I'm an African
The wailing and gnashing of teeth amongst Premier League bosses over the loss of players to the upcoming African Nations Cup in Angola is a sight to behold. Players were signed in full knowledge of their nationalities, and there have been the typical range of myopic comments about the competition’s timing fail to take into account the impact of rainy seasons and heightened temperatures in the summer months (although Angola, south of the Equator as it is, might be little steamy this January). Above all, the continued organization of summer junkets in Singapore, Malaysia and the US, aimed for no other reason than to raise a business’s market awareness, leave me with little sympathy that stars will now be missing on more important business.
The Championship will be not too badly affected by the tournament, the background to which is expertly analyzed by Andrew Guest on the Pitch Invasion website. True, there are large moral questions to be asked about staging events in a country that has grown rich on the back of oil money but seen little of the wealth trickle down to the wider populace, but previous versions have shown the CAF showpiece to be a consistently entertaining event. It’s a shame therefore, that Mohamed Shawky’s injury problems will prevent him representing holders Egypt, that Kelvin Etuhu and Solomon Taiwo have been deemed unready by Nigeria and that Yoann Folly has been denied a chance to add to his one Togo cap.
Other absentees include Adel Taarabt, Henri Camara and Gabriel Zakuani, none of whose countries have qualified. That leaves just three significant participants from the Championship point of view. Geremi’s absence won’t bother Newcastle too much and yet his presence remains pivotal for Cameroon; a hundred and seven caps having seen him net eleven times. Kevin Nolan and Alan Smith were again forceful in the Toon’s 2-0 televised win over neighbours Middlesbrough last Sunday and the Bafoussam born man has been reduced to cameos this term.
More serious an absentee will be Hameur Bouazza from the Blackpool line up. Algeria’s two decade decline has been index linked to major problems domestically and a political climate that discourages the development of players in European leagues. Their victory in that dramatic play off in Khartoum signals their strong re-emergence and, together with the Pompey duo Nadir Belhadj and Hassam Yebda, Bouazza has signalled a strong willingness to put the Desert Foxes back where they belong.
The third player to be involved is less heralded and yet Reda Johnson’s call up (at the moment on a provisional basis) has attracted the strongest criticism from his club manager. As Lloyd has bemoaned today, crisis point has been reached at Home Park and Johnson’s absence, coinciding as it does with the end of Shane Lowry’s loan from Aston Villa, is unquestionably untimely. That said, the Pilgrims’ managerial team have seen fit to only allow the Benin international five appearances since his summer arrival from Amiens and his national side, gloriously nicknamed The Squirrels, will hope to build on their progress of the last decade; this being their third appearance since 2004 having never taken part in a Finals until then.
As for a prediction, the Ivory Coast are rightful favourites, but I wouldn’t bet against Egypt to make it a threepeat, stung as they will be by their failure to book tickets south of the Caprivi Strip come June.