SA Afcon will be spectacular
There is no doubt that the South Africans will give us a spectacular Afcon. One only need to look to the 2010 World Cup or, for those who like to think outside the box, the loving care and precision they use to roll out their fabled biltong, to know it will be another extravaganza of sheer delight.
For those who have not tasted these yummy morsels of delight yet, you have to put it on your “Bucket List”. This distant cousin of Jerky, my editor once reminded me, is the main reason most South African men walk around with a permanent smile as well as a slightly bulging belly.
But back to football.
All of Africa already shivers in excitement as the games approach and, as can be expected, nowhere is it more pronounced than in the 16 countries actually competing for the golden fleece of continental football.
Here are some of my favourite talking points and observations so far
In Ghana, the GFA has requested $9 million for the Black Stars to win the cup. They submitted a position paper that even included, we are told, the services of an official juju man. While I doubt that this will improve their chances of winning a fifth title, the fact that Gyan’s mother (RIP) finally convinced her mercurial son to stop taking penalties certainly will.
In neighbouring Nigeria, Keshi’s new-look team can no longer be referred to as chickens. True. However their back four is still so wobbly that calling them birds of prey may be too adventurous. While the NFF has asked for $1 million less than their Ghanaian cousins to win a third cup, they have recently been left with egg on their face - again.
This time the accusations of past bribery in a $15 000 pay-to-play scheme was exposed by Westerhoff, an ex Eagle coach himself. Only the squeaky clean image of the big boss himself has helped to calm things down and keep the focus on the RSA quest.
In Togo, Adebayor continues to play ping pong retirement and un-retirement. This time, though, one must applaud him for taking on the Togolese Football Federation for not paying promised bonuses after the Sparrow Hawks beat the Atlas Lions in Morocco. So he is currently retired but I assure you that this may soon change as the team has virtually disintegrated over this issue.
Ivory Coast will go to Afcon for a fourth straight time as on-paper favourites. While the team has seemingly developed chemistry and can score at will, they can still be scored against and sometimes with relative ease.
This must be worrying to Ivorian fans, who may see another episode of “de ja vu” looming. Considering that this is the last roll of the dice for the ageing Drogba and friends, one can only imagine the pressure the team, including the shot-callers in Abidjan, must be facing. If there is one thing the National Geographic channel has taught me is that Elephants don't like pressure.
It is a totally different story in Ethiopia where pressure is now non-existent. Just being back at Afcon, after missing it for three decades, has been enough to have people dancing in the streets of Addis Ababa. Nevertheless, the team is far below the standard of the one that won Afcon in 1962 and will be severely tested.
From North Africa we get something new as well as confusing again. Despite Al Ahly's miracle season, Egypt stumbled for the second time in a row and failed to make the final cut again. So it’s up to Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria to save Arab pride in 2013.
Easier said than done.
In the Lions camp all is not well, as we saw them upset by a so-so Togolese side. As we know, the Moroccan league is currently playing but coach Taoussi had been hoping to have a series of camps for locally-based players in midweek, in-between matches. He seemingly never cleared this with the clubs, who are now seriously objecting and leaving him with a dilemma.
As for the Algerian Foxes, all we know about them is that they will be among the first teams to arrive in South Africa, coming in as early as 4 January. Tunisia, meanwhile, is tucked away in the UAE trying to add bite to their team with games against Gabon, Ghana and Iraq. As always, the teams from North Africa will play technically sound football. I seriously doubt that it will be enough to win this Afcon though. You must bring more to the table.
Then there is mighty Zambia, whose fans have been caught up in a cyclone of different emotions this year. First Fifa does the right thing by striking off a Sudanese win attained with an ineligible player. Then there was the nail-biting drama of the playoffs against Uganda and finally the snub by Caf, who disgraced the entire continent by leaving off Captain Katongo from the African Player of the Year short list. I seriously would not want to play any team led by him right now.
From South Africa we see a side that Gordon Igesund has at least playing like a team. While I seriously doubt they can repeat the feat they pulled off when they last hosted Afcon in 1996, I have all the confidence that this team will at least know when to celebrate and when not to.
They are simply more football savvy and play smarter, as we saw when they held their own against Zambia during the Mandela Invitational. To quote the coach, “It's not always the best team that wins but the team that really wants it the most.”
I could not agree more because, at the end of the day, after all is said and done, it will be all about heart.