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Nigeria missing as African party begins•Equatorial Guinea, Libya set tune in Bata

Nigeria’s Super Eagles will be conspicuously missing at the 28th edition of
the (Orange) Africa Cup of Nations that gets underway later this afternoon in
the city of Bata with co-host, Equatorial Guinea and Libya setting the tune.

It will be the first time in 16 years that Nigeria would not feature at
the greatest showpiece in Africa. The last time Nigeria failed to participate at
the Nations Cup was in 1996 when South Africa hosted. The Nigerian team was
ordered back to the country by the then Military Head of State, General Sani
Abacha on political grounds. Interestingly, the Nigeria was favoured to win the
trophy that year following the Super Eagles’ five star showing at the 1994 World
Cup in the United States. Apart from stretching eventual runner-up, Italy, to
breaking point in the second round, the Nigerian team was rated the second most
entertaining side after the Samba Boys from Brazil. The Super Eagles failed to
qualify for the tournament after a disappointing 2-2 draw with the Guinean
national team in the last qualifying group fixture at the Abuja National
Stadium.

Other Super powers in African football that failed to book
tickets to the include six times champion, the Pharaohs of Egypt, four times
champion, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon and the Atlas Lions of Algeria. All
eyes will be on the Didier Drogba-led Elephants of Ivory Coast. The Chelsea of
England ace striker, 33, gets what many believe as his last chance to lead his
country to its second Nations Cup glory after winning it for the first time 20
years ago in Senegal. The Ivorien team also parades other notable stars,
prominent among them is the reining Africa Footballer of the Year and Manchester
City of England midfield maestro, Yaya Toure, his elder brother and teammate,
Kolo, Gervinho, Salomon Kalou and Turkey-based Zokora.

However, there
will be no shortage of stars on show at the soccer fiesta despite the absence of
big the guns. Each of the 368 footballers at match venues Libreville,
Franceville, Malabo and Bata will dream that his country can conquer Africa and
he can collect the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award given to the star of the
three-week showcase.

The attention of football fans all over the world
will shift to Africa, precisely the tiny city of Bata as Equatorial Guinea
squares up against Libya in the opening match. Both nations are outsiders in the
race for the coveted trophy. However, the game is expected to produce the
excitement that is akin to opening fixtures at tournaments such as the Nations
Cup magnitude.
In the second match of the day, also billed for city of Bata,
Senegal will clash with Zambia in what promises to be a more keenly contested
encounter considering the pedigree of both sides in the continent.

 

Africa stars ready to dazzle

 

Below are some of the notable African football stars who could help their
teams succeed and strengthen chances of being rated number one:

SAMIR
ABOUD (Libya, goalkeeper)
Will be the “golden oldie” of the tournament at 39
years, but a flying one-hand save to keep out a Gervinho header during a narrow
warm-up loss to Ivory Coast would have made any goalkeeper half his age
proud.

YAYA TOURE (Ivory Coast, midfielder)
As the tall, physically
imposing midfielder and 2011 African Footballer of the Year set off to join his
Ivorian team-mates, Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini admitted there was no
footballer at the club who could fully fill his big boots.

 

ANDRE AYEW (Ghana, midfielder)
Finished last year by coming third in the
African Footballer of the Year poll after winning the BBC equivalent and is a
first choice at Marseille. Not bad for a 21-year-old with good genes, father
Abedi Pele was a 1990s African superstar.

DEMBA BA (Senegal,
striker)
Sprang to prominence since quitting West Ham for Newcastle United
and is currently second top-goal-scorer in the English Premier League. His goals
included a stinging volley that helped beat Manchester United.

DIDIER
DROGBA (Ivory Coast, striker)
Pressure is on the Chelsea veteran to score
goals and captain his country to a first title since 1992 after he and a host of
other Europe-based stars choked in 2008 and 2010 when hot Cup of Nations
favourites.

ASAMOAH GYAN (Ghana, striker)
The proven goalmouth
predator who surprisingly moved to play in the Middle East from his English
Premier League side Sunderland on loan hopes he can fully recover from a
hamstring injury that severely curtailed his preparations.

ISSAM JEMAA
(Tunisia, striker)
The importance of the six-goal leading scorer in the 2012
Cup of Nations qualifiers to his country was demonstrated when he made the final
squad despite being ruled out of the three-match first phase by
injury.

KALI (Angola, defender)
On a continent where defenders come a
distant fourth in the popularity stakes, he is a master of his craft,
marshalling a stingy defence that kept three clean sheets in a row to snatch a
qualifying place seemingly destined for Uganda.

SEYDOU KEITA (Mali,
midfielder)
His employment address, Camp Nou, Barcelona says it all. The
31-year-old is not a first choice for his club but regularly comes off the bench
and Mali exhaled a collective sigh of relief when he smoked a peace pipe with
coach Alain Giresse.

HOUCINE KHARJA (Morocco, midfielder)
Not many
African footballers make it at the highest level of Italian football, but Kharja
has with Inter Milan and current club Fiorentina, and the captain is a vital cog
as Morocco seeks a first title in 36 years.

JEROME RAMATLHAKWANE
(Botswana, striker)
His name could twist commentators’ tongues as he seeks to
maintain a remarkable scoring rate, five out of seven in eight qualifiers and
find a club after being sidelined for several seasons by a contract dispute in
South Africa.

MOUSSA SOW (Senegal, striker)
The leading French Ligue 1
scorer last season from league and cup winners Lille is set to form a deadly
attacking partnership with Demba Ba as resurgent Senegal hunt a first Cup of
Nations title.

Group A
GUINEA
EQ.
LIBYA
SENEGAL
ZAMBIA

Group B
COTE
D’IVOIRE
SUDAN
BURKINA FASO
ANGOLA

Group
C
GABON
NIGER
MOROCCO
TUNISIA

Group
D
GHANA
BOTSWANA
MALI
GUINEA.

-Sun

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