Richard Hercock: Nations Cup will offer chance to put smile on African faces

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma, left, hands the trophy to Nigeria's team captain Joseph Yobo after they defeated Burkina Faso in the final to win the 2013 African Cup of Nations.
South Africa's President Jacob Zuma, left, hands the trophy to Nigeria's team captain Joseph Yobo after they defeated Burkina Faso in the final to win the 2013 African Cup of Nations.
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I had my doubts it would ever arrive, but today sees the launch of the African Nations Cup.

The tournament was in doubt after original hosts Morocco requested a postponement due to the outbreak of ebola in Africa.

The notion did not go down too well with the football authorities, who swiftly handed the event to the tiny country of Equatorial Guinea.

This is akin to Yorkshire being asked to host the World Cup, with just a couple of weeks’ notice.

Stadia have had to be spruced up, with a new lick of paint here and there, in preparation for today’s opening matches.

It would have been such a shame for the tournament to have been shelved due to the Ebola crisis – although sometimes, there are more important things than football to consider.

We do over-indulge ourselves and sometimes forget that.

But the African Nations Cup offers the continent the chance to showcase its finest, and there certainly will be plenty of interest in England with numerous players plying their trade in this country.

Players like Ivory Coast defender Kolo Toure, who is hopeful that the tournament can paint a positive picture of the continent.

“A lot of us play for top clubs in Europe, but when you have the opportunity to make African people happy you have to take it,” the 33-year-old said.

“It’s one of the continents which suffers every single minute.

“When we go to the Africa Nations Cup they are so proud to see us.

“You can feel the joy in everybody.

“Nobody will think about Ebola or war, or anything else. They will just focus on football.

“For me that’s why it’s very important to bring them that joy because the continent deserves that.”

The African Nations Cup will be Toure’s international swansong and he will bow out having made more than 120 appearances over 15 years with the national team.

His call-up came at a time when he was just starting to re-establish himself in Liverpool’s starting line-up, which was particularly crucial as his contract expires in the summer.

“This kind of situation when you leave your club during the season is always difficult,” he added.

“You don’t like to miss matches but when the time comes, for us as Africans we want to make our continent and our country proud.

“I am finished after this, it’s the end of my international career. I hope I will finish on a high.

“It’s been 15, 16 years for me in the national team with lots of ups and downs. I hope the greatest moment is still to come.”

For African football fans, and supporters across the world, the greatest moment will come today when the tournament overcomes all the doubts and kicks off.

Sixteen nations will compete – Egypt are the most successful with seven titles – and the Ivory Coast face Guinea on Tuesday.

Today, hosts Equatorial Guinea will open up against Congo. Let’s hope the next few weeks bring a welcome distraction for a troubled corner of the world.