that the defending is so shockingly bad that even Titus Bramble must shake his head in despair? What we really want in this tournament is goals, goals, and more goals and I know that means Bramble-like-defending but I, personally, don’t care.
I am going to truly embrace this competition, enjoy all moments and share the lighter side over the next few weeks.
To start, we will have a look at each group over the next few days to learn more about the teams, players and, more importantly, their nicknames.
So this year the tournament is held in Gabon. And, for ease, we are calling it AFCON2017 as the African Cup of Nations 2017 takes way too long to type although it does increase my word count. So if you see this in full you know why, it will have been a day where little has happened. The competition starts Saturday 14th January and the final takes place on Sunday 5th February at the, er, world famous Stade D’Angondje.
The hosts find themselves in Group A and have a good chance of winning the trophy being on home soil but, as we know, so many teams struggle with the host tag around their necks and they do share the group with Cameroon who are supposed to be quite good.
Gabon have a strong team with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang up front. The runner up African player of the year will score goals as he has proven on a regular basis with Borussia Dortmund. Let’s hope he doesn’t lose his luggage this time, as god knows what he will turn up in. Gabon also possess Sunderland midfielder Didier Ndong and Juventus midfielder Mario Lemina. If you add into the mix Cardiff City defender Bruno Manga and we will definitely be seeing goals at both ends for the Panthers – sorry Bruno.
With Cameroon I’m trying not to show my age too much. But the first thing I think of when I think of the green and gold is Roger Milla. What a player. What a finisher and, by the way, did we ever find out how old he really was? Who can forget his little jig by the corner flag every time he scored. Time has moved on and I’m pretty sure (and I did double check) Roger Milla hasn’t made the squad this year. The Indomitable Lions are still packed with good players, yet the fact 8 of these pulled out of playing in Gabon has made their squad somewhat depleted. Those that won’t be on show include Joel Matip of Liverpool and West Bromwich Albion’s Allan Nyom. However, manager Hugo Broos still found 23 players and the 4 times winners can count on strikers Vincent Aboubakar of Beskitas, Jacques Zoua of Kaiserslautern and defender Collins Fai of Standard Liege. One to look out for is Clinton N’jie on loan from Tottenham at Marseille. Spurs fans will be interested to see how he gets on, maybe even bring out a celebratory DVD if he scores – something I am pretty sure he didn’t manage at White Hart Lane!
Guinea Bissau are making their first ever appearance at AFCON 2017. It’s a fairy tale story for them with a population of just 1.7 million. They have in their ranks one Francisco Junior who Evertonians will remember, or more likely won’t, having played a massive 45 minutes for the club. He was that good he was withdrawn at half time. He now plays for Stromsgodset in Norway.
Coach Baciro Cande has called up 23 players all based in Europe with captain Bocundji Ca, you know, the Paris FC midfielder, being the star man in the team. But with star striker Cicero missing out through injury, it’s a tough ask for the Djurtus to qualify. But, like any small team, after Leicester anything is possible. That, of course, is Leicester last season not this.
The final team in the group is Burkina Faso, who announced their final squad two days after the deadline. Only in AFCON could this happen! Whether they get fined or not or, more likely, it just gets brushed under the carpet, they will carry on regardless. Man, I love this tournament already.
The Stallions take on Cameroon in their first match and the 2013 runners up will be hoping for a good start. Star man Jonathan Pitroipa, he of Al Nasr, will undoubtedly be looking to score the goals to push the team forward with players Adama Guira of RC Lens and Jonathan Zongo of Almeria assisting the attack.
Now for my Mystic Meg bit:
With the top two qualifying for the quarter-finals, my money’s on Gabon topping the group with the runners up being Cameroon. That, would leave Burkina Faso third and, obviously, bringing up the rear Guinea Bissau.
I see Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scoring a hat full of goals and Cameroon to have more in house squabbling with at least two players deciding to leave the camp over money related problems. Now that’s a prediction.
If you managed to read all this then you deserve a medal and congratulations for not falling asleep. Tomorrow we will have a look at the joys of Group B and second and third favourites for the tournament – Senegal and Algeria if you are interested.
4 days and counting, are you excited yet?