The race to unseat the Super Eagles of Nigeria as African champions will Saturday evening officially kick start in the oil-rich city of Bata, Equatorial Guinea, as the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations, AFCON gets underway.
As customary, 16 teams are on parade and the mission top on the minds of the competing countries will be to lift the trophy last lifted by the Super Eagles in South Africa in 2013.
According to the fixtures released by the Africa Soccer ruling body, CAF, hosts Equatorial Guinea will have the honour of setting the ball rolling when they trade tackles with Congo in the opening fixture for this year’s tournament.
Burkina Faso who finished second behind Nigeria last term will play Gabon in the second match in the opening day of action in the 2015 AFCON.
While there has been a consensus that Super Eagles will be sorely missed in Equatorial Guinea, football fans across the world and the continent in particular are still very positive that over the next three weeks, they will be enjoying the best of football from the teams on parade as the likes of Ghana, Ivory Coast and Algeria amongst others are guaranteed to impress.
Indeed many stars will be on parade at this year’s AFCON tournament even though the football showpiece was almost marred by the now less ravaging Ebola virus scourge that hit the continent.
The tournament was set to be staged in Morocco, who saw off competition from DR Congo and South Africa to become the host nation.
However, in October 2014, the Moroccan government expressed concern about the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa and decided not to stage the tournament.
The African football governing body CAF disqualified Morocco from playing in the tournament, which was awarded to Equatorial Guinea in November 2014.
Leading the array of stars in Equatorial Guinea for this year’s AFCON is reigning African Footballer of the year Yaya Toure who will be flanked by other Ivorian stars like Wilfred Bony who just sealed a big move to Manchester City.
Asamoah Gyan and the Ayew Brothers of Ghana, Borrusia Dortmund and Gabon’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang amongst others are some of the big stars fans will be looking out for in this year’s AFCON.
Before action gets underway on the football pitch, it is worthy to consider some eye-popping satistics reeled out by CAF.
The football body revealed that Tp Mazembe and DR Congo goalie, Robert
Muteba Kidiaba is the oldest player at the Orange Africa Cup of Nations Equatorial Guinea 2015. The veteran will celebrate his 39th birthday on 1 February 2015.
Also, the third-choice Cameroon goalie, Pierre Sylvain Abogo is the youngest player at the championship. The captain of the Cameroon U-17 team turns 17 on 27 January 2015.
CAF also revealed that of the 368 players present in Equatorial Guinea, only 26 are over 30 years (as at 17 January 2015) and 21 are less than 20 years. In summary, 321 of the players present in Bata, Malabo, Ebibeyin and Mongomo are between 20 and 30 years old.
This means most of the participating teams have gone for youthful squads compared to previous editions.
In the veteran section, Mali captain Seydou Keita is now a household name in the history of the Africa Cup of Nations. Since making his debut in 2002, he also appeared in 2004, 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2013 editions. The current championship is the seventh time the Mali captain is appearing at the showpiece event.
Keita shares the same record with former Ivorian goalkeeper Alan Gouamene, but still falls short of the eight appearances by Cameroon legend Rigobert Song.
Also making their seventh appearance is Ivorian trio, Boubacar ‘Copa’ Barry, Abib Kolo Toure and Siaka Tiene (2002, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012
Zambia captain Rainford Kalaba and Kennedy Mweene will also be making their fifth appearances.
While Nigeria soccer fans watch dispassionately this term, the prayer of most people is that the Eagles will bounce back strongly for the 2017 edition.
How the 16 teams line up
Group A: Burkina Faso, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon
Group B: Zambia, DR Congo, Tunisia, Cape Verde
Group C: Senegal, South Africa, Ghana, Algeria
Group D: Ivory Coast, Guinea, Mali, Cameroon