South Africa is on fire.
As the national teams of 15 African countries join hosts, South Africa, to set ablaze the 29th Orange African Cup of Nations, South Africa is set to explode in a kaleidoscope of colours in celebration, once again, of the brotherhood of the African football family.
By the time you are reading this the opening match of Afcon 2013 would either be about to be played or would have been completed. Bafana Bafana would have either ignited the championship with a re-assuring victory, or thrown it wide open with a draw or defeat against the Blue Sharks of Cape Verde Islands. The 'morning' would have started already to show what the rest of the 'day' would look like.
When I started this run-up to the African championship several weeks ago, I began with a heady prediction about who I thought would win it. I admitted at the time that my analysis were not based on any empirical data or clairvoyant revelation, but on sporting traditions established through performances, records and results between and amongst the teams. These traditions have proved to be largely efficacious through the years.
For example, although it is not gospel-cast in stone, according to tradition, one can safely predict, and be right most of the time, that Nigeria's Super Eagles would almost always defeat South Africa's Bafana Bafana in a football match between them anywhere, any time. That's what the records between them say.
Or even that no North African country (except Egypt) will win the Africa Cup of Nations without being the host country.
That is the 'tradition' I am referring to. It may sound arrogant, but it is the practical reality. It is such an assertion, hewn by past experiences, that makes for the African football tradition that provides the basis for some of my analysis. Some teams will just not win Afcon either now or in the foreseeable future until a cataclysmic change in African football occurs to alter it. Libya, Mauritania, Benin, Rwanda, Chad, Liberia, Somalia, Tanzania, Central African Republic, and so on, the list is long! Forgive me.
Since December 2012 we have now been generally much more informed about the teams at Afcon 2013. All the 16 teams have played a few friendly matches to measure their preparedness and released the final list of their 23 players. The results as well as the performances now provide us better indication of the possibilities that lie ahead, particularly the direction the pendulum of victory and defeat will likely swing as Afcon 2013 births its contents.
So, as the championship kicks off here is the message again from the 'oracle'.
There are three categories of teams.
In the first category are Niger, Togo, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and the Cape Verde Islands. They do not have the team or the players to become the eventual champions of Afcon 2013. From what I have observed they are too 'feather weight' and will find losing a lot easier than winning any matches. They will exit at the group stage.
The second category are the teams will create some upsets along the way but will eventually themselves collapse in the face of superior opposition and the African football tradition. Mali, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Congo DR and Angola will bark all through the start of the championship but will soon fade away without still taken a bite big enough to make them possible champions. I mean no disrespect.
Mali are a gifted team. They came third at Afcon 2012 and are quietly ambitious. They will go beyond the group stage but cannot go all the way.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, TP Mezambe FC are in a way what Barcelona FC are to Spain. When one particularly good club supplies the core players in a national team cohesion becomes a great and useful by-product. That's the advantage of having four or so TP Mezambe players in the Congo national team. But surely that alone cannot sustain a team through the turbulences of an African championship with bigger, stronger and more experienced squads.
Algeria, a truly young team, since Afcon 2012, have looked very strong and very cohesive. Qualifying for the championship in the manner they did makes them a team to watch. However, Algeria are not Egypt. They have not mastered how to play and deal effectively and consistently with West African teams. It is unlikely they will successfully wade through the landmines that will be set for them by Togo and Cote D'Ivoire.
I have nothing to say about Angola, Tunisia and Morocco. They just do not have the fire in their guts to go all the way.
There is the third category of teams. Any of these teams have the capacity to win the championship. Let me weigh their chances.
Zambia looms large here. They have won it once before but not before passing through the crucible of fire and brimstone, emerging on the other side burnt, bruised, battered but victorious with the dramatic help of the elements. The more I look back at the matches of Afcon 2012 the more I see how lucky Zambia were to have won it.
With the result of the matches played by the Chipolopolo in qualifying and before the start of this championship there is already the handwriting on the wall that 'thunder does not strike in the same place twice'.
Nigeria are a team emerging into the limelight again. Even on paper, they do not look like probable champions. There isn't any truly outstanding star in the team in the mold of a Kanu, Okocha, Oliseh, Taribo and so on. Mikel Obi is a brilliant player with a playing style that hardly makes a difference to a team in winning and losing matches. The Super Eagles are very vulnerable and unpredictable. But with a little bit of luck they can go far enough in the championship to catch a glimpse of the trophy, but not cart it away.
The team is one for the near future, being built with a lot of new players and a new philosophy. They still have some way to go to mature into a very great team like vintage wine.
Cote D'Ivoire are most people's favorite to win the championship because they have the most mature team comprising some of the continent's best strike-force. The team has been together, more or less, in the past 10 years but have no silverware yet to show for their exceptional talent. Unfortunately, their sun is setting fast and in the fading twilight they are making their last bold attempt. They have the capacity but may just be too old, too mentally fatigued with their 'cutting edge' blunted by age to find the will to drive themselves to the limit and survive the barrage that will surely come from younger, faster, sharper and more energetic teams.
South Africa can win the championship only because they are hosts and the spirit of the occasion, coupled with the weight of the vuvuzela and intimidating noises of the partisan South African crowd, can make their dead bones to rise again. The team will become more dangerous with every match they play and win during the championship. If they manage and get to the final they will win it even with one of the weakest teams in the championship!
Ghana also belong to the favorites group. Right now, on paper, they appear to be the most complete team. Unlike Cote D'Ivoire the Ghanaians are without some of their more renowned players of the last few years. But they are younger and more athletic, with a terrific midfield that may make the difference in this championship. They always do well and always go far, just as they would again this time around.
So, what team that will win Afcon 2013?
I go to my crystal ball again.
What do I see?
Can you see anything in the way I have listed the teams that can win it? Those who have eyes let them see.
Welcome to Afcon 2013!