On January 13, the 34th Africa Cup of Nations will be kicked off by hosts Ivory Coast, who defeated Guinea-Bissau 2-0. The biennial event has been going strong since 1957, with 24 different teams vying for the title of Africa champions. After a thrilling penalty shootout against Egypt, Senegal emerged victorious in their maiden AFCON.
The winning team captained by Aliou Cisse had Sadio Mane and Kalidou Koulibaly; are they capable of repeating the feat? On the other hand, can Morocco pull off another unbelievable World Cup performance like their run to the semi-finals in Qatar and ultimately win the tournament? Leaders of the gifted Nigerian squad include Victor Osimhen, a striker for Napoli who was December’s CAF Men’s Footballer of the Year. With any luck, Osimhen can steer his squad to a triumph.
The Athletic will be reporting live from the Ivory Coast during the event, so stay tuned for all the latest updates in the coming weeks. After that, how does one even start? There may be times when attempting to put into words what you have witnessed will be an exercise in futility. Neither film nor pictures nor words can do justice to the thrill of the drive from Abidjan to Ebimpe, through an area where informal communities mix and mingle, making it difficult to discern your exact location.
I would want to take a moment to thank the Confederation of African Football (CAF) for all the ways in which it has failed and, consequently, made a huge difference today. When tragedies strike, Africa is the first place our eyes go. You couldn’t be more correct in your reporting of the recent terrorist attacks in Tunisia, riots in Burkina Faso, and revolutions in Libya. However, as Anthony Bourdain famously said, the bigger picture is obscured.
This year’s Africa Cup of Nations will be the first to be held in the Ivory Coast in forty years. Since then, two civil wars have devastated the country, wiping out an entire generation. The nation’s economy is doing well right now, even if some people aren’t benefiting. The level of optimism has increased. The beautiful game, football, is enjoyed by many. The Ivory Coast has a strong favorite to win the tournament for the third consecutive year. In the end, all people want is to have fun.