It feels like only yesterday that Zambia stormed to their first ever Africa Cup of Nations title. The Chipolopolo beat the likes of Senegal, Ghana and Ivory Coast to become the 14th African nation to win the tournament.
No wonder I can remember the competition so well. For the first time, it is being held in consecutive years. Organizers decided to change the calendar so the tournament would not clash with the FIFA World Cup due to take place in Brazil next year.
So as Africa’s top players prepare to take to the field for the 29th edition of the competition, what or who should we look out for? Below is a look at some of the stories I will be following:
Last Chance Saloon for the Ivory Coast
It would be a shame for The Elephants’ golden generation to say goodbye to the game without winning the continent’s top competition. They reached the final in two of the last four editions only to lose on penalties to Egypt and Zambia respectively.
The likes of Yaya Toure and Didier Drogba will once again lead the way, but it is at the back where the Ivorians could struggle with the likes of Kolo Toure and Siaka Tiene past their prime.
Will the drought end for Ghana?
Can you believe the Black Stars have not lifted the trophy since 1982? It is difficult to understand how they have failed to live up to expectations time and time again. Pressure is on the manager, James Kwesi Appiah, to get the best out of the star players in his squad.
Asamoah Gyan (who has returned from international exile) and Kwadwo Asamoah have to live up to their reputations and take the lead. Watch out for talented youngster Christian Atsu who can surprise a lot of people with his pace and skill. The winger has put in some eye-catching performances at FC Porto.
Can Zambia perform an encore?
After surprising everyone with their title-winning run last year, what can we expect from the defending champions? The core of the team is still the same, so they should not be underestimated, but surely they can’t do it again?
Once again, captain Christopher Katongo will have to lead by example. He was by far the most influential player in their trophy-winning side.
Who can be the next African superstar?
Arsene Wenger recently said this was the only tournament in the world where managers could still find unknown young talents. Nowadays clubs have scouts spread all over Europe and South America, but Africa is a market that can still be explored. For example, how many players from Cape Verde, Niger, Burkina Faso or Ethiopia play in Europe’s top leagues? Not many.
In the Ethiopia squad, all but three of the players ply their trade in the domestic league. So I am sure scouts from all over the world will be in South Africa over the next month looking for the next Didier Drogba or Samuel Eto’o.