This week marks the return of international football competition in a high-tech stadium in Africa. Less than two years after the 2010 World Cup crowned the Spain national team as world champions in South Africa, another high level international tournament is under way in the continent.
This time the festive environment and the stadium-filled vuvuzela buzz is a part of the 28th African Nations Cup. 16 African nations qualified for the competition to crown the best international football club in Africa, including the hosts Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
Despite defending champion Egypt not qualifying, this edition of the tournament features highly touted football clubs and dozens of internationally known footballers. Many soccer fans might still remember Ghana’s World Cup run and their dramatic exit in a penalty loss against Uruguay in the quarterfinals.
The Ivory Coast football team also had a solid showing in South Africa, and are led by Chelsea super star Didier Drogba. Ivory Coast holds the favorites tag in the eyes of many soccer experts, mainly because of their easy first stage group that features no other club in the top 65 of the FIFA World Rankings. Côte d'Ivoire started the tournament on pace with a 1-0 win against Sudan on a Drogba goal.
Drogba understands the importance of every tournament game, knowing his nation has a history of underachieving in this competition. “We did some things well and some things not so well, but the main thing was that we won the match,” said the 33-year-old Ivorian to ESPN.
More than a dozen African players from the English premier league will be out of action for their club to play for their country for at least a couple of months. Losing key players to the African Nations Cup tends to spark controversy with the English Premier League. Most notably Manchester City will have to survive on top of their league without two key players. The Toure brothers have helped Manchester City become the leader of arguably the toughest league in the world, but will now focus their efforts on the Ivory Coast squad.
“City have a great team, a great spirit and at the moment they are playing good football, but if they got a couple of injuries I think it would be very difficult for them,” said Emmanuel Adebayor, African and Premier League colleague.
The African Nations Cup usually occurs every two seasons but will break the pattern next year to better align itself with the Word Cup schedule. The African Nations title holder qualifies for the FIFA Confederations Cup, which is hosted the summer before the World Cup.
This is far from the world stage tournament hosted in South Africa in 2010 but it features the same multi-cultural atmosphere that many sports fans remember from the World Cup. So until an champion is crowned on the 12th of next month soccer fans can enjoy the festivities, and yes of course the humming of vuvuzelas.
Printed on Wednesday, January 25, 2012 as: African Cup of Nations kicks off as best teams in Africa compete