The 2013 Africa Cup of Nations is set to kick off on Jan. 19, and this year's competition will hopefully help all the soccer fans in various parts of the world get as much action as they can handle.
Not only is this tournament set to kick off, fans of the sport can continue to check out league action and FA cup action. If that isn't enough, though, this tournament can be a nice fill-in for the lack of European Championships and the World Cup during the 2013 calendar year.
Host South Africa will get the honors of the first match against Cape Verde Islands, while Morocco will then face Angola in the encore of the first-day action.
Ivory Coast is still this year's favorites, even after finishing runners-up the last time this tournament took place. They won't hit the pitch on Saturday, but the rest of the field will be mindful of the favorite as each team recognizes the importance of these three-game round-robins before bracket play begins.
Here's a complete look at the two games—both Group A matches—that will kick things off for this great display of soccer in Africa.
South Africa vs. Cape Verde Islands
When: Saturday, Jan. 19 at 11:00 a.m. ET
Stage: Group A
Watch: Live Stream at ESPN3.com
The host nation usually has a decided advantage in these affairs over the years, and that's especially the case for South Africa—just look at the last World Cup as evidence of its inspired play in front of a home crowd.
Unfortunately, the first match of the tournament won't be against a warm-up opponent. Cape Verde is arguably the hottest team of the 16 coming into the Cup of Nations, and the Blue Sharks have their highest FIFA rank of all time (51).
Additionally, the host nation is coming off a disappointing draw against Algeria less than a week ago, giving it a decidedly lower level of steam coming into Saturday's opener. Still, the South Africans are led by a strong front line that includes Katlego Mphela, Bernard Parker and Siphiwe Tshabalala.
The Bafana Bafana are also playing to defend their title—not from 2012, but from the last time this event was held in South Africa (1996).
This match will be a big tell for what kind of tournament South Africa will have, as international star Steven Peinaar is no longer with the Bafana Bafana, and this new crop of talent will have to bridge the gap to the new frontier.
Don't sleep on Cape Verde. This young squad has upset Cameroon twice in recent action and strikers Ze Luis and Ryan Mendes will be tough to stop if they can find passing lanes and get out in the open field. This should be exactly the kind of match every tournament should open up with—hotly contested.
Angola vs. Morocco
When: Saturday, Jan. 19 at 2:00 p.m. ET
Stage: Group A
Watch: Live Stream at ESPN3.com
With a win over defending champion Zambia on its register already, the Angola side expects to be a major player in this tournament with an experienced squad and some key wins in qualifying play down the stretch.
Gustavo Ferrin has his hands full with finding a successful mix of veterans and newcomers, but fans of the Palancas Negras hope midfielder Geraldo and veteran Gilberto can combine to give the squad what it needs in the middle of the field to force a potent attack against other teams.
However, Angola is also an aging squad that leans heavily on forward Manucho—the team's leading scorer in qualifying play and the only real threat to take over a match. Angola is built on experience and defense, but with when they face a young team with quick talent on the flanks will they be able to match up?
On the other side, Morocco is exactly the kind of challenge that should scare the Angolans. From Liverpool striker Oussama Assaidi to soon-to-be Premier League star Younes Belhanda, the Moroccans have talent in key positions and will try to qualify from the group stage—something they couldn't do it 2012.
Still, inconsistency has been a major concern for the team coached by Rachid Taoussi, and that kind of on-again, off-again effort won't cut it in an appearance of this magnitude.
This Moroccan squad has the talent to get away with sloppy play, but talented teams become championship teams when those mistakes are fixed. If Morocco wants to take steps toward the bracket stage of this Cup of Nations, it will start by squashing a team on the end of its rope in Angola.
In a battle of differing styles, Angola and Morocco will put defense versus offense on display for the South African community. We'll see which style wins out, as this match will close out opening day and get the ball rolling on what's sure to be an exciting time for soccer and the country of South Africa.
Ethan Grant is a featured columnist for B/R's Breaking News Team. Check him out on Twitter.
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