African Cup of Nations Preview: Groups A & B
From January 10-31, Africa gears up for the 27th staging of its premier competition with Angola hosting the finals for the first time. The Sport Review marks your card for what promises to be an eventful three weeks of competition.
Group A: Angola, Mali, Algeria, Malawi:
The hosts are making their fifth appearance in the finals and will look to use home advantage to improve on their quarter-final placing last time out in Ghana. Portuguese Coach Manuel Jose de Jesus has an impressive CV having managed at the top level in his home country. Angola get the tournament off and running on Sunday against Mali.
Ones to watch – Goalkeeper Lama is the stalwart between the posts and watch out for Valladolid striker Manucho.
A sixth appearance for Mali in the finals and one of the pre-tournament favourites. Nigerian Coach Stephen Keshi is a Cup of Nations veteran and he will hope to steer his new charges into at least a semi-final berth. The 2008 tournament was an unmitigated disaster for the Malians, who failed to get into the knock-out phase for the first time ever, so the pressure is on to deliver this time around.
Ones to watch – Barcelona’s impressive midfielder Seydou Keita has had a fantastic season so far and will look to bring his impressive form to the finals. Freddie Kanoute needs no introduction to British fans and he will be the main goal threat for his country.
England fans will be particularly interested in the performance of the North Africans having been drawn in the same group for this summer’s World Cup finals in South Africa. The Algerians come into the tournament on the crest of a wave having qualified for the World Cup finals at the expense of their deadliest rivals Egypt. Coach Rabah SaÃƒÂ¢dane is an Algerian legend and will hope to galvanize his squad into a good showing here.
Ones to watch – Lazio’s Mourad Meghni is a talented midfield player and Glasgow Rangers’ Madjid Bougherra will add steel to the back-line. Blackpool fans will be familiar with striker Hamer Bouazza who will lead the line for his country.
Known as The Flames, Malawi are Group A’s rank outsiders but an impressive qualifying campaign will stand them in good stead for the finals. South African coaching legend Kinnah Phiri was the main reason for Malawi’s qualification to the finals and he will hope his side can cause a few shocks on the way.
Ones to watch – Midfielder Josephy Kamwendo plies his trade in South Africa for the Orlando Pirates alongside forward Jimmy Zakazaka who plays for Bay United.
Group B – Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo:
The Elephants are participating in their 18th finals and are red hot favorites this time around. Bosnian Coach Vahid Halihodzic has a wealth of talent at his disposal and will need his big guns firing on all cylinders in the tournament’s infamous “Group of Death”. Winners way back in 1992, the whole country will be praying that this is their year.
Ones to watch – The Elephants can call upon one of the world’s deadliest strikers in Didier Drogba who will line up alongside his Chelsea team-mate Salomon Kalou. In midfield, look out for former Tottenham midfielder Didier Zokora alongside Barcelona’s Yaya Toure.
– Having suffered heartbreak last time around, falling at the semi-final stage at home, the Black Stars will aim to go close yet again. Serbian Coach Milovan Rajevac knows the pressure is on to bring African football’s biggest prize back to Ghana for the fifth time. With the players at his disposal, who would bet against it.
Ones to watch – Michael Essien needs no introduction to UK football fans. Without doubt, he is the country’s biggest superstar and will lead his team into the finals. Up front look out for new 20-year-old AC Milan signing Dominic Adiyiah, who looks set for big things in the future.
– Amid chaotic scenes two years ago in Ghana when the players threatened to strike over payment fees, The Hawks crashed out at the group stage to keep up their wretched Cup of Nations record. In six attempts, they have never arrived at the knock-out phase and French Coach Hubert Velud now has chance to break that cycle. The West Africans have the capability to be brilliant one minute, then self destruct the next, it remains to be seen if they can get past the two heavyweights in their group Ghana and the Ivory Coast.
Ones to watch – Emmanuel Adebayor carries his country’s hopes on his shoulders and is without doubt the team’s talisman. Bayer Leverkeusen defender Assimiou Toure will hope to bring his impressive domestic form into the finals.
– A seventh appearance in the finals for The Stallions with their best showing a semi-final place on home soil back in 1998. Portuguese Coach Paulo Jorge Rebelo Duarte knows his side are group outsiders, so with the pressure off, he will hope to cause an upset along the way.
Ones to watch – Marseille youngster Charles Kabore will look to impress in midfield and look out for big defender Bakary Kone, currently plying his trade in France with Guingamp.