Africa’s prestigious football tournament – Orange Africa Cup of Nations- roars into life this Sunday in Angola with the host aiming to make a meaningful impression. The biennial showpiece is the 27th edition and runs from January 10 -31.
Angola- in four previous appearances in 1996, 1998, 2006 and 2008 have
failed to reach the medal zone though the Ghana 2008 remains their improved – a quarter-final berth.
Southern Africa is represented by host Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia, with World Cup hosts, South Africa failing to make it to Angola.
Angola is grouped with Mali, Malawi and Algeria.
Reports say Angola has invested heavily in infrastructure for the 16-team tournament, building four new stadiums in the capital Luanda, Benguela, Cabinda and Lubango. But they were only officially opened last week and have not yet been tested for game conditions.
Current holders Egypt would be targeting an unprecedented third successive African Nations Cup triumph. Egypt, though narrowly missed out on a 2010 World Cup spot after a bruising play off with Algeria have won the last two editions in 2006 and 2008. The Pharaohs have not missed out of the biennial continental fiesta since 1984 and will be making a record 22nd appearance in Angola.
However, if Fifa rankings are anything to go by Mozambique could be a surprise package and carry hopes of Southern Africa. The coastal country has not qualified for the finals for 12 solid years.
Mozambique climbed more than 50 places on the FIFA word ranking (72nd
now) since 2007 and they would be eying the knock out stages despite the likes of Nigeria and Egypt on the group.
Zambia, which is grouped alongside four-time winners Cameroon, Tunisia
and Gabon has set an audacious quarterfinal target. It will be 14 years since Zambia last advanced to the last eight at an Africa Cup final tournament when they finished third at the 1996 competition held in South Africa.
Ever since Zambia has been bowing out in the preliminary group stage
in 1998, 2000, 2002, 2006 and 2008. Its best showing was years back in 1974 in Egypt where they went on to reach the final but only to lose to then Zaire in a replay.
As a moral boost, on Thursday the Zambian Breweries Group handed over
a cheque of K250 million (equal to about US$ 54,824) to the Zambian national soccer team for qualifying to the Africa Cup of Nations.