When the curtains will be coming down on the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations in February 12 next year, one thing will more likely than not happen; a new African champion will be crowned. This is because three-time defending champions Egypt are facing the ignominy of missing out in the 28th edition of the African football spectacle to be be co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
The Pharaohs lie bottom of Group G having collected only two points from a possible twelve. Their only hope of surviving the embarrassment would be to defeat second-placed Niger (home) and Sierra Leone (away) and hope that both of the teams lose to South Africa who top the group and have not conceded a single goal so far.
The record seven time African champions have had a torrid campaign in the qualifiers. They drew at home with minnows Sierra Leone in their first match before suffering a shocking 1-0 loss to Niger. A similar scoreline loss then occurred at the hands of the Bafana Bafana before the two teams squared off to a 0-0 stalemate in their latest encounter, a result that put the Pharaohs at a high risk of missing out in the tournament.
Their hopes of featuring in the tournament firmly lies on the opposition’s hands, meaning that the resignation of Hassan Shehata, as expected by millions of Egyptians, will offer no short term solution.
But it is not only Egyptians who are on the brink. Four-time champions Cameroon, fellow West Africans and two-time winners Nigeria as well as 1990 winners Algeria are all sitting on the periphery. Cameroon lie third in their group, two points in the rear of the Democratic Republic of Congo and five points behind group-leaders the Teranga Lions of Senegal.
The Super Eagles of Nigeria lie second with seven points in group B which is led by Guinea who have ten points. Algeria are placed last in Group D with four points. The group is led by Morocco and Central Africa Republic who both have seven points.
The top team from each group will secure an automatic qualification, as well as the second placed team from the group of five (Group K). The two best second placed teams will also qualify.
The teams which have qualified include co-hosts Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, Group K winners Botswana and Cote D’Ivoire.
Other teams nearing qualification include the much-improved Senegal who will secure a place at the finals with a win at home to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda who need just one win in their remaining two matches against fellow contenders Kenya and Angola.
So with defending champions Egypt virtually eliminated, who are the favourites to lift the cup next year? In no particular order.
Ivory Coast – The Elephants have already secured a place in the finals and will be one of the teams to beat next year
- Star Man - Didier Drogba - The Elephants have it all from Yaya Toure to Solomon Kalou to Gervinho Kouassi to Cheik Tiote to, yes, Emmanuel Eboue. But it is the inspiration captain that makes the Elephants trumpet loudest. The Orange-clad team have already secured their tickets to Gabon and Equatorial Guinea having won all their matches, scoring twelve goals in the process with Drogba scoring a third of them. One of the top favourites.
Ghana – Highest ranked African side on FIFA’s rankings at number 15 worldwide and buzzing with confidence following a close-to-perfect performance in the World Cup last year
- Star Man - Asamoah Gyan - Ghana have a rich pool of talent that includes Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien, Marseille's Andre Ayew, AC Milan's Kevin-Prince Boateng and Inter Milan's Sulley Muntari. However, they will be relying on Sunderland's record signing and World Cup hero-cum-villain Asamoah Gyan to score the goals. Expect Ghana to go very far in the tournament as qualification looks more certain than not.
Nigeria – Always a threat when playing their carousel at full throttle but always a flop in big games. Expect them to be favourites though, if they qualify
- Star Man - Peter Osaze Odemwingie - the 29-year-old striker had an explosive season with West Bromwich Albion in England scoring 15 goals in 32 matches for the Baggies. Nigeria will need him to replicate the same form although he plays more as a winger in the national team. Left-back Taiye Taiwo and Real Zaragoza striker Ikechukwu Uche may also prove pivotal. The Super Eagles need to qualify though.
Cameroon - Will they qualify?
- Star Man - Samuel Eto'o, obviously - A team boasting of having Samuel Etoo, one of the worlds’ greatest finishers and Africa's record goalscorer in the competition on their ranks needs not be underestimated. But like the Super Eagles, the Indomitable Lions still have a lot of work to do in the qualification stage. Other key players who can help the course of Javier Clemente's side include Arsenal's Alex Song and Tottenham duo Benoit Assou Ekotto and Sebastien Bassong. However, the Indomitable Lions lie precariously as they are second from bottom with five points out of a possible twelve.
Senegal - The Teranga Lions have started reliving the moments that saw them reach the World Cup quarter-finals in 2002.
- Star Men - Led by the deadly strike trio of 2010-11 Ligue 1 top score Mousa Sow, SC Freiburg's Papiss Demba Cisse and Fenerbahce's Mamadou Niang, the rejuvenated Lions of Teranga are joint topscorers in the qualifiers with Cote D'Ivoire, having found the back of opposition net in twelve occasions. Qualification looks guaranteed for Amara Traore's men who need just one win from their remaining two games against DR Congo and Mauritius, which look easy considering that they already dismissed these teams 4-2 and 7-0 respectively. And they have been able to do all this without bad-boy El-Hadji Diouf.
South Africa - The Bafana Bafana failed to qualify for last year's tournament but look well on course to re-establish themselves as one of Africa's footballing giants.
- Star Man - Steven Piennar - The Tottenham Hotspur midfielder has been pivotal in the Bafana Bafana's resurgence alongside 2010 World Cup hero Siphiwe Shabalala and strikers Katlego Mphela and Bernard Parker. They sit top of Grou G which also has Egypt, Niger and Sierra Leone and are probably the biggest beneficiaries of the Pharaoh's slump. Their qualification is a matter of when and expect them to go beyond the group stages (something they have been unable to do for the last five editions)
Well, there are no others..
And That's thesteifmastertake!!