Didier Drogba may lead a star-studded cast list at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations — but this year’s competition, which gets underway on Saturday, is bereft of some of the continent’s top names.
For while Ivory Coast captain Drogba and the Toure brothers, Kolo and Yaya, and company head for South Africa, the likes of Samuel Eto’o, Demba Ba and Papiss Demba Cisse are missing out, forced to watch the action on TV.
Ba and Cisse failed to join the party when Senegal were kicked out of this year’s tournament by the organizers, the African Football Confederation, as punishment for crowd trouble which flared up at their qualifier against Ivory Coast.
Senegal’s disqualification must have been greeted with quiet relief at the pair’s respective Premier League clubs.
Ba, who moved from Newcastle United to Chelsea in this month’s transfer window, is one of the deadliest strikers in the league and made an immediate impact for Chelsea when scoring twice in their 5-1 FA Cup third-round triumph at Southampton.
At Newcastle, the 27-year-old forward’s prowess helped lift the Magpies to fifth place last season.
While sorry to see Ba head to London, Newcastle manager Alan Pardew still has a Senegalese ace up his sleeve in the shape of Cisse.
He joined Newcastle on a ￡10 million (US$16,01 million) deal from German Bundesliga outfit SC Freiburg and has proved a major hit, scoring 13 goals last term.
While the Africa Cup showcases the cream of the continent’s abundant talent, joining Ba and Cisse on the absentee list is one of Africa’s biggest names, in the shape of Eto’o.
The 31-year-old is Africa’s most decorated player, after being voted African Footballer of the Year in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2010.
After standout spells at Barcelona and Inter, he is currently one of the highest-paid soccer players in the world, with a reported weekly pay packet of about ￡350,000 (US$560,410) at Russian big-spenders Anzhi Makhachkala.
With three World Cups and six Nations Cups under his belt, the Cameroon captain and his team will be sorely missed.
Cameroon’s shock defeat to Cape Verde in the qualifier also robs this year’s Cup of Nations of talented midfielder Alex Song, who moved to Barcelona from Arsenal in August last year.
He made a name for himself at the 2008 Cup of Nations in Ghana when he was selected for the team of the tournament, an honor he also picked up three years ago.
Like last year, the former continental kings, Egypt, have once again been excluded from the feast of African soccer.
The Pharaohs have suffered a startling dip in fortune since rattling off three consecutive titles in 2006, 2008 and 2010.
Their bid to qualify for this year, against the somber backdrop of the Port Said stadium disaster in February last year which cost the lives of 74 people, came to a premature end with a first-round 4-3 defeat to the Central African Republic.
Their absence deprives the Cup of Nations of such Egyptian luminaries as goalkeeper Esaam al-Hadary, defender Wael Gomaa and midfielder Mohamed Abou Trika.
Of the teams who qualified, Ghana will have to do without the services of Olympique de Marseille’s star midfielder, Andrew Ayew, and striker Yahaya Mohamed, who are both injured.
Morocco’s Queens Park Rangers midfielder Adel Taarabt, Arsenal’s striker Marouane Chamakh, on loan to West Ham United, and Qatar-based midfielder Houssine Kharja all failed to make the Atlas Lions’ squad.
Hosts South Africa must do without retired midfielder Steven Pienaar, Mali’s Mahamadou Diarra is injured, while Nigerian duo Danny Shittu and Shola Ameobi declined their country’s call.