Ghana legend Abedi Pele has bemoaned the absence of big name teams at this year's Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
Record winners and defending champions Egypt leads a host of high profile teams which also includes Cameroon, Nigeria and South Africa who failed to qualify for the biennial showpiece.
Rather, relatively unknown sides such as Botswana and Niger will be featuring at the 28th edition of the finals and this the ex captain of the Black Stars admits takes some of the excitement away from the competition.
â€œIt is sad, really sad,â€ said the three-time African Footballer of the Year with a sigh as he reflected on the missing giants, â€œbecause these are big-name football countries who bring excitement to the game throughout Africa.â€
â€œIf you defeat Mauritania to win the Cup of Nations it will not be the same as defeating Algeria, Cameroon, Egypt, Nigeria or South Africa to win it,â€ said the 1991-1993 African Footballer of the Year who helped Marseille conquer Europe.
â€œHaving said that, a trophy is a trophy. If you are able to lift the Cup of Nations it means you have worked hard for it and you have sacrificed so much,â€ stressed the Accra-based businessman and football club owner.
Pele however noted that theÂ emergence of new teamsÂ Â at the AFCON could re-enforce the paradigm shift in African football.
â€œThere are going to be a lot of surprises in this tournament because the teams who have qualified are not going to central Africa for a holiday.
â€œWith the absence of some great countries, the small nations want to beat the big ones. Botswana and Niger will target the likes of Ivory Coast, Ghana and Senegal.â€