Afcon 2013: Preview

The countdown is on to the 2013 Orange Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon). Get ready for the action with quick profiles of the teams and star players. We also rate their chances and predict a winner.

By Ian Armitage

When Stoppila Sunzu stepped up to smashed home the penalty that saw Zambia crowned Afcon Champs 2012, I for one couldn't help thinking 'that could've been South Africa'. It could have been a) if Bafana Bafana were any good and b) had actually qualified for the competition.

They have a chance to put that right in January (the reason for Cup of Nations tournaments in consecutive years is CAF is switching to uneven-number years to avoid every second edition being played the same year as a World Cup) when Afcon 2013 kicks off – and it's on home soil too.

Excitement is reaching fever pitch. As always, I'm thinking, maybe, just maybe, this time South Africa can repeat the heroics of 1996 when Bafana beat Tunisia two-nil to win the tournament in front of President Mandela.

Who am I kidding?

Can they actually win?

No. Bafana are ranked 19th in Africa and owe a place among the top seeds to being hosts of the three week championship that kicks off on January 19 at the 90,000-seat Soccer City stadium in Soweto.

In fairness to Gordon Igesund's side, Bafana have a chance (albeit very small), but for me, being realistic, it's between defending champions Zambia, favourites Ivory Coast and four-time winners Ghana – and there's not much separating them.

I'll also have an eye on dark horses Nigeria, Angola and Morocco.

Here's our best attempt to predict this January's competition…

South Africa
As I said, Bafana owe their place in the tournament to being hosts. While I'm the eternal optimist, I fear this tournament could be another damp squib.
Key player: Siphiwe Tshabalala. When the Chiefs winger is on form he is almost unstoppable.
One to watch: Ayanda Patosi. New sensation. Check out his recent wonder goal for Belgian side Lokeren against Standard Liege on Youtube.
Best Afcon results: 1996 champions, 1998 second, 2000 third.
Prediction: Group stage.

Morocco have a real football pedigree and will be coming to South Africa looking to win the tournament and they have some star quality in the side with the likes of Marouane Chamakh, Mbark Boussoufa, Houssine Kharja and Mehdi Benatia.
Key player: Premier League and Arsenal star Marouane Chamakh.
One to watch: Mbark Boussoufa.
Best Afcon results: 1976 champions, 2004 second, 1980 third.
Prediction: Fourth place.

Angola were strong performers in 2008 and 2010 and they certainly represent a threat but I don't this will be a successful tournament for them.
Key player: Manucho. Was one of the stars of 2008, netting four times in four games.
One to watch: Flavio. One of Angola's most experienced players.
Best Afcon results: 2008, 2010 quarterfinals.
Prediction: Quarterfinals.

Cape Verde
As finals debutants, the Blue Sharks will be under pressure to get off to a good start in South Africa, who they'll play in their opening game. The pressure will be on both sides to get a result and stand a chance of getting beyond the group stage.
Key player: Heldon. Top scorer in qualifying for Afcon 2013.
One to watch: Ryan Mendes. The Lille star was a major contributor to Cape Verde's shock qualification.
Best Afcon results: qualification South Africa 2013.
Prediction: Group stage.

Ghana are hot favourites to win the group and go far in this competition. The black stars have quality in abundance. Came third in 2008, second in 2010 and fourth in 2012.
Key player: Andre Ayew.
One to watch: Christan Atsu.
Best Afcon results: 1963, 1965, 1978 and 1982 champions, runners up 1968, 1970, 1992 and 2008.
Prediction: Runner-up.

Mali narrowly missed out on 2012's fi nal and they brushed aside Botswana with ease on the way to South Africa. They have a balanced squad featuring the likes of Mohamed Sissoko, Seydou Keita, Modibo Maiga and Cheick Diabiate.
Key player: Seydou Keita. The former Barca man is probably one of Africa's finest ever players.
One to watch: Bordeaux's 6ft 5in striker Cheikh Diabate.
Best Afcon results: 1972 runners up, 1994, 2002 and 2004 fourth place, third 2012.
Prediction: Quarterfinals.

Niger were disappointing in 2012 and with Mali, DRC and Ghana in their group, it'll likely be another disappointment.
Key player: Moussa Maazou.
One to watch: Issoufou Boubacar Garba.
Best Afcon results: qualifi cation 2012, 2013.
Prediction: Group stage.

DR Congo
The Leopards are not a side to be discounted. All their hopes however lie with Dieumerci
Mbokani and if they are to do well other players will have to step up.
Key player: Dieumerci Mbokani. The Anderlecht star is Congo DR's dangerman for the 2013 Afcon.
One to watch: Tresor Mputu. Regarded as 'the next Samuel Eto'o' by Leopards boss Claude Le Roy.
Best Afcon results: champions 1968, 1974, third place 1998.
Prediction: Group stage.

Group C will most likely be a two horse race between holders Zambia and Nigeria. Zambia showed they were a classy outfit in 2012, playing some fine attacking football.
Key player: Emmanuel Mayuka.
One to watch: Rainford Kalaba, Zambia's star midfielder. Also watch out for Christopher Katongo.
Best Afcon results: 2012 champions, second place 1994, 1974.
Prediction: Third place.

Nigeria have to be dark horses for this competition and they'll run it close. A very strong squad with the likes of Yakubu, Peter Odemwingie, John Obi Mikel, Obafemi Martins and Emmanuel Emenike, and a great history in the tournament.
Key player: John Obi Mikel. If the Chelsea man can boss the midfield, he'll shine and Nigeria could go all the way.
One to watch: Keep an eye out for Lazio starlet Ogenyi Onazi.
Best Afcon results: 1980 and 1994 champions, third place in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2010.
Prediction: Quarterfinals.

The Black Lions have qualified for the first time since 1982 and that's as good as I think it'll get for them. Early exit.
Key player: Adane Girma.
One to watch: Saladin Said, a star of the future.
Best Afcon result: winners 1962.
Prediction: Group stage.

Burkina Faso
The Stallions have been at the last three editions of the African Cup of Nations and have never been past the group stage. 2013 won't be any different.
Key player: Charles Kabore. A great African talent.
One to watch: Alain Traore. Big things were expected of him during the 2012 tournament but he largely disappointed.
Best Afcon result: fourth place 1998.
Prediction: Group stage.

Ivory Coast
This will be the last chance for the Ivory Coast's 'golden generation' to lift the title but many feel that, while undoubtedly the strongest squad in the tournament, they'll struggle because of the fact it comes midway through a very competitive Premier League season – and stars like Cheik Tiote, Yaya Toure and Gervinho will find life tough. I don't agree. Ivory Coast will win Afcon 2013, spearheaded by star striker Didier Drogba, who is playing in his final African Nations Cup.
Key player: Yaya Toure. The Man City star is one of world football's leading talents .
One to watch: Wilfried Bony. 30 goals in 49 games for Dutch side Vitesse Arnhem. Says it all.
Best Afcon results: winners 1992, runners up 2012, 2006.
Prediction: Winners.

The Desert Foxes are back after missing 2012. Not a great record in the tournament since winning as hosts in 1990. Came fourth in 2010.
Key player: Rafik Djebbour. Playing well at Greek Superleague side Olympiacos.
One to watch: Sochaux midfielder Ryad Boudebouz.
Best Afcon results: Winners 1990.
Prediction: Quarterfinals.

Tunisia were unlucky against Ghana last year in the quarterfinals and this year they're a side to reckoned with, a side packed with talent from one of Africa's top club sides, Esperance,
and some from Europe.
Key player: Issam Jemâa.
One to watch: Youssef Msakni. The 21-year-old winger has often been heralded as Tunisia's next big thing.
Best Afcon results: Champions 2004, runners up 1996, 1965.
Prediction: Group stage.

The Sparrowhawks are back in the continental competition three years after the terrible attack which saw their bus fired upon at the Angolan border, killing two of their staff and leading to their withdrawal from the tournament. They are the minnows of their group.
Key player: Tottenham striker Emmanuel Adebayor is the undoubted star of the team.
One to watch: Serge Gakpé. Was tracked by Barcelona at one stage.
Best Afcon results: First round 2006, 2002, 2000, 1998, 1984.
Prediction: Group stage.

Image: Getty

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