Africa Cup of Nations 2013: Lessons learned as draws dominate Group C

Africa Cup of Nations 2013: Lessons learned from Group C, with pitches, discipline and giants versus minnows all talking points

john obi mikel
Chelsea's Mikel featured in Nigeria's draw against Burkina Faso Photo: TSR

john obi mikel

Top class stadiums leave pitch in poor condition

The Group C openers, which saw Zambia draw with Ethiopia and Nigeria endure a stalemate against Burkina Faso, were held at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit. The 40,000 seat ground was used for the Fifa World Cup in 2010 but had a pitch made of sand. With two major tournaments at the ground, it seems foolish that the pitch bears more of a resemblance to a beach than a high-class sporting venue. While it added to the spectacle of the game, players struggled to control the ball. Saladin Said has reason to be very upset when his lob over Kennedy M’Weene also bounced over the crossbar because of the pitch. Having spent €104m (£98m) and 5.5 million man hours to build the stadium, perhaps some proper turf could have been laid.

Teams need to maintain their discipline

Zambia and Ethiopia had six yellow cards and a red card between them in their opening game. Reading-bound Stoppila Sunzu was booked after just 12 minutes and walked a disciplinary tight-rope for most of the game. Despite this, he continually showed his liking for a tackle and was joined in the referee’s notebook by three team-mates. Ethiopia’s goalkeeper Jemal Tessal was dismissed for a crazy lunge on Chisamba Lungu, which broke the Zambia star’s leg and was duly rewarded with a red card. They did manage to secure a draw but had to play with ten men for half a match and will be without Tessal for the rest of the tournament. If Zambia have serious ambitions of defending their title, then they need to stop collecting bookings as they will be hampered by silly suspensions.

Big names are not guaranteed an easy ride against minnows

In the football world, Nigeria is a stellar name from the African continent. They are one of the more fancied teams in the Africa Cup of Nations with an excellent record in the finals – lifting the trophy twice, finishing runners-up four times and coming third seven times. Stephen Keshi is their manager and he skippered the Super Eagles the last time they conquered Africa with a 2-1 triumph over Zambia in Tunis 19 years ago. He is bedding in a new ethos and believing in younger players, and their 6-1 thrashing of Liberia to secure their passage to South Africa signalled their intentions. Nigeria are ranked 40 places about Burkina Faso in the Fifa world rankings and would have been expected to dispatch the Stallions relatively comfortably. But as holders Zambia found against Ethiopia, if a team is not at their best there are nations who will raise their game and cause the odd surprise. Any of the bigger names resting on their laurels should be aware.

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