South Africans perform during the opening ceremony of the 2013 African Cup of Nations in a colorful display and opening address by President Jacob Zuma at the Soccer City Stadium in Soweto Saturday, January 19, 2013. ----AFP
SOWETO — South Africa got its Africa Cup of Nations campaign off to a limp start here Saturday when debutants Cape Verde held the disappointing former champion to a goalless draw.
On this evidence the 2013 hosts will have to show marked improvement in its next Group A games against Angola and Morocco if it is to avoid a humiliating first round exit.
Cape Verde was the moral winners, producing the two best chances of this Cup curtain-raiser in front of a near 90,000 crowd at Soccer City.
The only time the vuvuzela-blowing fans fell totally silent was for President Jacob Zuma’s opening address — the head of state’s head protected by the lone umbrella in the stadium with his citizens banned from bringing theirs for security reasons.
South Africa coach Gordon Igesund made four changes from last weekend’s drab goalless draw against Algeria — with Bernard Parker and Lehlohonolo Majoro in attack.
For Cape Verde, marshalled by dreadlocked skipper Nando Neves, this was the mother of all baptism of fires, playing the host in front of a partisan crowd in the stadium that hosted the final of the 2010 World Cup.
A colorful ceremony of dance and music and the official opening by President Zuma preceded the first of 32 matches over 22 days in five venues around the country.
Torrential pre-match rain did not dampen the spirits of the crowd, with many blowing vuvuzelas (plastic horns) and creating a din reminiscent of the 2010 World Cup hosted by South Africa.
A star-stacked Ivory Coast squad, captained by striker Didier Drogba, is expected to win the Feb. 10 final, and shed a ‘chokers’ tag earned by failing to justify its standing in the previous four Africa Cup tournaments.
The only Ivorian success in the competition came 21 years ago against Ghana with, ironically, a team of far fewer stars than that available to French coach Sabri Lamouchi this year.
Ghana, four-time champion but without a title since 1982, is widely considered the greatest threat to Ivory Coast, although the absence of injured midfielder Andre Ayew is a blow.
Dogged fighter Zambia is back to defend a title won against the odds in Gabon last year when it held Ivory Coast goalless for 120 minutes and won a marathon penalty shootout.
Other countries with a chance of lifting a trophy that symbolizes national team supremacy on the continent include South Africa, Morocco, Mali, Nigeria, Algeria and Tunisia.
Traditionally staged in even-number years, the Africa Cup has been moved to uneven-number years to avoid every second tournament being staged the same year as a World Cup.