Black Stars to shine, Pharaohs’ pyra­mid scheme, Cranes eye lift-off, a Mali party


SWAN­SONG?: Asamoah Gyan has been Ghana’s stop star for many years but has yet to win the Af­con. The skip­per has hinted that this could be his fi­nal tour­na­ment and his coun­try­men are likely to go all out to help him win the elu­sive ti­tle.

EGYPT HAVE awo­ken from a seven-year long comma to find them­selves in the group of death in their first Africa Cup of Na­tions (Af­con) since 2010. The Pharaohs don’t mind be­cause the tur­moil they en­dured since lift­ing the Af­con for a record sev­enth time at An­gola 2010 was much tougher than the chal­lenge from the Black Stars, Uganda and Mali.

The Arab Spring up­ris­ings that top­pled Hosni Mubarak went from Tahrir Square right to the sta­di­ums across Egypt. The na­tional team suf­fered be­cause of that. That rev­o­lu­tion found the most suc­cess­ful African na­tion strug­gling to even qual­ify for the tour­na­ment. The up­ris­ing cre­ated di­vi­sions in the coun­try, lead­ing to the one thing that united even staunch en­e­mies like Al-Ahly and Za­malek to find more rea­sons to hate one another. How­ever, those club­sstill man­aged to dom­i­nate the con­ti­nent even though their do­mes­tic league was shut down at one point and when it opened they had to play be­hind closed doors.

When nor­mal­ity re­turned, to a point that Egypt were al­lowed to play in front of a packed sta­dium in the 2-0 win over Ghana in Alexan­dria in a 2018 World Cup qual­i­fier, the na­tion breathed a huge sigh of re­lief and put on a show. The Pharaohs will look to take that nor­mal­ity to the Af­con. The tour­na­ment has been a pretty sim­ple af­fair, 16 na­tions come to­gether to dis­play the best of African foot­ball and more of­ten than not Egypt leave as cham­pi­ons. They have the master key to un­lock­ing where the tro­phy lies.

The Black Stars, on the other hand, have banged the door that con­tains the tro­phy. Just like it was Ivory Coast’s time to be African cham­pi­ons in 2015, so is the case with Ghana this time around.

They have a qual­ity side that can achieve that and it would be a per­fect send-off for Asamoah Gyan. The Ghana­ian cap­tain has hinted that this could be his last Af­con cam­paign.

His pre­vi­ous cam­paigns have been lit­tered with dis­ap­point­ment, es­pe­cially in the last edition. Ghana lost on penal­ties to Ivory Coast whose golden gen­er­a­tion fi­nally picked up gold. What gives Ghana the edge over Egypt is that they have play­ers with ex­pe­ri­ence of com­pet­ing on this stage.

The Egyp­tians have been forced to shed some of their ex­pe­ri­enced cam­paign­ers in the past trou­bled years when le­gends such as Mo­hamed Aboutrika and Wael Gomma called it quits to make way for an exciting young group that in­cludes Mo­hamed Salah, Mo­hamed El­neny, Kahraba and Ra­madan Sobhi. Com­pe­ti­tion was so stiff up­front that Basem Morsi couldn’t find a place. Vet­eran goal­keeper Es­sam El-Hadary, who was there when Egypt won a hat-trick of Af­con ti­tles from 2006-2010, will bring much-needed ex­pe­ri­ence as part of the four play­ers in the 23-man squad who have played in this tour­na­ment.

There isn’t a sin­gle in­di­vid­ual who has been here be­fore for Uganda. The Cranes are mak­ing their first ap­pear­ance since 1978 and they can spoil the party. Mali have a good squad, but they could be the whip­ping boys of this group . SU­PER­SPORT has an im­pres­sive line-up of an­a­lysts to un­pack the 31st edition of the Africa Cup of Na­tions (Af­con) in Gabon from to­mor­row un­til Fe­bru­ary 5.

The chan­nel will broad­cast all 32 matches live and in HD.

The an­a­lysts, who will of­fer in­sight on the matches, have per­sonal con­nec­tions with the tour­na­ment.

Joseph Yobo lifted this tro­phy in 2013 with Nige­ria. It was a good fin­ish to a ca­reer that saw him earn more than 100 caps. JOSEPH YOBO

He will be along­side a fa­mil­iar foe in South African Benni McCarthy. The two had count­less tus­sles in the Eng­lish Premier League. But be­fore McCarthy played in Eng­land, he daz­zled in the 1998 Af­con where he scored four goals against Namibia as Bafana Bafana fin­ished se­cond. He went on to play at four more tour­na­ments. McCarthy will bring along his un­cen­sored anal­y­sis. SAMMY KUFFOUR

The quin­tet will also be a part of Master­plan, an hour-long magazine show air­ing on Sun­days at 4pm that will dis­sect all the matches played in the week.

Award-win­ning jour­nal­ist Thomas Kwe­naite will be in Gabon with Andrew Kabuura and Michael Kata­hena. They will bring in­sight from the Zim­babwe, Uganda and Ghana camps. The trio will also sup­ply con­tent for Ak­waaba, a 30-minute magazine show pre­sented by Carol Tsha­bal­ala on Satur­days at 4pm.

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