The host of the games, Equatorial Guinea, just dismissed its coach two weeks before it faces Congo Brazzaville in the tournament opener.
The Equatorial Guinea Football Federation fired Spanish coach Andoni Goikoetxea on Dec. 31 for not accompanying the national squad to a camp in Portugal where they lost two test matches against lesser Portuguese teams.
Goikoetxea , nicknamed the ‘Butcher of Bilbao’ because of his ultra-aggressive style of defending for Spain, once shredded the ankle ligaments of Diego Maradona, leaving him severely injured.
Equatorial Guinea was initially disqualified from this Cup of Nations for fielding ineligible Cameroon-born striker Thierry Fidjeu.
But when 2015 host Morocco was dumped for refusing to host the tournament because of Ebola fears, Equatorial Guinea came to the rescue.
Star players who will miss the tourney include giant Malian striker Cheick Diabate who requires a knee operation and will be out for four months, and Southampton and Senegal midfielder Sadio Mane because of a calf injury.
Title favourite Algeria, who forms the ‘group of death’ with Ghana, Senegal and South Africa, has been hit by two injury blows.
Defender Essaid Belkalem (hamstring) and midfielder Mehdi Abeid (toe) were ruled out with replacements yet to be named by French coach Christian Gourcuff.
“The tournament has always been in part about African self-assertion, the fact it is older than the European Championship and the World Cup for a long time catered disproportionately to European interests,” observed Jonathan Wilson in The Guardian’s Africa Cup of Nations Sportblog.
“The Cup of Nations was an alternative and the cussedness with which CAF has stuck to hosting it every other year – rather than every four years like the Euros, the Asian Cup and the Copa América – is rooted partly in finance and partly in a refusal to come into line with a world game that for so long marginalised African football.
“What is most remarkable is not who is there but that there is a there at all,” Wilson wrote. “Equatorial Guinea may prove the rule that oil wealth means rather more than football tradition when it comes to determining who will host tournaments, and there will almost certainly be a glorious chaos to events in January, but there is something admirable about CAF’s determination that the show must go on.”
The competition begins Jan. 17 and runs through Feb. 8. Senegal, a runner-up in 2002, is aiming to win the competition for the first time.