The A to Z of the Africa Cup of Nations 2015

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Well, if you are keen and eager to learn about everything that makes Africa’s football show-piece truly unique then you have certainly come to the right place with our A to Z of Africa Cup of Nations 2015, hosted in Equatorial Guinea.

Here we go:

A is for Africa

Obviously, but that is exactly what the tournament is all about – Africa.

The people, the culture, the rhythm, the colours and the sights and signs that make this event truly different to anywhere else where football is played on the globe.

There is no place quite like Africa.

There is no place quite like Africa.

 

B is for Ball

The 2015 AFCON ball, manufactured by Adidas, was officially revealed on Wednesday, December 3, 2014 during the draw of the final tournament. The ball, dubbed Marhaba takes inspiration from the intricate history of the tournament and its famously passionate fans. The distinctive gold and blue colouring on the ball represents the contrasting landscapes of the continent, from the Sahara desert to the bright azure sky of the Indian and Atlantic Ocean.

The 2015 AFCON ball, Marhaba.

The 2015 AFCON ball, Marhaba.

 

C is for Coaches

As always the man at the helm of any football team plays an integral part in ensuring that tactics, formations and styles are adhered to by the players on the field of play. They also play a crucial role in creating unity, spirit and inspiration off the field.

One aspect, from a development perspective, that does leave a lot to be desired at AFCON 2015 is the number of national teams that are led by foreign coaches. Of the 16 teams participating in Equatorial Guinea only three of them are coached by homegrown coaches.

One of the teams that is coached by a local shot-caller is our very own Bafana Bafana, led by Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba, who has still yet to suffer defeat with a team that has failed to qualify (not by default) for a major tournament in six years.

Shakes Mashaba.

Shakes Mashaba.

 

D is for Death

Like any big tournament there is always that one particular group that gets the tongues of journalists and supporters wagging. In Equatorial Guinea that group is Group C. Featuring South Africa, Ghana, Algeria and Senegal Group C, dubbed the Group of Death, is certainly one that jumps out at you.

As the lowest FIFA ranked team in the group Bafana Bafana will need to produce a quality of football that has not been seen since the team of ’96. The underdog tag could, however, be the exact inspiration that Mashaba and the boys need to overcome their daunting opponents and advance to the knock-out stage.

The groups. Group C is considered the "Group of Death".

The groups. Group C is considered the “Group of Death”.

 

E is for Ebola

Not fun to talk about, but a hard-hitting reality.

All teams arriving in Equatorial Guinea for AFCON 2015 are required to travel through the capital Malabo and have tests for the Ebola virus. The tough regulations set by CAF reflect fears of the spread of the deadly haemorrhagic fever that led Morocco to ask for a postponement of the 16-team tournament. Instead they were stripped of their hosting rights and Equatorial Guinea stepped in at the last moment to take over.

 

F is for Fans

It’s like you can hear the distinctive drumbeat of the passionate African fans in the distance. The fans at the Africa Cup of Nations are always a colourful bunch and you can be certain to see some truly unique characters in the stands in Equatorial Guinea.

The colourful fans of AFCON.

The colourful fans of AFCON.

 

G is for Goals

It’s what football is all about isn’t it? From towering headers, ludicrous long-distance strikes, easy tap-ins, slight deflections, dodgy penalties, unlucky own goals to goalkeeping howlers it doesn’t matter how a goal crosses the white line in this sport as long as it does.

All-time top AFCON goal-scorer Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o (18 goals) will not feature at this year’s event after the Everton striker was thrown in the proverbial outbox by manager Volker Finke, who has gone with youth over experience in his renewed squad.

South Africa will be relying heavily on the goal-scoring prowess of Kaizer Chief’s Bernard Parker, Bidvest Wits’ Sibusiso Vilakazi and Bournemouth’s Tokelo Rantie up front, while some goals from the midfield wouldn’t hurt the cause either.

Check out the goals from the last tournament:

 

H is for Hosts

How much do you know about Equatorial Guinea, the country hosting AFCON 2015? The country, once colonized by Spain, is situated in Central Africa with Malabo as its capital.

It is one of the largest oil producers in sub-Saharan Africa; however the country’s wealth is (like many African nations) unevenly distributed.

The national football team, ranked 118th in the world, is not expected to advance from Group A which features Burkina Faso, Gabon and Congo. But, stranger things have happened in football.

The flag of Equatorial Guinea.

The flag of Equatorial Guinea.

 

I is for international broadcast

Africa’s elite football tournament will be broadcast to fans across the world. From Australia to the United States to India, there is always major interest in AFCON.

J is for jamming

Africans love the dance and at AFCON there are always those people, players, coaches and fans, who love to break it down after a goal or a win.

Who could forget the infamous Bafana Bafana 2012 celebrations when the team believed that they had qualified for AFCON after a 0-0 draw with Sierra Leone in Mbombela only to find out that Niger had taken their spot due to a combination of results on the final match day of qualification?

Speaking of celebrations, Congolese goalkeeper Robert Kidiaba is another who enjoys a celebration with this strange move:

 

K is for Keepers

While scoring goals is the most important thing in winning a footballl match, stopping goals can be just as important. This is where the glovemen come in. Soumbeïla Diakité (Mali), Boubacar Barry (Ivory Coast) and Raïs M’Bolhi (Algeria) are just a few of the AFCON goalkeepers who are expected to stand out at the event.

Bafana coach Shakes Mashaba will have a bit of a selection dilemma on his hands with both Darren Keet and Brilliant Khuzwayo putting in good displays in recent games.

South Africa's Darren Keet.

South Africa’s Darren Keet.

L is for Length

The 30th edition of the Africa Cup of Nations will run from Saturday, January 17 to Sunday, February 8, with 32 matches to be played during that period.

M is for Mascot

It’s pretty nuts, but the official mascot of AFCON 2015 is “Chuku Chuku”, a squirrel who has its foot on the official Marhaba match ball and points its two indexes to the sky.

AFCON 2015's Mascot.

AFCON 2015’s Mascot.

N is for No Nigeria

One thing is for certain; there will be a new AFCON champion this year after defending champions Nigeria failed to qualify for the event. It will be strange without the Super Eagles at this year’s tournament.

Defending champs Nigeria couldn't qualify for AFCON 2015

Defending champs Nigeria couldn’t qualify for AFCON 2015

 

O is for Opening Ceremony

The opening ceremony of the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations will take place on January 17, at the Estadio de Bata, before the opening match of the tournament between hosts Equatorial Guinea and Congo. It gets underway at 4pm.

P is for Players

Without the players there would be no football. Some players who are expected to stand out at AFCON 2015 are Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon), Asamoah Gyan (Ghana), African Footballer of the Year Yaya Toure (Ivory Coast), Tokelo Rantie (South Africa) and Pitroipa (Burkina Faso).

Q is for Qualification

Qualification for the tournament was made up of four stages, three preliminary rounds and a final group stage. The 21 best-ranked teams were given a bye to the group stage, while the next 26 teams began play in the second preliminary round, and four lowest ranked teams started at the first round.

The three preliminary rounds were a series of playoffs, with the winners advancing. 51 teams entered the tournament (excluding initial hosts Morocco). It was the competitive debut of South Sudan while the teams of Djibouti and Somalia declined to enter. Morocco would have automatically qualified as hosts; however, after their refusal to host, they were expelled from the tournament by CAF.

Equatorial Guinea was chosen as the new host, and despite having played in the qualifiers and been disqualified due to fielding an ineligible player, they now qualify for the tournament automatically. In the end, 16 teams will battle it out at the AFCON finals.

R is Referees

It’s a reality in football these days – the man in the middle with the whistle becomes a major focal point when controversial decisions are made. It shouldn’t be like that, but that’s modern football.  Twenty-four referees from around Africa will blow the whistle at various matches, while 21 assistant referees will be running the sidelines.

S is for Skill

African football players are renowned for crazy footwork with the ball at their feet. Take a look at this skill flashback video from AFCON 2010:

 

T is for Trophy

Until Egypt won the AFCON in 2010, to mark their third triumph in the tournament, teams in the AFCON finals competed for the “Trophy of African Unity” or “African Unity Cup”. The significance of the name of the trophy is sometimes lost in the crazy world of sport business where agents and sponsors rule the roost.

Since its inception in 1957, the AFCON has been about extending the hand of friendship to neighbours cut off from each other by borders they had no say in creating.

T

 

U is for Underdogs

At big international football tournaments there are always one or two of the less-fancied teams that go on to make a massive challenge. In Equatorial Guinea there are numerous underdog teams that could cause surprises. As mentioned before, as the lowest-ranked team in Group C, Bafana Bafana will be considered underdogs in that particular group.

V is for Venues

Four Equatorial Guinean cities will host matches at their stadiums. They are Malabo, Bata, Mongomo and Ebebiyín. With a capacity of 35 700 the Estadio de Bata, in Bata, is the biggest of the stadia and will host the final on February 8.

The Estadio de Bata.

The Estadio de Bata.

 

W is for Win

Win, win, win. After all, that’s what competitive sport is all about. From a Bafana Bafana perspective: two wins and a draw in Group C could be enough to get Mashaba’s men to the knock-out stages.

X is for X-Rays and Injuries

Injuries are an unfortunate part of this football business and even big superstars miss the tournament through injury. Some players who will be missing from AFCON 2015 through injury include Senegal’s Demba Ba and Ghana’s Kwadwo Asamoah.

It is unfortunate that Senegal's Demba Ba will miss AFCON 2015 through injury.

It is unfortunate that Senegal’s Demba Ba will miss AFCON 2015 through injury.

Y is Youngsters

There are always talented young players who stand out and make a name for themselves at AFCON and this year’s edition will be no different. Some of these promising youths will be hoping that a good display in Equatorial Guinea will earn them big money moves to European clubs, while some are already coming through the ranks at big clubs.

Bafana Bafana’s Benni McCarthy broke through onto the international stage at AFCON 1998. Who is going to be next? Clinton N’Jie (Cameroon), Nabil Bentaleb (Algeria), Roger Assale (Ivory Coast) and Andre Biyogo Poko (Gabon) are a few players under the age off 22-years-old that could make an impact.

Cameroon's youngster Clinton N'Jie (right) is a player to watch.

Cameroon’s youngster Clinton N’Jie (right) is a player to watch.

Z is for Zambia

It’s always good to see the 2012 AFCON-winning Zambians at the tournament especially after the Gabon Air Disaster in 1993, when, on April 27, 1993, a Zambian Air Force Buffalo DHC-5D which was carrying the team to Senegal for a 1994 World Cup qualification match crashed, killing all 30 passengers, including 18 players and a number of coaches.

Their triumph in South Africa in 2012 was a fitting tribute to the members of that team.

  AUTHOR
Logan Green
Sports reporter

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