No stroll in the park

I promised to discuss in more detail the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea and I will try to do that although, if truth be told, I have not managed to watch a full match of the tournament since it started. In fact, I have not managed to watch any football match in the past week which, as you might guess, takes some doing.

From what I have gleaned, nonetheless, it seems we have an interesting competition on our hands with pundits already revising their pre-tournament forecasts. Were we not told that in the absence of Egypt, Nigeria and Cameroon, the winner of the trophy will come from among Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal? Well, no one is sure anymore.

When Senegal lost their first match to Zambia on the tournament’s opening day, it was regarded as an upset and, perhaps, the kick-up of the backside that the Lions of Terranga needed to come out their caves and terrorise everyone on their way towards the tail end of the tournament. As I write this, however, Demba Ba and his mates are packing their bags ahead of their last group match.

And it is not like the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana’s Black Stars have exactly impressed in their opening encounters either, although they managed to notch wins—just. Any notion that this tournament would be a stroll in the park for these giants of the African game has been comprehensively swept away with the contempt it deserves.

Obviously, there are people who will be celebrating the failure by teams like Senegal at Afcon. One of them should be Alan Pardew, manager of English Premier League side, Newcastle United, because he is now assured of having back Ba and his newly signed compatriot Papiss Demba Cisse earlier than envisaged.

Talk of the English Premier League, I am reminded of the string of strange results in last weekend’s fixtures when, save for the dour goalless draw at Carrow Road between Chelsea and Norwich City, teams went goal crazy again registering a staggering 35 goals in the other nine fixtures. What was fascinating was that all the contenders for position four failed to win.

League action paves the way for FA Cup action this weekend with Anfield hosting the biggest fixture of the round. Liverpool versus Manchester United is historically the biggest in English football, but this one will be even bigger given the rivalry that has threatened to turn ugly in recent months. One hopes football, and not side issues, hogs the limelight at the end of the day.

Both teams go into today’s clash at less than full strength for different reasons. United are decimated by injuries whereas Liverpool will have hardly recovered from their pulsating Carling Cup semi-final second leg against Manchester City just over 60 hours earlier. It will be interesting to see how they cope with their problems.

One hopes the hosts will be focused on this game and not be thinking of the club’s first trip to the new Wembley Stadium. While Wednesday’s draw was a welcome result given the 1-0 win in the first leg, such a result today would give the advantage to the Red Devils who would, most likely looking forward to being the first team to win at Anfield this season.

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