These days African newspapers are filled with stories about Sharks, Lions, Eagles and Leopards. This doesn't reflect a sudden interest in local wildlife -- these are nicknames of national football teams. The biggest sporting event on the continent is about to take place: The Africa Cup of Nations, the African equivalent of the FIFA World Cup. This will be Cape Verde's first time in the competition, and they will play the opening match of the tournament against South Africa on January 19th, at Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg.
I was lucky enough to watch one of the qualifying games in Accra last year, Ivory Coast (Cote D'Ivoire) versus Benin. The entire stadium went wild for superstar Didier Drogba, as did I. He is playing again in this tournament and predicts that his team will meet Ghana in the final of this 2013 Africa Cup of Nations. The same prediction as last year, but in fact Zambia's Copper Bullets came out as victors -- a fairy tale ending if ever there was one. I have a good feeling about Ghana's Black Stars winning this year, sorry Drogba.
Why is this tournament so special? Every two years, sixteen African soccer teams meet for two weeks to battle it out for the Africa Cup of Nations title. This year the tournament was held a year early, so it would not clash with the World Cup qualifiers. Libya was meant to be hosting the Cup, however the unfortunate political instability following their revolution meant a change of venues. South Africa was the obvious smart choice since the infrastructure from the 2010 World Cup is all still in place.
If you happen to be traveling in Africa from January 19 - February 10, 2013, you will know when local games are being played. Every shop, bar, home and hotel with a TV screen will be filled to capacity. It's actually a great time to go sightseeing, as traffic is not so hectic since most taxi drivers will be watching their home team play. But better yet, buy a team shirt, pull up a chair and cheer on the local team.
Image of Benin Supporters, Africa Cup of Nations Qualifying Match, 2012 in Accra -- © Anouk Zijlma