Ghana 2008: The usual suspects
The 26th edition of the Africa Cup of Nations begins this Sunday,20 January in Ghana and Ghanasoccernet's Albert Mensah says the contest will be between six of the continent's luminaries.
When the African Cup of Nations kicks off on January 20, every country will harbour some amount of hope of lifting the most coveted sporting trophy on the continent but the question is 'which of these countries truly believe they can emerge as champions?.'
Personal beliefs however do not guarantee success but rather a proven record of accomplishment, discipline and an abundance of talent on the pitch and on the technical bench are some of the ingredients required in the recipe for victory.
Football connoisseurs and pundits have said repeatedly that there are no minnows in football but I believe there are still big names and so long as there are big names, there will always be favourites. It is these favourites whom I choose to refer to as the 'usual suspects.'
Opinions may differ as to who the eventual winner will be but the projections are likely to centre on the same nations as the 'experts' predict the winners of this year's Nations Cup.
I do not claim to be an expert and I cannot claim to be a UEFA licensed coach (in fact I do not even qualify as neighbourhood licensed coach), but I am a true football fan and this permits me to throw my thoughts, opinion and predictions in your direction.
Pay attention now as I take you through a carefully thought-out list of who the usual suspects are for the Ghana 2008 African Cup of Nations.
I could not claim to have my wits about me if I did not first of all tackle the host nation. On the 25 occasions that the Nations Cup has been played, the host nation has emerged as winners on 11 occasions.
This statistic alone does not justify the Black Stars inclusion in this list but boasting a midfield of two of the English Premier league's finest in Sulley Muntari and Michael Essien and an array of talented youngsters who are desperate to carve a niche for themselves.
It however remains to be seen whether they will recover from the loss of influential captain Stephen Appiah and the niggling reoccurrence of injuries to key players Laryea Kingston and Asamoah Gyan.
No matter their current problems, the four-time champions have not won the trophy in 26 years and having won it in 1963 and 1978 it may just be about time for the sleeping giants of African football to wake up
The Elephants of Cote d?Ivoire are the popular choice for most 'experts' with their rich array of stars. Didier Drogba, Kolo Toure and his brother Yaya Toure have become household names in world football and the fact that players of such high quality such as Arouna Kone, Bakary Kone, Bounaventure Kalou and his younger brother Salomon Kalou will struggle to get into the starting line up shows just how strong their team is.
But then again they were the popular choice at the last Nations Cup but lost in the final to hosts Egypt. The Ivory Coast have a penchant of flattering to deceive the bookmakers but as usual their star studded side has enough quality to add to their solitary tournament win.
The ever-present Indomitable Lions have not necessarily been in a rich vein of form but their four trophy haul and experienced European based players which includes the effervescent Samuel Eto'o makes them worthy competitors.
Since winning consecutive titles at Ghana/Nigeria 2000 and Mali 2002 Cameroon have only managed to reach the quarter finals in Tunisia and Egypt in subsequent tournaments. A return to a West African country may be just what the Lions need to find their roar and re-establish themselves as kings of the African jungle.
Like Cameroon, Nigeria have managed to maintain the football giants tag despite a trophy-less spell but the Super Eagles will have to perform if they want to appease their hard-to-please supporters.
They may just be able to do so considering that aside the Ivory Coast they have the longest list of talented forwards. Players like Yakubu Aiyigbeni, John Utaka, Obafemi Martins, Peter Odemwinge, Ikechukwu Uche, Ayodele Makinwa and the indefatigable Nwanko Kanu would make it into the first eleven of most teams on the African continent but will have to struggle for three or four forward roles.
Two Nations Cup wins does not seem enough for Nigeria since the national team is seen as one of the powerhouses of African football and this tournament may just be where the Super Eagles will soar high above the rest.
The Terranga Lions are Africa's perennial underachievers and although the team does not come immediately to mind when one is searching for favourites for this year's tournament but the fact that they will avoid the limelight may be just what they need.
Senegal has been tipped for their first Nations Cup trophy since reaching the final in 2002 and upstaging other African nations at the World Cup in that same year.
This saw the emergence of Tony Sylva, Papa Bouba Diop, Henri Camara and the notoriously talented El Hadji Diouf and with these players still in the team they will be a force to be reckoned with.
The inclusion of in-form Marseille striker Mamadou Niang may just be the final piece of the jigsaw that Coach Henryk Kasperczak needs to solve the puzzle of Senegal?s inability to win Africa?s most coveted trophy.
The Pharaohs make this list not just because they are the defending champions but also because their Nations Cup record cannot be ignored. 5 wins in 6 final match appearances and a total of 20 tournament appearances (the highest of any country) puts Egypt in a class of their own.
They struggled to qualify for Ghana 2008 and may miss Hossam Ghaly and Ahmed Mido but captain and best player at the last tournament, Ahmed Hassan along with the gifted Mohammed Aboutreika and free scoring Mohammed Zidan are players who could help the North African side defend their title and hold off the chase of Ghana and Cameroon who are keen to equal their record number of Nations Cup wins.
This list may not go down well with any one but if a team outside of these wins the most sought after trophy on the African continent; well then it will mean you will make sense out of my next article ''the Surprise Packages.''
Whether there should be favourites or not, the fact is when the final whistle is blown on February 10, there can only be one winner of the Ghana 2008 African Cup of Nations tournament and this will mean 15 countries will be thrown into the situation of having to having to re-assess, re-organise, re-evaluate, re-group and re-prepare all in the hope maybe re-winning a few trophies.