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2012 African Cup Of Nations Group Phase Preview

January 16, 2012

There’s been something of a shake-up in the continent of Africa. Reigning champions Egypt were unable to progress from the qualification groups while much-fancied nations of yesteryears such as Nigeria, Cameroon and South Africa are conspicuous by their absence. Whether it means that the dominant forces are in decline or the rest of the pack has improved is a point to debate and what will be on offer in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon these coming weeks will be the opportunity for some new faces to make it a case of the latter. Of course, the build-up has been blighted with some last ditch-attempts to unsettle (Namibia’s bid to derail Burkina Faso via a complaint over the fielding of an ineligible player), shambolic planning (the constant change of coach for co-hosts Equatorial Guinea) and just plain stupidity (South Africa trying to change the rules so that they’d qualify for the finals instead of Niger on the basis of logic, yes that was their reason). All that can be forgotten as Africa is set to take centre stage and here’s hoping that we are about to witness a delightful tournament filled with the emotive spectrum that football can offer.

GROUP A

Equatorial Guinea / Zambia / Senegal / Libya

The co-hosts fulfil the unknown quantity better than most partly because of their frequent change of coaches in recent years and the fact that this is their first appearance in an African Cup Of Nations finals tournament. They will no doubt be determined as any hosts should be but they’ve far from impressed in the friendly matches that have served as preparation for this tournament. They could be embarrassed in what’s a difficult group. Senegal would be the likely winners of this group and are many people’s tips to be in contention for the title with their impressive plethora of attacking options. Zambia will be hoping that Herve Renard can work a wonder similar to the AFCON in 2010 where they reached the quarter-finals. As for Libya, reaching this tournament is a huge step forward for their team. The draw between Zambia and Libya ensured their qualifications and while that game is not a great indicator as to what to expect when these teams play in a more directly competitive environment, Libya will not fear the Zambians. While Senegal are expected to dominate the group, the contest for second would appear fairly open.

Three men to watch out for:

1. Papiss Cisse (Senegal). One of those rather good attackers available to the Lions of Teranga.

2. Collins Mbesuma (Zambia). Anyone else remember his spell at Portsmouth? He’s better than that seriously.

3. Samir Aboud (Libya). Goalkeeper and captain who will likely have much to do but could prove to be vital to any aspirations of further progression.

GROUP B

Cote d’Ivoire / Angola / Burkina Faso / Sudan

A thoroughly interesting group on offer. Cote d’Ivoire will be everyone’s favourites to progress and with good reason after their faultless qualification and the abundance of riches in their squad. However, they cannot be complacent with the likes of Angola and Burkina Faso for company. Both Angola and Burkina Faso possess enough talent in their ranks to make an impact in the tournament. Sudan would do well to better their last performance in a AFCON finals tournament (in Ghana 2008, they went home without picking up a single point from their group) in what is a very tough group.

Three players to watch out for:

1. Didier Drogba (Cote d’Ivoire). Time is running out for the powerhouse to not end up being the symbol of an underachieving generation.

2. Manucho (Angola). Seen by some as the heir to Akwa’s throne as the footballing idol of Angola, an indifferent club career could be significantly bolstered in the upward direction if he can display his best abilities.

3. Bertrand Traore (Burkina Faso). Aged just 16, he looks an impressive young talent and there will certainly be more than just glances cast in his direction.

GROUP C

Gabon / Tunisia / Morocco / Niger

The more talented half of the co-hosts, Gabon will have a tough test on their hands with Tunisia and Morocco being the two heavyweights of the group. Both North African nations have seen better days but they are showing signs of recovery especially Morocco who under the guidance of Eric Gerets are being tipped to be capable of challenging for the trophy. Tunisia are the likelier of the two to be usurped by the hosts in the fight to progress. Niger’s qualification at the expense of South Africa has raised eyebrows but in truth, they would do well to get a result from any of their rivals in this group.

Three players to watch out for:

1. Mbark Boussoufa (Morocco). One of the Atlas Lions’ shining lights, he is more than capable of creating something from nothing.

2. Didier Ovono (Gabon). The Gabonese goalkeeper is vulnerable to making rather horrendous mistakes but can also be quite superb, therefore fitting the bill of a confidence player and above all an entertaining goalkeeper. Should he avoid making costly errors in the first few games then he may end up being one of the brighter stars for the co-hosts.

3. Ouwo Moussa Maazou (Niger). His experience in Europe will mean he is not a complete unknown but it’ll be an opportunity for him to make a more sizeable impression on a wider audience.

GROUP D

Ghana / Guinea / Mali / Botswana

Ghana are widely expected to win this group and while Mali have some excellent players, they are the team most likely to slip up especially with a team like Guinea around. Ghana’s squad appears to be improving constantly and as it seems as if they’re reaching a level in line with their enormous potential. After their last two AFCON finishes of 3rd and 2nd, going that one step further doesn’t seem far beyond them. Anything less than the title may begin to question the thoughts of them becoming Africa’s leading contender on the world stage. Mali certainly look a threat to every opponent they’ll come across but it remains to be seen as to their mental strength. Failure to progress from the group phase for what would be a third successive year would be something unthinkable for a team with such talent. Their greatest rivals to prevent them would appear to be Guinea who’ve undergone an overhaul of sorts since they reached the quarter-finals back in 2008. Less may be expected of them but Mali have suffered in similar circumstances before. As for debutants Botswana, they will take heart from their underdog status and just might surprise a few. This could be a more open group that some think.

Three players to watch out for:

1. Pascal Feindouno (Guinea). Hit by the Sion-UEFA debacle, he will be hoping to put it all behind him and remind people just why Sion chose to break the rules of eligibility to field him.

2. Samuel Inkoom (Ghana). A rapid wing-back who is more than capable of playing at the highest level if he would just improve his defensive positioning. Aged 22, he has time on his side and good performances here would have European heavyweights beginning to sniff around him if they’re not already.

3. Dipsy Selolwane (Botswana). Vital to their chances and he’s named Dipsy. Any man named Dipsy is worth watching out for.

What is in prospect is an exciting tournament and you can catch some worthwhile coverage of all the goings-on over at Lovely Left Foot .

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One Comment leave one →
  1. January 17, 2012 09:18

    Super overview. This looks like it will be one of the more fascinating tournaments for some time given the presence of so many unheralded nations. The difference in populations between the established countries and those who are emergent isn’t so great that one cannot imagine one of the others making it through to a semi final. I agree that it’s hard to see Equatorial Guinea doing well though – it’s actually staggering that the country is hosting a tournament at all given the general lack of infrastructure there until recent times (Gabon, by contrast, has been relatively prosperous on oil money). That 16 year old Burkinabé kid sounds one to look out for.

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