The Africa Cup of Nations kicked off this weekend and for the next few weeks will provide some entertaining alternative football viewing.
The tournament has grown massively in European exposure in recent years as well as quality, but it’s still hard to believe this edition of the tournament marks the 60th anniversary.
There has always been quality footballers coming out of Africa, from George Weah and Roger Miller, to Tony Yeboah & Samuel Eto’o, but the quantity of top players plying the trade in the European Leagues, like Drogba, Toure, Essien, Song; along with increase television coverage have seen the tournament go from strength to strength, such that Oil giants Total now provide sponsorship to the tournament which will see an initial increase in prize money and the renaming of the tournament to the TOTAL African Cup Of Nations.
The political unrest in Libya means they were unable to host and so were replaced by Gabon which gives viewers the privilege of seeing Dortmund’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang join the carnival of football, who is probably the best player at the tournament.
Dortmund will certainly miss their star man for as long as he keep his 108th ranked team in the tournament but this year is no different to last decade in terms of causing problems to some premier league squads.
There will be 23 players from the EPL featuring in Gabon.
The biggest losers in the relegation scrap are Crystal Palace & Leicester.
The only positive for Crystal Palace during the miserable season has been the contributions of Wilfred Zaha, and his recent switch of aliegances to the Black Elephants of Ivory Coast means they’ll be missing him over the next crucial period of their fight for survival.
Leicester are also going to feel the struggle become even more uphill, they’ll be missing star man FA player of the year Riyad Mahrez as well as record signing Islam Slimani to the Algerian squad.
Amongst the title contenders, Manchester United will certainly miss the presence of Eric Bailly who has been their most consistent new signing this season and has been integral to their solid defence during the recent run of wins.
Chelsea are having most things going their way this season and will benefit for Nigeria surprisingly failing to qualify and so retain the services of Victor Moses who has been crucial to the success of the formation switch that has propelled them to the top of the table.
Spurs keep Victor Wanyama as a result of Kenya’s failure to qualify.
City and Arsenal lose just Eleneny between them so no real harm done.
The biggest sufferers could well be Liverpool who have dazzled this season with the pace at which they attack. They move the ball fast, but the quickest player at the top of the attack is Saido Mane. He’s been brilliant this season and chipped with goals too, He’ll be a huge miss for Liverpool as he joins up with Senegal and could miss up to nine games including cup competitions and the semi final 2nd leg of the EFL cup. Some big league fixtures in that period too against title contenders, his absence could have a big impact.
Final word should go to the tournament itself, and it promises to be an entertaining enjoyable spectacle as ever. Ivory Coast, current holders, go in as tournament favourites, but with their side missing some stalwarts of previous years like Drogba and Toure it may be worth looking elsewhere for the eventual winner.
Senegal had a 100% record in qualifying and may be worth a punt to to carry that on to victory with Mane leading their most exciting team since their famous World Cup run in 2002, despite a tough group containing Algeria. The AFCON does have a habit of throwing up outsiders who have runs to the title or close, and it would be worth keeping an eye on Democratic Republic of Congo’s progression at 20/1 who could surprise with star man Cedric Bakambu (Villarreal) and along with Egypt (9/1) in their first finals for 4 tournaments, spearheaded by Mohamed Salah. Both could make a surprise run to the semi finals or beyond.
Full List of Premier League Africa Cup of Nations absentees:
Mohamed Elneny, Egypt
Max Gradel, Ivory Coast
Bakary Sako, Mali
Wilfried Zaha, Ivory Coast
Idrissa Gueye, Senegal
Ahmed Elmohamady, Egypt
Dieumerci Mbokani, DR Congo
Daniel Amartey, Ghana
Riyad Mahrez, Algeria
Islam Slimani, Algeria
Sadio Mane, Senegal
Eric Bailly, Ivory Coast
Sofiane Boufal, Morocco
Wilfried Bony, Ivory Coast
Mame Biram Diouf, Senegal
Ramadan Sobhi, Egypt
Wahbi Khazri, Tunisia
Lamine Kone, Ivory Coast
Didier Ndong, Gabon
Nordin Amrabat, Morocco
Adlene Guedioura, Algeria
Andre Ayew, Ghana
Cheikhou Kouyate, Senegal
Dan De Luca