Few hours from now, the vuvuzelas of South Africa will be blaring loud to announce the beginning of Africa’s football extravaganza shifted to an odd year.
16 African countries, including Ghana have their eyes on the trophy and will battle for it but only one would be crowned champions.
Ghana’s Black Stars go into the tournament with a 31 year trophy-less jinx hanging around their neck like an albatross and their rallying cry is, the time is now. Perhaps it is, but it’s going to be a tall order.
Ivory Coast, said to be favourites of the tournament also has a 21 year trophy-less jinx to break and for them it has to be now or another generation to come. It may well be Drogba’s last Nations Cup tournament and what a shattered dream it will be for him if the story is told of a great West African football giant which had all the best players at a time but never won any trophy for their country. So for them the stakes are equally higher.
Holders Zambia must show the world and particularly Ghana, that the victory in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea in 2012 was no fluke. They have started already. After the 1-0 semi-final victory over the Black Stars of Ghana in the last tournament, they repeated the same dossier against the Stars in a world cup qualifier.
Nigeria and South Africa make a return to the festival after they failed to qualify for the previous edition. Even though the two countries may not be in the best of shapes, it will be foolhardy for any team to write them off.
Tunisia and their compatriots from the northern part of Africa are unpredictable and may spoil the party for any team who decides to underestimate them.
These and many other factors make Ghana’s fifth trophy dream a little ambitious. But Ghana’s 2013 Afcon team has something different, quintessentially different from the squads assembled in 2008, 2010 and in 2012.
It may be the youngest but it is also the most versatile squad ever to have been assembled in recent times.
I watched them play Cape Verde in a friendly; I watched them play Egypt in another friendly and even though I could not watch them in their friendly match against Tunisia, the results alone in that match told a story of a team rich depth; a team with telepathy and a team blessed with scorers. Asamoah Gyan, their captain and top marksman was absent in the first match against Cape Verde and started from the bench in the two subsequent friendlies and yet the Stars scored seamlessly. The team was jiggled in all the three friendlies and yet the pattern of play was hardly missed. John Boye with a cool head and sometimes with some annoying confidence, initiates attack from behind; Kwadwo Asamoah in an unorthodox position, joins the attack from the left and defending as well; Adomah is on the right, running down his markers and sending in teasing crosses; Agyemang Badu is running at his opponents and shooting and heading at will in the middle; Rabiu Mohammed is always in the thick of affairs; and the goals are flowing from different angles.
For the first time in many years, I saw the Ghanaian football rhythm back on display; the build up from defence through to midfield and then to attack but only this time, it came with results. We won in all games.
It will also be risky to use three friendly matches, no matter how well the team played to rate highly the Stars in the AFCON 2013, especially when as many as nine of the players are making their debut.
So, one has to balance his expectations. I see Ghana once again making it to the last four of the tournament. That i am sure of but I will never be surprised if they win the Nations Cup for the first time in 32 years.
The last time they did was with a local coach and after several years of flirting with foreign coaches, Ghana is back again with one of their own- Kwasi Appiah.
Interestingly, it was Kwasi Appiah, who as a player won the 1982 tournament for Ghana. Can he win it again as a coach? I dare say he can!!!!!!!!!!!