In previous years, club versus country disputes have tended to dominate the headlines in the run-up to Africa Cup of Nations tournaments. The stories are typically of European clubs, unhappy about losing their African talent for two to three weeks in the middle of the season, pulling out all the stops in a bid to hold on to their players. Edited and compiled by Colin Udoh
This time, however, the controversy centred on a much more serious issue: Ebola. Whether rightly or wrongly, the designated hosts Morocco were so concerned that they requested a postponement, then withdrew outright when the Confederation of African Football (CAF) turned down their request.
That is the reason Equatorial Guinea, who had been ruled out of the qualification play-offs for fielding an ineligible player, ended up with the hosting role. The central African country does not seem particularly worried about the possibilities of Ebola spreading, but it still has to contend with its historical infrastructural difficulties.
In 2012, Equatorial Guinea struggled when they co-hosted the tournament in Malabo and Bata, two of their biggest cities. But for this edition, Mongomo and Ebebiyín have been added, both of which could provide the organisers with a serious headache.
Mongomo is a small town deep in the jungle in eastern Equatorial Guinea, with a stadium that is barely expected to pass muster. A stadium inspection ahead of the draws in December hardly inspired confidence.
Ebebiyín might be even more troubling. It is even more remote than Mongomo, and does not seem to have an airport nearby. The venue meanwhile can hold just 5,000 spectators, a fraction of the 35,000 that the national stadium in Bata can accommodate.
Teams hoping to win the AFCON title will have to negotiate far more than just some transport problems. After all, although Nigeria and Egypt surprisingly failed to qualify, there is no shortage of dangerous-looking teams in the competition. The embarrassment of talent enjoyed by the likes of Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Algeria will fill their opponents with fear, while so many of the teams once considered Africa’s minnows have grown in stature and quality in recent years.
More and more players who were born, raised and trained in European academies are choosing to represent their African homelands, while more and more players who grew up on the continent are forging successful careers in Africa and across the world. Furthermore, with the level of domestic competition improving and cohesion among players growing, the so-called “lesser sides” are finding that their talent as a team can far outweigh the influence of even the biggest individual superstars.
In any case, there probably isn’t the same plethora of game-changing icons as in past tournaments, though that’s not to say AFCON 2015 won’t be all the more entertaining, dramatic and unpredictable for it.
Let the games begin!
Read the special report here