When the African Cup of Nations began, we didn't have any Villarreal players in it, but that changed when Villarreal swooped on an unsuspecting Espanyol and made an offer for Eric Bailly. It seems the parakeets had tried to keep him under wraps so they could obtain more of his rights cheaply in the summer, but whether due to his agent or some sleuthing by Villarreal, that didn't work out.
Espanyol managed the difficult feat of being incensed at the sale, claiming "relations with Villarreal were not what they had been", while simultaneously making €5m profit on a player they had paid essentially nothing for. Of course, the fact all the money went to the taxman rather than being made available for future sales probably was part of it.
To return to the Cup of Nations, though: Bailly will be playing for Ivory Coast, who after all those years of being picked to do something on the international stage, seem to be getting it together at last. They barely qualified for the tournament at all, and expectations back home were low. But wins against Cameroun, a team they've always struggled to beat, and then a 3-1 defeat of Algeria, one of the pre-tournament favorites, showed what this team can do. They easily brushed aside DR Congo in the semis to get here.
They have won the African championship only once, in 1992. The "Golden Generation" featuring Didier Drogba lost the finals in 2006 and 2012. Some of those players are still around (unfortunately, Boubacar Barry, their less-than-stellar goalkeeper, is one of them) but coach Hervé Renard has added youngsters like Bailly and Serge Aurier from PSG in the back three.
Ghana are of course another African nation that's competed well on the world stage, and unlike the Elephants, the Black Stars were expected to do well this time. They won through to the final after knocking out host country Equatorial Guinea in a match marred by crowd violence, and a key question today will be whether their captain and most-capped player Asamoah Gyan is able to go. He was injured earlier and did not play in the semi.
The Black Stars have a Liga Adelante player on their roster, goalkeeper Brimah Razak from Mirandés, and ex-Villarreal, Espanyol and Elche man Wakaso Mubarak as well. Their roster is a little more balanced than the Ivory Coast's, in terms of age and experience, but then coach Avram Grant (ex-Chelsea) has only been coaching the team since December so it's probably best his squad has a lot of players who have played together a lot.
Ghana has won the Cup of Nations championship four times, but not since 1982. They lost to Egypt in the 2010 final and finished third in the 2008 competition, defeating Ivory Coast in the third-place match 4-2.
They also played in a final in 1992, losing on penalties--to the Ivory Coast. The score that day was 0-0, and Ivory Coast won the shootout 11-10. It was the first time in the final of a major international tournament that every player on the pitch took a penalty (there were 12 rounds of penalties). Hopefully there will be some goals today and we won't have to settle the championship in that manner.
Watching the match: The match will be shown live on Beinsport's first channel in the USA. Kickoff is 11AM Pacific, 2PM Eastern.
If you are in the UK, ITV4 and British Eurosport are showing the final.