The truncated qualifiers for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations have now been settled. Though Senegal’s second-leg match at home to Côte d’Ivoire was abandoned due to crowd trouble, the away team were leading 6-2 on aggregate at the time and are thus assured of their safe passage to South Africa, with any sanction for the riot set to be meted out to the hosts.
The biggest upset came at the hands of Cape Verde, who humbled Cameroon over their two legged tie. Cape Verde were recently the lowest-ranked nation in African football; now they’ll be the only debutants at next year’s tournament (having in the past ‘lost’ such renowned talent as Henrik Larsson and Patrick Vieira). The irony is that while Anzhi Makhachkala will now not be deprived of the services of Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o from mid-January to early February, the Russian league will be on its new winter break at that time, having moved to an Autumn/Spring calendar for 2012/13. Other club sides, most notably in England – where the prospect of a winter break is as distant as the next ice age – will be directly affected by absenting players.
Côte d’Ivoire’s progression at the expense of Senegal is, of course, great news for Newcastle. Having recruited so Francophonically in securing the attacking talents of Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse, (to roam in front of the Cheick Tioté, Yohan Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa platform), the loss of their Senegalese spearheads would have necessitated a worrying reliance on Mike Ashley’s largesse, or worse, their back-ups Xisco and Shola Ameobi, in January. The flip-side is that Tioté will be away with Côte d’Ivoire during the tournament, but he is arguably easier to replace than his Senegalese colleagues.
Everton and Chelsea traditionally suffer most in numerical terms from players departing for mid-season Africa Cup of Nations duty. But with the international retirement of Everton’s Steven Pienaar, and the recent departures of Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou from Chelsea, these Premier League teams are not as affected as in the recent past. Nigeria’s defeat of Liberia has resulted in some looming absences for these sides though. But you would expect Everton to be well placed to handle the temporary loss of Victor Anichebe; likewise Chelsea to losing Victor Moses and Mikel John Obi.
Other high-profile players who will be taking part in the Cup of Nations include Emmanuel Adebayor (Spurs), Kolo and Yaya Touré (Man City), Gervinho (Arsenal), Arouna Koné (Wigan) and Karim El Ahmadi (Villa). Of these, Arouna Koné’s representation for Côte d’Ivoire and Karim El Ahmadi’s participation for Morocco could have the biggest impacts on their club sides’ form. Wigan, for example, have been searching for a reliable goalscorer in recent seasons, and while Koné hasn’t exactly been prolific yet this term, he’s looked markedly more dangerous than his predecessors at the DW Stadium. The Latics face tricky, yet winnable, fixtures against fellow (currently) bottom-half sides Sunderland, Southampton and Stoke during this period.
Further up the table, there has been no evidence yet this season to suggest that Roberto Mancini is any less reliant on his rampaging Goliath Yaya Touré to drive his City team forward than last year. And while the Adebayor has surprisingly been given time to fully recuperate from his calf injury at a Defoe-pronged Spurs, Gervinho has been thrust forward as the austerity-Arsenal’s answer to Thierry Henry. Arsene Wenger will need Olivier Giroud to find his goalscoring touch sooner rather than later.
Spare a thought too, for fans of Burton Albion. The DRC’s Jacques Maghoma has been in sensational form for the League Two side as they chase automatic promotion this season. But I doubt even the Albion faithful would begrudge Maghoma and his compatriots the opportunity to bring some footballing joy to their slowly rehabilitating nation.