The 2013 Africa Cup of Nations began on January 19, 2013 with all 16 qualified teams nurturing hopes of making an impact. Indeed, targets were set by these teams. However, some of the nations were tagged as favourites like it is done before other tournaments. Ghana and La Cote d’Ivoire led the favorites’ pack.
Criteria for distributing nations into groups provided for entertaining action in South Africa.
Group A boasted hosts South Africa, whose second hosting of the tournament was expected to bring back the luck that saw the Bafana Bafana host and win the Afcon in 1996. Cape Verde were to be the scape goats in the opening game as they marked their debut in the 56-year-old tourney. Angola’s consistency in the tournament since making it out of the group stage in Ghana five years ago at the expense of nations including South Africa and Senegal was to be repeated. Morocco wanted to end a poor run that had left them only survive the group stage of a tournament they once won in 1976.
Group B had two of the most consistent sides in the tournament in Ghana, who had made it to the semi-finals in the past three editions and Mali, who had won Bronze in the last edition held in Gabon/Equatorial Guinea. Former Champions DR Congo were making a return after a seven-year absence while Niger desired to do better than they did in their debut just one year ago.
Group C boasted the rather loud-mouthed defending champions, Zambia, while Super Eagles also made a return after missing out in 2012. They are also counted one of the consistent sides having reached the semi-finals six times in their last eight appearances. 1962 Champions Ethiopia also made a return while Burkina Faso were the quite unfancied team in the group.
Group D, perhaps regarded as the ‘Group of Death’ boasted three former winners of the tournament like Group C. La Cote d’Ivoire, considered top favourites, were in with Algeria, Tunisia and Togo.
Togo had hardly made it out of the group stage in their history in the tournament, having boycotted it altogether in the last qualification due to the team’s attack in the Encalve of Cabinda while Algeria returned to do better than they did in their last appearance in Angola. Tunisia targeted a semi-final place while the Elephants of La Cote d’Ivoire were riding on the favourites tag – their players were referred to as the Golden generation.
After the group stage of the tournament, the men were separated from the boys. Though there were heavy disappointments for some, the targets met by teams overshadowed any cause of complaint by the disappointed ones like Zambia, whose coach Herve Renard attacked the Confederation of African Football (CAF) for not allowing the Chipolopolos to play in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup to be held in Brazil.
Cape Verde and Togo met targets of making it into the second round, Burkina Faso stopped big wigs like Nigeria and Zambia, Ethiopia held the champions even when they were one man down, DR Congo like the defending champions and Morocco avoided defeats though they went out and hosts South Africa also broke the jinx by scoring and winning in the tournament, the first since Tunisia 2004.
The quarter-final rounds saw some shocks, key among them is the ousting of favourites La Cote d’Ivoire from the tourney by a luck-lustre Nigeria side. Cape Verde played Ghana as if the latter were rather the debutants while Burkina Faso and Mali met targets of making it into the semi-finals.
Coincidentally, the last four are teams from two groups – B and C.
Ghana and Mali qualified from Port Elizabeth while Burkina Faso and Nigeria qualified from Nelspruit.
Were those two groups superior to the other groups then? Time will tell as the two sides go into their semi-final clashes. Incidentally, the group winners – Ghana and Burkina Faso – face each other while the runners-up – Mali and Nigeria – also face each other. For the bookmakers, it should not be a repeat of group matches. There should surely be a cross-multiplication. Ghana and Nigeria in the finals as my bet.