The African Cup of Nations kicks off this weekend (Sunday) and not only African fans are waiting for the 2010 title winner to be revealed, but many English/European fans as well clubs executives are watching it closely albeit for different reasons.
Some clubs (example Napoli) have assigned their scouts to watch certain players closely as they search for new signings, while others are hoping their respective players national squads would be knocked out early so they may come back soon.
Chelsea may or may not fall into the 2nd category, depending on how you look at it. Cote d’Ivoire are the top candidate for this year’s title, and Chelsea are represented by both Drogba and Kalou in the Ivoirian national squad.
Ghana is the 2nd seed according to bookmakers, and they also have a Chelsea player in Michale Essien, while Obi-Mikel is expected back sooner with Nigeria ranked 5th seed.
A closer look reveals Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana may very well be the finalists. They may play in the same group, but in both 2 last versions 2 teams from the same group made it t the final (Egypt vs Cote d’Ivoire in 2006 and again Egypt vs Cameroon in 2008).
Let’s not underestimate Burkina Faso and/or Togo, but Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana are the better sides of the group, at least on paper and should qualify to the knock-outs where they will be meeting the top 2 of the 1st group which includes hosting nation Angola alongside Mali, Algeria and Malawi.
No matter who of Angola, Mali or Algeria, both Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire are well capable of going through past them. Mali was already soundly beaten by Ghana in the qualifiers, btw.
Nigeria’s path is a different and a little harder one. They play Egypt, Mozambique and Benin n the 3rd group, and should they qualify they are expected to play either Tunisia (whom they couldn’t beat in either ties in the qualifiers) or Cameroon to reach the semi-final.
But Egypt (3rd seed and title defender) and Cameroon (4th seed and last version runner-up) look determined to go all the way or die trying, and let’s not forget Mozambique did beat Tunisia in the qualifying group’s final round making way for Nigeria to qualify for the World Cup, so it’s kind of a little complicated for the Green Eagles in comparison to Cote d’Ivoire/Ghana’s paths.
By next Thursday the 1st round of the group stage matches will be done and from there on we will have a clearer view on the prospective new champions, but one thing is for sure: There are always new talents to be revealed in these kinds of tournaments, and some may end up playing in a major European league soon enough, so watch it closely yourself.