By FRANCO PANIZO
The World Cup in South Africa is the international tournament everyone is waiting for, but over in Angola another prestigious tournament is ready to take place.
The African Cup of Nations (ACN) kicks off this weekend, providing 16 teams with the chance to raise the most coveted trophy in African soccer. From Didier Drogba to Michael Essien, to Emmanuel Adebayor and Samuel Eto'o, the ACN boasts a plethora of quality players looking to become the latest African champions.
The tournament will showcase the current as well as future stars of the African game, but that isn't all the ACN provides. Save for South Africa, the tournament will also give the African World Cup teams one final test to gauge themselves against before the big dance in June.
Here is a closer look at the 2010 African Cup of Nations:
Angola has to be favored to get out of the group due to its status as the home team, but Group A appears to be the most competitive, with no clear cut heavyweight in the ranks. Former Chicago Fire defender Bakary Soumare should see action for Mali, and American fans can also get a glimpse of Algeria before their 2010 World Cup bout.
Players to watch: Manucho (Angola), Mantorras (Angola), Adama Coulibaly (Mali), Bakary Soumare (Mali), Mamadou Diarra (Mali), Robert Ng'ambi (Malawi), Madjid Bougherra (Algeria), Yazid Mansouri (Algeria).
- Ivory Coast
- Burkina Faso
Didier Drogba headlines a star-studded Ivory Coast team that is considered among the tournament's best. Ghana should also advance to the quarterfinals based on talent alone, but Emmanuel Adebayor and Togo will be looking to prove otherwise. Burkina Faso looks like a long shot to advance.
Players to watch: Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast), Emmanuel Eboue (Ivory Coast), Kolo Toure (Ivory Coast), Yaya Toure (Ivory Coast), Aristide Bance (Burkina Faso), Michael Essien (Ghana), Emmanuel Adebayor (Togo).
Egypt failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, but the Pharaohs are among the tournament's favorites, having won the two previous editions in 2008 and 2006. Nigeria, which boasts talented attackers John Obi Mikel and Obafemi Martins, is also expected to get out of the group.
Players to watch: Mohamed Zidan (Egypt), Peter Odemwingie (Nigeria), Obafemi Martins (Nigeria), John Obi Mikel (Nigeria), Simao (Mozambique), Stephane Sessegnon (Benin).
Samuel Eto'o and Cameroon should cruise through this group, but just who goes with them into the quarterfinals is up for grabs. Tunisia might traditionally be considered the strongest of the remaining teams, but Zambia and Gabon will be hoping to to play the role of spoiler.
Players to watch: Samuel Eto'o (Cameroon), Idriss Kameni (Cameroon), Achille Emana (Cameroon), Rodrigue Moundounga (Gabon), Jacob Mulenga (Zambia), Karim Haggui (Tunisia).
Here is the complete schedule for the African Cup of Nations.
What do you think of the African Cup of Nations? Who do you think will raise the cup? Which players will you be keeping an eye on? Upset your favorite club team is missing a player or two?
Share your thoughts below.