CAIRO — Title favourites Ivory Coast are among 14 qualifiers for the 2013 Caf Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon), who begin preparations for the tournament by playing friendlies in Africa, Europe and North America this week.
Report by Supersport
Ghana and Cape Verde Islands get the ball rolling in Lisbon followed by 15 fixtures today from Miami — who host Nigeria and Venezuela — to Johannesburg where South Africa confront Afcon title holders Zambia.
Ivory Coast, Ghana, Cape Verde, South Africa, Angola, Morocco, Niger, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Zambia, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Tunisia and Togo are qualifiers who will be in action.
That leaves Mali and Ethiopia as the only two of the 16 challengers for the Afcon in South Africa between January 19 and February 10, who will not be playing.
Ivory Coast tackle Austria in Linz minus injured Arsenal midfield flier Gervinho and a January warm-up against the DRC is the only other friendly planned before facing Togo in the opening series of Africa Cup fixtures.
The title has eluded the Ivorian “golden generation”, led by Didier Drogba and including Kolo Touré, Didier Zokora and Boubacar Barry, since 2006 and South Africa is seen as the last-chance saloon for the ageing stars.
With a 53-place advantage in the world rankings, the Ivorians are expected to follow up an August draw in Russia by defeating the modest Austrians, even if the low night-time temperature may not be to the liking of the West Africans.
Experimental Ghana visit Lisbon
Ghana captain and leading scorer Asamoah Gyan will miss the trip to the Portuguese capital after the death of his mother in an Accra road accident and coach Kwesi Appiah plans to test some fringe players. Among those called up are striker Abdul Warris, who has quit Swedish side Hacken for a five-year contract with Spartak Moscow, and teenage Inter Milan midfielder John Duncan.
Previously anonymous Cape Verde make their Afcon debut next year and the “Blue Sharks” want to prove that a qualifying victory over four-time African champions Cameroon was not a flash in the pan.
Super Eagles seek to fly in Miami
Newcastle striker Shola Ameobi could make his debut for Nigeria at 31 — 10 years after turning down another approach to switch allegiances having played for England at age-limit level.
Good form for Spanish La Liga side Levante has earned striker Obafemi Martins a recall with coach Stephen Keshi scanning a large talent pool as the “Super Eagles” seek a winning formula ahead of a tournament they last won 18 years ago.
Zambia bring the starting 11 from the 2012 final victory over Ivory Coast to Johannesburg for a clash with Afcon hosts South Africa, a team getting used to life without retired captain and Everton midfielder Steven Pienaar.
Out-of-favour Collins Mbesuma and injured Jacob Mulenga missed the Libreville penalty shootout triumph in the final and the strikers could get a chance against Bafana Bafana to impress France-born coach Hervé Renard.
Egypt will miss South Africa having suffered a stunning qualifying loss to the Central African Republic and Georgia are one of many opponents as the Pharaohs prepare for 2014 Fifa World Cup Brazil qualifiers next year.