JOHANNESBURG – The African Nations Cup qualifying stage reaches the homestretch next weekend when countries jostle for the 15 places up for grabs.
Mzansi, as hosts, has automatically qualified for the competition.
The Afcon 2013 Local Organising Committee (Loc) are aware of the challenges the continental tournament has had with regards to low spectator attendance and they are pulling all stops to make sure that this 29th edition will herald a new era for Africa’s biggest tournament held every two years.
The organisers have vowed that the low attendances that have blighted past tournaments, especially the last one in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, will never be repeated.
They have promised that their prime goal is full stadiums regardless of which teams are playing.
It is a really tall order considering the tournament comes hot on the heels of an expensive festive season in which people will have spent most of their hard-earned cash during the Christmas and New Year celebrations.
Add to that the impending school fees and uniforms for children and you can see the Afcon 2013 Loc have a herculean challenge on their hands.
Unlike the European version of Afcon, Africa’s comes at a wrong time, is held every two years and poorly marketed outside the borders of the host country.
The per capita income on the continent is also the lowest in the world, which puts more pressure on marketers trying to put bums on the seats.
However, next year’s showpiece here in Mzansi might be a ground-breaking tournament in the sense that this country has the biggest economy on the continent.
Mzansi also boasts one of the biggest populations in Africa with more than 50 million people residing in this vast country. Note this country has also the biggest population of Africans leaving in Diaspora with millions more moving in and out to do shopping and other social chores on a daily basis.
The organisers have asked the country’s Home Affairs department to relax the entry requirements by scratching visa requirements for those intending to attend the showpiece — which is another plus for the free movement of people.
While talk is that every match, regardless of which teams feature in the game, should attract a
capacity crowd, the Loc has made it no secret the countries they would like to see at next year’s showpiece,; these are among others, Zimbabwe and Nigeria.
By virtue of having the biggest foreign nationals staying in Mzansi, Zimbabwe’s qualification will help Afcon organisers’ with the attendance headache. Unofficial figures say there are over four million Zimbabweans scattered around Mzansi and wherever Zimbabwe is based, will attract a huge crowd.
The same applies for Nigeria. Africa’s most populous country has, what analysts say, around five millions people living in this country.
And knowing how adventurous the West Africans are, most Nigerians staying here are well off and live large. They will definitely follow their Super Eagles wherever they play.
Of the two, Zimbabwe faces a more tricky assignment against the wily Angolans. Angola has a slight edge on the head to head encounters between the two countries and Zimbabwe starts next Sunday’s match as rank outsiders.
If Angolans deny the Zimbabweans yet another opportunity to appear at the continental biggest sporting showpiece, it will be a devastating blow to Afcon organisers.
And my advice to coach Rahman Gumbo; please field a not-so-predictable squad minus players not doing well here in Mzansi like goalkeeper Tapuwa Kapini who has conceded an amazing number of goals since the Absa Premiership began.
Please look for another goalkeeper because the Amazulu skipper has been at sixes and sevens between the posts.
Upfront, throw in Knowledge Musona and Kingstone Nkhatha and please ask them to stay in the box throughout 90 minutes.
I am however, not a technical person and please do not crucify me if you plan around my advice and that suggestion backfires.
I am only doing so as a patriotic Zimbabwean who wants the Warriors to be part of this fiesta next year.
We are sick and tired of backing other nations as if we don’t have our own.
*Tinotenda Panashe is our South Africa-based columnist and correspondent. He can be contacted by e-mail at Tinotenda.Panashe@gmail.com.