The absence of some traditional powerhouses has scrambled the expectations of what may occur at the African Cup of Nations that kicks off Saturday.
Former champions Egypt, Cameroon, Nigeria and South Africa did not make the cut for the competition that will be co-hosted by West African neighbors Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, Though unheralded home nations have pulled surprises in the past, the star-studded squads of Ivory Coast and 2010 World Cup quarterfinalist Ghana are expected to meet in the final Feb. 12.
The favorites are under heavy pressure to succeed. Four-time champion Ghana hasn't won the tournament since 1982, and Ivory Coast is trying to atone for dual disappointments in 2010: elimination at the quarterfinal stage of the African Cup, and a first-round exit from the World Cup.
“Ghana’s reputation means we are one of the tournament heavyweights and we accept the task because we know that playing in the final is the least everyone expects from us,” Ghana coach Goran Stevanovic said. “I always want to be among the favorites and I know we have put additional pressure on the team by telling them time and again that Ghana ought to win the Cup of Nations for the first time in 30 years.”
Ivory Coast can end a 20-year drought without an African title. It won all six of its qualifying games and features English Premier League stars Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou (Chelsea), Yaya Toure (Manchester City) and Gervinho (Arsenal).