African men’s and women’s Continental Championships begin in Ismailia this weekend
Ismailia, Egypt: With the men’s Hero Asia Cup currently being played in Bangladesh and hot on the heels of Australia’s double success in the men’s and women’s Oceania Cup, a busy period of Continental Championships continues when the men’s and women’s Africa Cup of Nations get underway in the Egyptian city of Ismailia on Sunday 22 October.
As with all of the Continental Championships, the competition winners will be guaranteed places at next year’s Hockey World Cup events in London (women) and India (men), ensuring that there is more than just continental pride at stake in Egypt.
None of the six teams that are competing in the men’s event have achieved qualification for the Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup Bhubaneswar 2018 as yet, adding extra spice to a competition that is always be fierce and fascinating.
Host nation Egypt (FIH Hero World Ranking: 19) came closest to booking a ticket to India by finishing eighth at the Hockey World League Semi-Final in Johannesburg, South Africa earlier this year. It was one place better than continental rivals South Africa (WR: 15) managed to achieve, but South Africa's higher placement in the FIH Hero World Rankings suggests that the seven times African champions could make it eight in a row.
The meeting between the two teams at the Hockey World League Semi-Final earlier this year was won by Egypt, who claimed a morale boosting 2-1 victory over their great rivals thanks to a double strike from Houssam Ghobran. The Egyptian side improved game on game in Johannesburg, with veteran central defensive giant Ahmed Ezz proving to be a pivotal figure. Although Egypt had not revealed their squad for the competition at the time of writing, they will certainly be determined to build on the solid foundations laid in South Africa earlier this year.
While South Africa and Egypt will understandably be seen as the favourites to secure the required top two finish in the league phase to reach the competition final, their respective paths to the championship match will be far from straightforward. Ghana (WR: 36) and Kenya (WR: 37) have both achieved Africa Cup of Nations medals in recent years, with Kenya having claimed bronze both in 2013 and 2015 ahead of Ghana. However, the likely presence of ace Ghanian goalscorer Johnny Botsio - who scored an incredible 13 goals in six matches to finish top scorer at the Hockey World League Round 2 event in Dhaka back in March - will surely boost their hopes of challenging for the top prizes.
The men’s line-up is completed by Nigeria (WR: 55) and Zambia (currently unranked), with Nigeria having finished in fourth position at four past Africa Cup events and will be hoping that they can finally secure a place on the podium this time around.
On the women’s side, South Africa (WR: 13) will be seen as clear favourites to secure a seventh consecutive Africa Cup of Nations title. In terms of the FIH Hero World Rankings, Ghana (WR: 32) are the most likely challengers to a South African team that has already claimed their place at next year’s Hockey Women’s World Cup London 2018 courtesy of their superb fifth place finish at the Hockey World League Semi-Final in Johannesburg. The squad has been strengthened by the return to action of London 2012 Olympian Dirkie Chamberlain following an lengthy injury lay-off, but the team coached by Sheldon Rostron - who is doubling up in Egypt by also overseeing the South Africa men’s team - will certainly not be taking anything for granted.
Ghana have finished runners up to South Africa on each of the four most recent editions of the competition, and during that period have shown clear signs that the gap is narrowing. The 2005 and 2009 finals were convincing wins for South Africa, but in 2013 only one goal separated the two sides with the score finishing 3-2. Although South Africa claimed a 3-0 win in the final of the 2015 edition on home soil in Johannesburg, Ghana will feel that their own title ambitions are not without merit.
Kenya (WR: 42) are also in with a decent shout of getting amongst the medals in Egypt. Despite their relative lack of experience - team captain Lilian Aura is the most capped player in the team with 41 senior international appearances - they have claimed the bronze medal at the two most recent editions of the competition and took silver at the 1998 competition in Zimbabwe. Nigeria (WR: 62) are chasing their first medal since 2009, where they claimed bronze, while unranked nations Egypt and Zambia enter the competition as unknown quantities who will be keen to make a big impression at the event.
Six matches will take place on Sunday 22 October. In the men’s competition, South Africa will play Zambia with Ghana versus Kenya and Egypt versus Nigeria also in action. The women’s matches feature Zambia taking on Ghana, Nigeria playing Egypt and Kenya facing South Africa.
You can keep track of all the fixtures and results from the Africa Cup of Nations 2017 events by clicking the links below.