|King Didier... Ivory Coast captain Didier Drogba|
Ivory Coast will once again be the team to beat when the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) kicks off in South Africa early next year.
The Elephants sealed their place at Africa’s showpiece event after a dramatic two-legged win over Senegal and will enter the 2013 Afcon as favourites, just as they’ve done since 2006.
However, it’s not a tag the Ivoirians have been comfortable with in the past. In each of the four tournaments since 2006 Ivory Coast’s star-studded line-up has failed to live up to lofty expectations, coming up short when it has mattered most.
In 2006 Didier Drogba and his co-stars finished runners-up to hosts Egypt. The Elephants then came fourth two years later in Ghana, made a quarterfinal exit in 2010 and were runners-up again this year.
Adding to the frustration of their ageing stars, such as Drogba, Kolo Toure and Didier Zokora, is the fact that both final defeats have come on penalties.
After outplaying Senegal to qualify, Ivory Coast again find themselves among the top seed and captain Drogba believes South Africa may be the last-chance-saloon for him and the team’s other 30-plus stars. “It is the last one for a great number of us and we will do everything possible to lift the trophy in South Africa,” Drogba says.
The former Chelsea star, now playing for Shanghai Shenhua, also has a personal motive for wanting to win the February 10 final. It was he who blazed a regular-time penalty over the bar in this year’s final defeat to Zambia.
Also in Pot 1 alongside Ivory Coast are hosts South Africa, defending champions Zambia and giants Ghana.
Pot 2 consists of Mali, Tunisia, Angola and Nigeria while Algeria, Burkina Faso, Morocco and Niger will be in Pot 3. Togo, Cape Verde, Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia make up Pot 4.
The seedings are based on results from the past three Afcon tournaments – Ghana (2008), Angola (2010), Gabon/Equatorial Guinea (2012) – and, theoretically, keep the tournament’s big guns apart. Nevertheless, there are numerous possibilities of tough groups; for example, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Morocco and Togo could be paired together.
The 2013 line-up includes nine of the 16 finalists from the 2012 edition - Zambia, Ivory Coast, Mali, Ghana, Tunisia, Burkina Faso, Morocco, Niger and Angola.
|And more disappointment for Cameroon...|
Islanders Cape Verde are the lone debutants in the competition while Ethiopia is making their first appearance at the Afcon in 37 years. Record seven-time champions Egypt and four-time title holders Cameroon are the most glaring absentees from the line-up. Both also missed the 2012 event and this time their ageing teams were eliminated by Central African Republic and Cape Verde respectively.
Johannesburg will stage the opening ceremony and ensuing double-header on January 19. The 93,000-seat Soccer City stadium will also host the final on February 10. The other 29 games divided between Durban (Moses Mabhida), Nelspruit (Mbombela), Port Elizabeth (Nelson Mandela Bay) and Rustenburg (Royal Bafokeng Stadium).
Afcon 2013 seedings
Pot 1: Ivory Coast, South Africa, Zambia, Ghana
Pot 2: Mali, Tunisia, Angola, Nigeria
Pot 3: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Morocco, Niger
Pot 4: Togo, Cape Verde, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia