MALABO, Equatorial Guinea (AFP) – The continent’s best player Yaya Toure and his new club colleague and Ivory Coast teammate Wilfried Bony will be the star attractions as the 30th Africa Cup of Nations begins in Equatorial Guinea this weekend.
Toure, fresh from winning the African Footballer of the Year award for an unprecedented fourth successive year, this week saw Bony become a club colleague of his when the striker moved from Swansea City to Manchester City for a reported fee of £28 million (US$42m), making him one of Africa’s most expensive players ever.
The Elephants come into the 2015 Cup of Nations with reason to believe they can finally win the continental crown for the first time since 1992, despite seeing the great Didier Drogba retire last summer.
However, having been drawn in a treacherous looking Group D along with Cameroon, Mali and Guinea, Herve Renard’s side are happy not to be so widely seen as favourites to win a competition that is always hard to predict.
“It is true that there is a little less pressure on us, but everyone keeps a close eye on the Ivorian team,” Toure told media ahead of the competition. “We have paid in the past for having a reputation as one of the favourites. Now we need to stay calm.
“The Ivory Coast needs a second title and to go on looking for more trophies,” added the 31-year-old midfielder, whose team lost 2-0 to Sweden in Abu Dhabi on Thursday in their final warm-up game before arriving in Malabo on Friday.
In a lopsided draw, the qualifiers from Group D are on a quarter-final collision course with the qualifiers from Group C, which features Algeria — the continent’s leading nation in the FIFA rankings — Ghana and Senegal as well as a resurgent South Africa.
The Bafana Bafana are buoyant after eliminating 2013 champions Nigeria in qualifying and their coach ‘Shakes’ Mashaba has spoken with an air of confidence about his team’s prospects in a group which will be centred in the town of Mongomo.
“I can tell you, when we started nobody was giving us a chance to win this Cup, but now people are raising their eyebrows, they are asking: who are these guys coming from the south?” he said before leaving a training camp in Gabon.
The tournament’s opening games come on Saturday, when the hosts face Congo Brazzaville before Burkina Faso meet Gabon, with both Group A games being played in the country’s biggest city Bata.
There have been concerns that the central African state has not had enough time to prepare to host the 16-team competition after Morocco’s refusal to do so amid Ebola fears.
And some of those appear to have been confirmed by veteran Congo Brazzaville coach Claude Le Roy, who has complained of serious accommodation problems for his players and staff in Bata.
Speaking to the BBC, the Frenchman, who is coaching at a record eighth Cup of Nations, said: “There are not enough places for my staff and it’s even difficult to find rooms for the players.
“The electricity is terrible, everything is exposed. I wanted to wash my hands. There was no water. Some of my assistants went around to see if there were rooms available somewhere but it seems very very difficult.” The government has put in place strict measures to guard against the threat of Ebola, which continues to ravage parts of West Africa, including hiring the expertise of a team of Cuban doctors.
However, elsewhere preparations at the venues and in host cities have left plenty to be desired – in Malabo, workmen were still busy getting the stadium in the capital ready on Thursday, with press facilities clearly not ready yet. Meanwhile, opposition parties in the host nation have called for residents to boycott matches in protest at the human rights situation in the country.