Damon and Damian cast their eyes over the four groups in the African Cup of Nations and choose who they think will progress.
Listen to the report here
Damian: This weekend sees the Africa Cup of Nations kicking off in Angola with the hosts, the Black Goats, taking on Mali in the capital Luanda. Despite European clubs’ complaining about losing many of their best players in the middle of the season, there is a real excitement building up about this tournament and not just because of the high quality of those players – think Drogba, Kanoute, Toure, Keita and Song for instance. This, of course, is also a World Cup year so those teams that have made it to South Africa will use this competition as an important warm-up while those who did not reach the World Cup will be determined to compensate for their setback. In this week’s main report we look at the participating teams and attempt to make sense of the four groups involved. Damon will be looking at groups C and D but first up I review Groups A and B.
The hosts in this continental championship always do well and many critics feel that this tradition will continue with Angola having a relatively easy group. True, Malawi are there to make up the numbers in only their first ever appearance at the African Cup of Nations but the hosts will have their work cut out to overcome World Cup qualifiers Algeria, as well as Mali, a team that boasts a midfield of Real Madrid’s Diarra, Barcelona’s Keita and Juventus’ Sissoko with Sevilla’s Freddie Kanoute up front. If they can get something from the opening match against the hosts I think they could be one of the dark horses and go all the way. Qualifiers then from Group A? Angola and Mali.
As for Group B it looks pretty clear cut for the two teams that have made the World Cup in South Africa, namely Ghana and the Ivory Coast. These two teams also share the disappointment of losing out in the semi-finals in 2008 when the competition took place in Ghana. The other two teams in the group are Burkina Faso who lost out to the Ivory Coast in this year’s World Cup qualifiers and Togo who hope that Manchester City striker Emmanuel Adebayor brings his early season form to the tournament. I can’t see any shocks here however with Michael Essien’s Ghana and Didier Drogba’s Ivory Coast comfortably making it through to the knock-out stage – with the Ivorians possible winners of the overall crown come the end of the month.
Damon: So let’s take a look at groups 3 and 4. First, group 3 which has two teams of proven pedigree in this competition, Egypt with a record six titles, and Nigeria. The group is completed by Mozambique and Benin. Egypt of course are the holders and they qualified for the African Cup of Nations behind bitter rivals Algeria, the latter secured World Cup qualification with the play-off win, and it will be interesting to see whether or not they suffer any hangovers from that shock. Personally I doubt it and I think they will go through to the knock out round with Nigeria. The Super Eagles have a great record in the competition, last time out going out in the quarter finals was a huge shock. Their coach, Shuaibu Amodu is under enormous pressure to at least make the semi-finals, and they may just make it that far especially as they are not in the same side of the draw as Ghana and the Ivory Coast, two of the favourites for the title. Sorry Benin and Mozambique, but I can’t even see them as dark horses – unless that is Egypt do have a hangover from not qualifying for the World Cup.
In Group 4, I think, we’ll see more competition for the top two places. Cameroon, Tunisia, Gabon and Zambia make up this group. Cameroon, coached by Frenchman Paul Le Guen, beat Gabon twice leaving them in second place in their qualifying group, but Gabon will be confident that they will be able to grab one of the qualifying spots from their group. If they are to do that they will probably have to beat Tunisia, who finished one point behind Nigeria in their qualifying group. The Carthage Eagles have a new coach, Faouzi Benzarti, and will also feel that a top two place is theirs for the taking. The winners of the tournament in 2004 will be favourites to join Camaroon, but Gabon are the dark horses. Zambia? Well, since the tragic plane crash of 1993, which saw the Zambian team all killed on their way to a World Cup qualifying game in Senegal, they haven’t quite recovered their previous strength. Just qualifying was a success this time and I can’t see them troubling the other three.
So, here we go, second round will see Nigeria, winning their group, take on Tunisia, and Egypt face group 4 winners Cameroon. Overall winners – Ghana. Overall dark horse – Tunisia.
building up: getting larger, increasing
compensate (for): make up for, get something good out of a bad situation, counter a negative
critics: (in this report) experts, commentators, journalists, pundits
to make up the numbers: In football, if you ‘make up the numbers’ you are not expected to do well, you are not a strong team
to get something: to get a result, either a draw or a win – don’t lose
proven pedigree: a history of good results, proof that the team is strong
hangover: a severe headache or other after effects caused by drinking, in this context it means the team may suffer in the competition because of the shock of not qualifying for the World Cup
to grab: to take, to snatch
(there/his/hers etc) for the taking: something that you can get if you are quick, something available for someone who wants it