One year on from the greatest moment in the country’s sporting history – and one of the most surprising tournament results football has ever seen – Zambia return to the Africa Nations facing an altogether different challenge than 12 months ago.
In 2012 Zambia went into the competition as underdogs, few observers expecting much from the Copper Bullets. What followed was a sensation. Led by Herve Renard, Zambia went unbeaten through a group stage containing Senegal, Libya and Equatorial Guinea and then saw off Sudan and Ghana. The Ivory Coast were dispatched on penalties in the final, Stoppila Sunzu converting the winning spot kick.
Renard’s Zambia squad for 2013 contains a number of players left over from 2012, including Sunzu, who is on the verge of a move to Reading, Emmanuel Mayuka, now of Premier League Southampton and captain Chris Katongo, the squad’s top scorer.
Nigeria: Best Performance – Winners 1980, 1994
Nearly two decades on from their last victory in the Africa Nations, the Super Eagles have work to do to arrest a decline that saw them fail to reach last year’s tournament after coming second in a group topped by Guinea.
Qualification for 2012 went to the final game, essentially a play-off between Guinea and Nigeria that Guinea could afford to draw but Nigeria had to win. And with six minutes to play, they were. But a last minute equaliser sent Nigeria out, and gave the 2013 vintage lower expectations on which to travel to South Africa.
Coach Stephen Keshi took the team through the revised qualification process and can call on some names familiar to European football – former Everton defender Joseph Yobo and Chelsea pair John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses among them – but it is telling that fewer Nigerian players ply their trade at the game’s most prestigious clubs than before.
Burkina Faso: Best Performance – Fourth place 1998
Burkina Faso Coach Paul Put can call on a group of players that includes a number playing in the top flight of France, from the highly-rated Charles Kabore to the speedy winger Jonathan Pitroipa. Pitroipa, though, has been struggling with injury and made a long journey back to France from South Africa in an attempt to take part in a cup match for his club, Rennes, while it is Put’s past that will also raise eyebrows.
A Belgian, Put is banned from managing in his native country after he was found to have been part of a match-fixing ring, setting up matches involving his club, Lierse, in the interests of a Chinese organisation. He recently told Belgian television that he felt victimised by his part in the scandal.
Los Etalon’s chances of matching their best ever performance in AFCON – arriving as hosts 15 years ago – appear slim. Just getting out of the group would be an achievement despite some interesting names in Put’s roster.
Ethiopia: Best Performance – Winners 1962
The Walya Antelopes have not graced an Africa Nations tournament in more than 30 years, exiting at the first round in 1982. Now, under the leadership of Sewnet Bishaw, the country from the horn of Africa once again takes its place among the continent’s top football names.
Bishaw has selected a squad largely made up of players currently at local clubs – only three of the 23-man party, Saladin Said, Fuad Ibrahim and Yussuf Saleh have moved outside of Ethiopia, Said to Egypt, Ibrahim to the United States and Saleh to Sweden, his country of birth. The lack of experience among Bishaw’s group means little is expected of Ethiopia – indeed, just qualifying was a remarkable feat for the team.
Ethiopia saw off Benin and Sudan – both on away goals – to qualify for South Africa 2013, Adane Girma scoring three times in two games. The 27-year-old will need to be at his best in a squad that does not have a player in double figures in international strikes.
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