The biggest Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament kicks-off tonight with Zimbabwe’s Warriors facing the wrath of Mohammed Salah’s Pharaohs of Egypt.
Kick-off is 8pm. The number of participating countries has been increased from 16 to 24 for the first time in the tournament’s history.
Unfortunately, the Zebras of Botswana will watch the action from the couch, but the Botswana Premier League (BPL) has a former representative, as Tanzania’s Rashid Mandawa was a BDF XI player until his recent release.
This effectively leaves the BPL without a representative at the continent’s biggest soccer showpiece since 2012, when Botswana qualified for the tournament.
Another former BPL player, Absalom Limbondi is in Namibia’s AFCON squad, the player having turned out for Mochudi Centre Chiefs three seasons ago.
South Africa has the largest contingent of players at the tournament with 42. However, there will be solace for local fans in that whistle man, Joshua Bondo will fly the country’s flag as he makes his second appearance at the AFCON.
Bondo has emerged as one of the continent’s top officials in the last five years and will look to cement his growing reputation in Egypt.
Tonight, Salah’s Egypt will look for a perfect take-off, as they look to win a record extending eighth title.
Zimbabwe, one of four COSAFA region representatives, will attempt to move out of the group stages in three finals. The AFCON might have lost some of its lustre since the days of Austin ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha, Mohammed Aubotrika, Rashid Yekini, Jean Claude-Pagal, Cyril Makanaky, Patrick Mboma, Francois Omam Biyik, Kalusha Bwalya, Phil ‘Chippa’ Masinga, and many others, but there is still sufficient talent across all 24 nations to ignite excitement.
African stars like Salah, Ayew brothers, Andre and Jordan, Sadio Mane, Naby Keita, Kalidou Koulibaly, Victor Wanyama, Hakim Ziyech, who are all based abroad, will look to light up the tournament.
Cameroon, Guinea, Senegal and Zimbabwe have all named foreign-based sides.
CAF League players at AFCON
South Africa (42), Egypt (24), Tanzania (20), Tunisia (14), Angola (13), Kenya (12), Zambia (10), Namibia (9), DR Congo (8), Mauritania (6), Algeria (5), Uganda (5), South Africa 1st Div (4), Morocco (4), Ethiopia (3).