Thursday evening brought some unexpected, yet fantastic, news for fans of Newcastle United. Although the transfer window officially opened last week and the Magpies have been pursuing some of European football’s top young talent of late, the news was not transfer related.
At about 6.30pm BST on Thursday, in the Emperor’s Palace hotel, Johannesburg, South Africa, Newcastle’s hopes of emulating their fantastic 2011/12 campaign next season were given a massive boost.
The plush hotel/casino resort on the outskirts of South Africa’s largest city was the venue for the 2013 African Cup of Nations final qualifying round draw.
Up until now, it has been widely regarded on Tyneside that Senegal’s participation in January’s forthcoming African Cup of Nations was a foregone conclusion. As a result, it was feared that Newcastle’s Senegalese strikeforce of Demba Ba and the prolific Papiss Cisse would miss, as they did this year, most of January and part of February to participate in the tournament.
However, Senegal’s poor performances in the last three instalments of the usually biennial competition meant that they were unseeded for the fifteen two-legged qualifying ties, to take place in September and October.
The draw therefore, could see the Lions of Teranga drawn against one of Africa’s footballing powerhouses. With fifteen possible opponents, Senegal got exactly that. They were paired with the nightmare opponent – the Ivory Coast.
Senegal’s chances of qualifying for the AFCON now seem extremely slim with the likes of Drogba, Toure, Gervinho and Newcastle’s own Cheick Tiote standing in their way. From Newcastle’s point of view, however, it literally couldn’t have gone any better. If manager Alan Pardew had rigged the draw, you suspect this is the outcome he would have plumped for.
Either way, Newcastle will lose at least one player – Tiote if the Ivory Coast prevail – to the tournament in January, or possibly two. However, with both nations previously expected to qualify, the news that possibly Tiote, or more probably, the two Dembas will be staying on Tyneside during the notoriously tough winter period will come as a welcome relief to all of a black and white persuasion.
United just about maintained their form in the absence of Ba and Tiote last season, although Ba never looked the same following his return from a disappointing tournament for Senegal.
Although replacements are actively being sought, Leon Best and Peter Lovenkrands’ departures mean that behind The Magpies’ front two of Ba and Cisse, they have Shola Ameobi, Nile Ranger and Xisco as striking back up. In other words, as it presently stands, losing Ba and Cisse for the first two months of 2013 would be nothing short of a disaster.
Last night Demba Ba tweeted, “Senegal to play Ivory Coast! One of these team gonna stay home next January! Who do u want to win? Papiss and Demba or Cheick?”