2012 Africa Cup of Nations - what is at stake

There may be no Pharaohs, Super Eagles or Indomitable Lions at the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, but some Elephants, Nile Crocodiles and several underdogs will be there. FRANCE 24 takes a look at what this year’s event means in both Africa and beyond.

Sixteen teams will take part in this year’s three-week-long Africa Cup of Nations, which is co-hosted by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. The football kicks off on Saturday when Equatorial Guinea take on Libya in the country’s capital Bata. The final will take place three weeks later on February 20 in Libreville, the capital of neighbouring Gabon. The tournament is set to see plenty of winners and losers but not just on the pitches in Africa.
The winners?
1. The underdog
Much of the talk in the build-up to the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations has been about the teams that are missing. The Pharaohs of Egypt, seven-time winners of the cup, Nigeria’s Super Eagles and Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions all failed to qualify. Had they made it, any of these three teams would have been a good bet to take home the trophy. South Africa, hosts of the 2010 World Cup also missed out.
The interest in the tournament might be diminished as a result but it does give the continent’s more unheralded teams the chance to shine. Three debutants - Equitorial Guinea, Niger and Botswana - will all be hoping to make their mark. Senegal's Lions of Teranga could win the trophy for the first time, although Ivory Coast’s Elephants, with Chelsea’s Didier Drogba as striker, are firm favourites.
2. Libya – new anthem, new shirt, new hope
The fact that Libya even made it to the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations is remarkable enough. With the country crippled by the uprising against Colonel Gaddafi and the ensuing civil war, the team was forced to play its home qualifying matches outside the country. The conflict that ripped apart the country also fractured the team. One player, Walid al-Kahatroushi, walked out of the squad in order to link up with rebels. After fighting on the front line until the fall of Gaddafi in November last year, he was sent back to play for his national team. Tariq al-Taib, considered by many to be Libya’s best player, was not selected for the squad after he described the rebels as “rats” and “dogs”. The team will no longer wear the green shirts of Gaddafi’s Libya and a new national anthem will be played before each game.
“It's an amazing time,” Libya’s Brazilian coach Marcos Paquetá said. “They don't play only for the national team, they play for the people who have endured difficult lives.”
3. Zambia – A chance to honour heroes
There will be emotional scenes if Zambia defy the odds and reach the final in Gabon. In 1993 a plane carrying the Zambian team took off from Gabon bound for Senegal, only to crash moments later in the Atlantic. Everyone on board was killed, including 18 players on a team considered the rising stars of African football.  "We are going to this tournament to put the souls of our fallen heroes to rest," said Zambian goalkeeper, Kennedy Mweene.
And the losers?
1. African Football?
The worry for African football is that the absence of the big teams could mean that the quality of the games being played will be well below par. This could damage the credibility of the tournament and the reputation of the continent as a hotbed of footballing talent. In the 1990 World Cup, when Cameroon beat  holders Argentina on their way to the quarter finals, the hope was that Africa would soon become a powerhouse in world football. Sadly, it has not happened, and there is argument that standards have actually regressed. Author and African football expert Jonathan Wilson described the current state of African football in the UK’s Guardian newspaper as a "descent in mediocrity".  The hope is that this year’s Africa Cup of Nations proves the doubters wrong.
2. The French League
Each time the African Cup of Nations comes around, European clubs are forced to wave goodbye to their African contingent. The impact of the tournament on the French league this year is enormous, with around 50 players quitting the Championnat to represent their national teams. The most affected clubs this time around are Rennes, who will have to do without five key players, and Marseille, who will be hindered by the absence of crucial team members such as Ghana’s André, Jordan Ayew and Senegal’s Souleymane Diawara. Wealthy Paris Saint Germain, on the other hand, have no such problems. The club’s reaction to losing one player for a month was simply to go out and buy a new one.
3. Manchester City
Just when Manchester City appear to be heading for their first English league title in over forty years, it could be scuppered by the loss of arguably this season’s best player. Ivory Coast’s Yaya Touré, who has been outstanding for City this year, will likely miss four key league fixtures as his team are expected to go all the way to the final in Gabon on February 12. His brother Kolo, who also plays for Manchester City, will also be in Africa. Alex Ferguson, manager of City’s bitter rivals and neighbours Manchester United, will be rubbing his hands in glee.

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