The countdown is on to the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon). The tournament kicks off at Johannesburg's FNB Stadium on 19 January with a double-header featuring South Africa versus Cape Verde and Angola versus Morocco. Get primed for the action with quick profiles of the teams in Group A.
AFRICA CUP OF NATIONS 2013: GROUP A
- South Africa
- Cape Verde
As hosts, South Africa's national team, Bafana Bafana, enters the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations carrying the weight of expectation of the home nation's supporters. Not only this, there is the weight of history too, because the country previously claimed the Afcon title in 1996 on the only other occasion it has hosted the continental championship.
One of the most glaring differences between Clive Barker's 1996 title-winning side and the current team, under Gordon Igesund, is that of star power, even though some of Barker's players became stars in the Afcon tournament itself.
Nonetheless, players like Lucas Radebe, Mark Fish and Doctor Khumalo have secured their places in South African football history. Possibly the only player in the current team that has managed that is Siphiwe Tshabalala, based on his stunning opening goal of the 2010 Fifa World Cup.
Igesund, like every coach before him, except for Barker, has been saddled with challenge of preparing a team for the Africa Cup of Nations having replaced his predecessor shortly before the event.
The biggest problem Igesund faces, like many of his predecessors, is that of goal scoring. Katlego Mphela owns the best goal scoring record of among current Bafana Bafana strikers, with a good 23 goals in 45 internationals, but the general feeling is that he should score many more goals than he does.
Igesund could still take a look at Ayanda Patosi, who has been in superb form for Lokeren in Belgium. The 20-year-old has found the back of the net regularly, including scoring a Stunning goal against Standard Liege.
Since the 2010 Fifa World Cup, South Africa has been in free-fall in the Fifa world rankings, dropping to a yearly low of 84th in November. Afcon 2013 offers Bafana Bafana an opportunity to uplift the game in the country by recapturing some of the magic of the 2010 Fifa World Cup and drawing on the memories of the 1996 Cup of Nations.
- Highest Fifa ranking in 2012: 56
- Previous Afcon appearances: 7
- Best Afcon results: 1996 champions, 1998 second, 2000 third
- Players to watch: Defender Bongani Khumalo, midfielder Siphiwe Tshabalala, goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune
Angola does not possess much of a pedigree in the Africa Cup of Nations, but it should be noted that the country's best finals performances, reaching the quarterfinals, have come in recent times, in 2008 and 2010.
Their first qualification for the Afcon finals, in fact, came in South Africa in 1996, 14 years after they first began competing in the qualifying rounds.
Since the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, the Sable Antelopes have been draw specialists, winning one, losing one and drawing five times in 2012.
One player they can always look to for goals, however, is Real Valladolid striker Manucho, who is a proven goal scorer at international level. The 29-year-old made his debut for Palancas Negras in 2006 and will thus also bring experience to the Angolan side in South Africa.
Manucho starred in his first Africa Cup of Nations finals in 2008, netting four times in four games, including a brace against Senegal, Angola's only goal in a 1-1 draw with South Africa, and his side's only goal in a 2-1 quarterfinal loss to eventual champions Egypt.
On home soil in 2010, he netted twice and added another two goals in the 2012 competition; this is a man who has delivered in past Afcon finals.
At 32 years of age, Flavio is one of the most experienced of Angola's players, but last played for the national team in the 2012 Afcon finals. Should he be selected - and coaches tend to value experience in big tournaments - he will give the Sable Antelopes another good goal scorer.
Gilberto lends stability to the Angolan midfield. At the age of 17, he first played for the national team in 1999. Fellow midfielder André Macanga, at 34 fours years older than Gilberto, also first represented Angola that year and brings further experience to the engine room of the team.
- Highest Fifa ranking in 2012: 78
- Previous Afcon appearances: 6
- Best Afcon results: 2008, 2010 quarterfinals
- Players to watch: forwards Manucho and Flavio, midfielder Flavio
Morocco enjoyed title-winning success in 2012, capturing the 12-nation Arab Nations Cup in Saudi Arabia. In 2013 their ambitions are much higher, namely victory in the Africa Cup of Nations.
Heading into Afcon 2013, the Lions of the Atlas need to reverse some poor form in late 2012, with the team losing three of its last four matches.
The leading name in the Moroccan team is that of 28-year-old striker Marouane Chamakh, who plays for English Premier League club Arsenal. He is, however, more of a holding striker than a natural goal-getter. Nonetheless, if Chamakh finds his form he can be dangerous as his record in the 2010 Uefa Champions League shows when he scored in six consecutive matches.
Apart from goalkeeper Nadir Lamyaghri, the Moroccan defence has limited experience, but Udinese's Mehdi Benatia, who played for France at under-20 level before turning his allegiance to Morocco, bears watching. At 6ft 3in, he lends height to their defence.
French-born Houssine Kharja's career includes playing with clubs in France, Portugal and Italy. He is currently with Qatari outfit Al-Arabi and, having debuted for the Lions of the Atlas back in 2003, he provides a steadying influence in the midfield.
Winger Mbark Boussoufa plays for leading Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala under respected coach Guus Hiddink. He certainly lends an attacking edge to the Moroccan line-up.
Before moving to Russia in 2011, Boussoufa played in Belgium from 2004 to 2011, for Gent and then Anderlecht. During his time there, he won a number of awards, including the Belgian Golden Shoe, Belgian Footballer of the Year, Belgian Young Footballer of the Year and Belgian Ebony Shoe, which goes to the best African player in the Belgian Pro League.
- Highest Fifa Ranking in 2012: 60
- Previous Afcon appearances: 14
- Best Afcon results: 1976 champions, 2004 second, 1980 third
- Players to watch: forward Marouane Chamakh, midfielder Mbark Boussoufa
French great Patrick Vieira's father is from Cape Verde, while Swedish superstar Henrik Larsson's mom hails from Cape Verde, but the island nation has little football pedigree to speak of. In fact, the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations mark the first time the country has qualified for the continental finals.
Cape Verde's status has certainly improved in recent years and they enter Afcon 2013 as the highest ranked of the teams in Group A. As recently as 2010, they held a full strength Portugal, then ranked third in the world, to a goalless draw. To qualify for the finals, they defeated traditional African power Cameroon 3-2 on aggregate.
As finals debutants, the Blue Sharks will be under pressure to get off to a good start in South Africa. Their opponents in the tournament's opening game will be Bafana Bafana, meaning there will be plenty of pressure on both teams to produce a favourable result.
Cape Verde, with a population of 500 000, will likely have never come close to playing in front of the crowd of 94 700 that will attend the opener and that could be intimidating for Tubarões Azuis.
The teams have met twice previously: in 2003, Bafana Bafana won 2-1 in Bloemfontein. The following year they prevailed by the same margin in Praia, but those results will count for nothing at Afcon 2013.
Midfielder Heldon, who plays for CS Marítimo in Portugal, will be one of their key players. He was their top goal scorer in qualifying for Afcon 2013. Lito, who has played in Portugal his entire career, is another player the islanders will look to for goals.
Defender Nando, aged 34, has played in a number of leagues around Europe and Asia and lends a measure of experience to the team's defence.
- Highest Fifa Ranking in 2012: 51
- Previous Afcon appearances: 0
- Best Afcon result: qualification South Africa 2013
- Players to watch: forward Lito and midfielder Heldon