Who won’t win the Africa Cup of Nations
Understandably, some Nigerians are not happy with me, following the headline of this column last week.
Their grouse is that I did not promote my country above all others as favourites to win the 2013 African Cup of Nations championship. Let me quickly say that every time I have stuck out my neck and made a prediction about winners and losers at championships such as this, I have always had to lick the wounds of my 'failure'.
So, what I am doing here is merely academic. My opinion does not speak to any truth but to an honest assessment, based purely on my experiences and conclusions on a subject matter where anything is possible. I think that the Super Eagles of Nigeria have the capacity to win any African football championship though they do not look like potential 2013 champions to me.
Come February next year, I will be extremely delighted (as a Nigerian who passionately loves the Super Eagles) to see them win it and 'shame' the doubters led by me. Be that as it may, I still think we should look elsewhere for the team that will likely replace Zambia as next champions of Africa. Wait a minute. Am I also saying that Zambia will not win it?
Let me start by saying, without fear, that there are certain countries that I believe do not stand a chance of winning Afcon 2013. Football, even as unpredictable as it is, follows a kind of tradition. Championships such as the Nations Cup are never won by fluke, or by teams that do not have a sustaining winning power, or a collection of good individual players that play as a unit through several tough games.
Without even microscopically examining the groups the teams are in and the opposition they are going to face, let me respectfully pick the teams that will not win Afcon 2013. These are the teams that have limited depth in terms of history, quality of players, the strength of their domestic leagues, their international achievements and whether or not they are the host nation.
This means, quite easily, that Mali, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Togo, Niger and Cape Verde stand little chance of winning the trophy in South Africa.
Mali - even in their best years could not win. Burkina Faso - no depth in players. Ethiopia - too inexperienced. Togo - a one-man army never wins a war. Niger - there is nothing there. Cape Verde - cups are not won by dreams alone.
Then there are the countries that have the capacity but may not have the sustaining power and psychological impetus needed to win at this level. A champion team must be able to play through 'soft' and difficult matches, always looking like champions. That’s how the Cameroon, Ghana, Egypt and, sometimes, Nigeria used to play.
It is hard to envision any of these countries losing a match in African football before the match is played. Such confidence is the hallmark of winners.
In the present assembly the countries that do not belong to that category constitute my second group that is unlikely to stand on the winning podium in February. The teams are Tunisia, Morocco, Angola and DR Congo. The Congolese team, influenced seriously and positively by TP Mazembe’s phenomenal growth and consistency in domestic African club football (the club supplies several of the DR Congo's national team players) these past few years, may spring a surprise.
DR Congo will be one of the two dark horses of this championship. The other dark horse is Algeria.
Angola and Morocco are two countries that have been depressed by past failures. Only a miracle will lift them to winning the Nations Cup and in championships miracles have little place.
Tunisia always look strong but never deliver outside of Tunis. This championship will not be different.
In the absence of Egypt and Cameroon, the two most successful teams in the history of the championship, the field of probable victors has been narrowed down significantly to five countries.
Algeria, Ghana, Cote D'Ivoire, South Africa or Zambia will emerge as the 2013 champion team. Nigeria will be lurking dangerously in the periphery only until 2015. I believe that one of those teams will lift the trophy in February.
All the teams have a rich history of football and plenty of experienced combatants in their present team. Each of them has won the championship at least once in the past. To have tasted the nectar of a previous victory is a very essential ingredient in the psychology of winning this championship.
Algeria have the looks of potential champions, with their army of home-based players, I am told. Once again teams win this championship, not individuals. There is something about the Algerian team this time that is mysterious and dangerous. I will look at them a little bit deeper.
Ghana have a well-rounded team now that will be a very hard nut to crack at these championships. They look compact. They are very mature. They have been 'smelling' the trophy since 2010 when they hosted and capitulated near the very end due to pressure and to a slightly better and more mature Ivorian team. The young 'boys' have now become men, and this could be their time. They are the team least likely to be intimidated into submission by the vociferous home crowd that would undoubtedly be a huge factor in this championship.
The advantage of home support will go to hosts, South Africa. Perhaps that is the only reason why they belong to the category of probable winners. If the championship were to be played anywhere else, I would have placed Bafana Bafana in the category of those that have the capacity but are unlikely to win it.
So, let’s watch out for the Vuvuzela and the impact the noise will have on opposing teams. We saw how it lifted South Africa during the first round of the last World Cup. If it happens that way again, watch out for them in the finals of Afcon 2013.
Zambia. As defending champions they have the momentum of winning on their side. I look at the Zambians and I see a team that has not fundamentally changed its philosophy and style since winning the last edition. The team can repeat the feat again by working its way through the minefields of wiser opposition.
It will be a tough call though without the element of surprise. In qualifying against Uganda the team demonstrated the continuation of the work ethic and organised team play that saw them win in 2012. Understandably, it has only been one year since then. They still have the fire in their guts. Playing in South Africa, not far from home, will also be an advantage for the Zambians. They will be in very familiar terrain and altitude will not be a problem for the players.
South Africa. I do not know what to make of the team. Not playing qualifying matches has not helped in revealing their depth. The result of their friendly matches may be impressive but competition is really a different thing. If the team plays with half the spirit of the 2010 World Cup it will be hard for any team to stop them, particularly since their enemies, Egypt and Cameroon, are not in these championships.
They should pray not to meet Nigeria anywhere along the route to the finals, as that could mark their terminus. Nigeria has South Africa's number anytime, anywhere and Bafana Bafana know it. The vuvuzela holds the key to their performance and fate.
Cote D'Ivoire. On paper, once again, they look menacing and should stroll through the championship and cart home the Afcon 2013 trophy. They are the oldest, most experienced and, perhaps, the most gifted team of the championship. They have everything going for them except age.
The core of the team has remained the same for the past three editions. The players have the experience now not to throw away their last chance on some stupid premise such as the egoistic bickering among the players outside the field over nonsensical matters that have badly infested Cameroonian football.
This is the last chance for the Drogba generation and they know it. So, this might be the opportunity of a last dance.
Finally, in the absence of Nigeria winning the 2013 Afcon, which of the five countries will it be?
Next week, I shall put my head, once again, on the chopping block and give my answer to that question.