Happy New Year and welcome to the first WAD blog of 2010! As Tom mentioned last week the last year has been a busy one, and there is going to be plenty of exciting stuff coming up too. As I’ve talked about in a previous blog there is going to be a massive focus on the African continent this summer with the World Cup Finals hosted in South Africa. For the sport hungry people amongst you there is a nice warm-up to the World Cup with the African Cup of Nations starting in Angola within the next few days.

The African Cup of Nations is the main football competition for African countries held every two years. This historic year of African football kicks off the continent's football extravaganza this Sunday when Angola hosts the 27th Cup of Nations. The competition started in 1957, three years before Europe staged a similar tournament. Since then the Cup of Nations has evolved from a small event to become one of the most eagerly awaited tournaments in the world, featuring some of the finest talent from Europe's biggest clubs.

This event has been highly anticipated by Angolans who, using funds from the IMF and China, have constructed four new football stadiums. It was only seven years ago that the 27 year long civil war came to an end, a war which took a million lives and displaced four million others. The fact that Angola has been chosen to host the 2010 cup is a sign of confidence in the stability of the region and shows that this once deeply troubled country is on the rise. It is an oil rich country, and despite the controversies around African oil mining, this is surely what the government are relying on to help build up the infrastructure and bring the country out of poverty. Oil provides 95% of Angola’s export wealth, mostly from exporting to China. China’s role in Africa gets a bad rap in the Western media at the moment; this article gives an interesting counter viewpoint (but that’s a whole debate for another day).

By hosting the African Cup of Nations over this month, Angola also hopes that it can kick start its tourism industry. Angola has a lot to offer with its pristine beaches, warm climate, and distinct colonial Portuguese architecture. However Angola is not a destination for your regular English speaking tourist, seeking creature comforts. English is not widely spoken (80% speak Portuguese) and means of transport such as taxis were only introduced a month before the cup. But this is where local operators on the ground can help and give tourists a unique and inspiring experience.

Unfortunately, flights to Angola from Europe are expensive and tend to be booked up by oil and construction companies in advance, with flights starting at 1,000 dollars. Travelling to Angola to watch their team this month will be way too expensive for most African football fans. A standard hotel room in the capital of Luanda cost more than 400 dollars per night, and restaurants charge the same if not more than what you would expect to pay in London. As Angola continues to grow a better tourism infrastructure can be implemented, with the money created going back into local communities.

Egypt may be the competition’s current champions, but once again the West African region has shown its dominance of African football, claiming four of the five spots for the World Cup in South Africa. Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria have booked their places in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. For the 2010 African Cup of Nations, fifteen teams join host country Angola. They are Cameroon, Gabon, Togo, Nigeria, Tunisia, Mozambique, Ghana, Benin, Mali, Côte d'Ivoire, Burkina Faso and Malawi; eight of which are West African countries!

The bookmakers’ favourites for the competition are Côte d'Ivoire with a team filled with players from the top levels of European football clubs. They qualified comfortably and have a number of talented players in their side including Didier Drogba, brothers Kolo & Yaya Toure, Didier Zokora, Emmanuel Eboue, and Salomon Kalou, also making them one of the outside chances for the World Cup. Two years ago Cote d’Ivore arrived at the Cup of Nations in Ghana as favourites only to be overrun 4-1 by Egypt in the semi-final. This time around they will be keen to dispel accusations of complacency and showcase their talent in what is set to be a great year for African football.

The groups have been drawn as follows:

Group A: Algeria, Angola, Malawi, Mali

Group B: Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Togo

Group C: Benin, Egypt, Mozambique, Nigeria

Group D: Cameroon, Gabon, Tunisia, Zambia

The first match is on Sunday with Angola Vs Mali. A full schedule can be found on the Confederation of African Football website. Stay tuned to West Africa Discovery for updates on the West African teams’ progress in the Cup. Until Sunday check out this video made by Puma showcasing the new African team kits.

Visit www.westafricadiscovery.com

Contact me at harry@westafricadiscovery.co.uk