The absence of Egypt ends a unique era but the inheritor of the crown is far from certain. After Egypt’s total dominance of the Cup of Nations over the last three editions, the tournament in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon offers connoisseurs of the continental game the opportunity to see a fresh page being turned in its 55-year-old history.
The absence of the reigning champions, as well as four-time winners Cameroon, two-time champions (and serial bronze medallists) Nigeria, South Africa and Algeria from the 2012 tournament, has given it an unknown complexion, which could set the stage for one of the most open competitions in recent times.
Just eight out of the sides that qualified for Angola 2010 have made it to this year’s party. Tunisia, of all the teams in the tournament, is the most recent winner. And that was on home soil, eight long years ago.
Ghana, Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire, regarded as the tournament favourites, on paper, will be fancying their chances of becoming the first side, south of the Sahara, to win the Cup of Unity since Mali 2002, with their usual arch-rivals out of the way.
And the three teams making their debut on the Nations Cup stage – co-hosts Equatorial Guinea, Botswana and Niger, will be determined to prove that they are no cannon fodder for the favourites.
The draw in Malabo, at the end of October, was a lengthy, long-winded affair, with the co-hosts joining Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire as top-seeded teams.
But the taste of the pudding will certainly be in the eating, as the fans look forward to a vintage edition of the tournament, which could prove that the quality of football in the continent’s supposed backwaters is fast improving and taking any country, no matter how “small”, for granted, is at one’s peril.