What started as a three team tournament in 1957 is now a sixteen team tournament with forty seven countries fighting for those sixteen places in the latest edition of the competition.
The tournament is now one of the most widely anticipated tournaments on the footballing calendar, and can be best described as a festival of skill, exhibition, passion, determination, showmanship and commitment.
Here are the views of Coach, Football Analyst, and East African Football buff Tom Legg.
Four players set to make a big impact in South Africa
Thulani Serero, 22 (Ajax/South Africa)
Like Pienaar, Thulani cut his teeth at the renowned Ajax Cape Town Academy and Senior Team before making the move to the Amsterdam Arena. The little schemer is a modern ‘360 player’ who can operate behind a front man in a 4-2-3-1 or deeper in a 4-3-3, thriving in 1v1 situations, where he’s able to combine excellent close control with quick acceleration of five yards to glide past opponents.
Ajax have taken their time to bed Thulani into their starting eleven, but as Christian Poulsen’s Ajax career winds down and with playmaker Christian Eriksen likely to seek a move to one of Europe’s ‘big boys’, Thulani Serero could well be the name of everyones lips at the Amsterdam Arena next season.
Christian Atsu, 21 (FC Porto/Ghana)
An impressive 2011/12 seasons on loan with Rio Ave was enough to convince FC Porto that their young Ghanaian winger was ready for the step up. In six months he hasn’t disappointed. Nineteen game, four assists (the third highest at the club) and a strong of impressive displays saw the 21 year old handed his first senior call-up against Lesotho in June 2012.
With the Black Stars missing key attacking figures in Dede Ayew, Sulley Muntari and Samuel Inkoom, Atsu represents a new generation of Ghanaian players that James Appiah will be looking towards to help Ghana clinch their first Africa Cup of Nations title since 1982.
Alain Traore, 24 (Lorient/Burkina Faso)
Burkina Faso coach Paul Put hasn’t yet figured out where best to play his prized asset, but if that issue can be resolved quickly then Burkina Faso could be the tournaments surprise package. Effective front and back to goal and excellent at dropping off the defensive line into pockets of space, before turning and shooting sharply.
Alain’s had an excellent season at club level, scoring six goals and providing four assists in thirteen games for FC Lorient. Form that has seen him linked with a plethora of English Premier League sides in the last month.
Abdelaziz Barrada, 23 (Getafe/Morocco)
French born Moroccan, Abdelaziz Barrada, is not your archetypal North African playmaker. Having struggled for opportunities at a disorganized Paris Saint-Germain, the young midfielder moved to Getafe where he spent three years grafting his way through the clubs B side before finally securing a contract with the senior team.
Its that battling, yet controlled nature that has impresses most about Barrada. Technically and tactically he’s Morocco’s best all-round midfielder, capable of sitting in front of the back four and dictating the tempo yet equally adapt at playing higher up the pitch.
Younes Belhanda remains Morocco’s creative engine, but Barrada is the petrol that keep the machine ticking over.
Written for Out of Africa by Tom Legg