Who will win Afcon 2012?


LAGOS As Africa prepares for the start of its most prestigious football championship, the exercise everywhere is predicting who will win the 2012 African Cup of Nations (Afcon) that starts on January 21.

Purely as an academic exercise, without going into a full player-by-player, team-by-team, group-by-group analysis, I shall look generally at the teams from a helicopter standpoint and shall hazard an opinion as to which of the 16 participants I think will win the championship.

Let me emphasise that I am only looking at the teams through the prism of my past experiences, a fairly good appreciation of their history plus the little I saw of them in qualifying for the championship.

Let me start this way: there are some teams that will not win Afcon 2012. I mean no disrespect when I list them here.

Niger. They have no historical antecedents to justify any higher expectation than playing in the first round and no further.

Mali: They are not complete and rounded enough in the availability of quality players.

Botswana: They are still too young and inexperienced in African football to win the highest trophy in the continent now even in spite of their investment in grassroots football development in recent years.

Morocco: They will win a few important matches and then fail to sustain the streak through the other matches, even the easier ones.

Burkina Faso: They could not win it even as hosts and with better players in the past. They are too paperweight in the West Africa sub-region.

Algeria: Playing against Egypt always brings out the best of them. In the absence of the Pharaohs there will be plenty of flash but no fire.

Tunisia: They just do not have the firepower (players) to win.

Libya: They are a true featherweight. Qualifying for Afcon is good enough as their achievement.
Zambia: It may be unfair to lump them in this category because they always show capability to win but never do. They do not know how to cap or close critical matches.

Angola: They could not win the championship when they hosted it and they cannot now. The team has too many fault lines, too many weaknesses, and not enough quality players. Then there are the teams with a remote possibility of winning it.

Gabon: Because they are hosts some will give them a distant chance of winning the championships.

As co-hosts they start to lose a substantial part of the support that a single host nation brings. Add to that the absence of host-team destroyers Egypt and Cameroon and Gabons chances start to look bright again.

Add to that also some recent morale-boosting performances against Cameroon and one truly starts to appreciate the very faint possibility of this tiny country going some distance.

With some luck, anything is possible but still unlikely in this instance. This is the big question: Where are the players to deliver the goods? Hope starts to recede again.

Equatorial Guinea: It is co-host. What else? The country has been making recent appearances in age-group international competitions and even the female championships.

There is something good happening in the countrys football to produce its recent results and exposure. Winning the African championship is not a piece of cake or a casual stroll in the park.

A team cannot win it by capitalising on home advantage only. There are too many matches to be played with too many good opposing teams along the way.

It is hard to find any other reason to see Equatorial Guinea as a possible winner. Winning would be too farfetched.

Now, on to the teams that can win it. The teams that usually win the Afcon play to certain critical factors and advantages. The first is history.

Historically only very few countries in Africa have won the trophy many more times than the others.
Three countries have been dominant Egypt (six-time winner), Cameroon and Ghana (nine times between them). These countries always seem to play with the confidence and belief (a very critical success factor) that they can always win it.

That helps them psychologically, and also explains why only very few countries always seem to win the World Cup Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Italy. In the absence of two of Ghanas main rivals (Cameroon and Egypt), most analysts now rate it as one of the favourites to lift the trophy, even if the last time they did so was some 30 years ago.

Ghanas greatest rivals are their immediate neighbours Ivory Coast. This West African giant parades the best midfield players in African football at the moment.

Unfortunately, even when everyone thought they had the best team in the continent in the past two editions of the Afcon, they faltered. Their great centre-forward, Didier Drogba, now well past his best, could not deliver and Ivory Coast, with all its talent, still has only one Afcon trophy to its name.

Thats why many doubt if they have the mentality and the fighting spirit to win it. Without question, on paper they should be winners. It is not the country that has the best players that wins but the country that has the best team.

Senegal: Like Ivory Coast, they have only one victory to show for the abundance of talent available to them. Unfortunately, the team is in rebuilding mode after the exit of Elhaj Diouf and his generation of exceptionally gifted players.

In conclusion, my heart tells me that Afcon 2012 is Ivory Coasts year of ascending the throne of African football (after all, an Ivorian is Africas current best player), but my head tells me that it belongs to Ghana.

The countrys now very mature players, the depth of experience in the squad and the cohesiveness of the team will lift Ghana soaring beyond everyone else and make them take home the trophy of the 2012 Afcon.