In part two of our series previewing this month’s African Nations Cup, Paul Geraghty takes a look at Groups C and D which includes current holders Egypt, Samuel Eto’o’s Cameroon and Nigeria who are well represented in the Premier League
Six time champions and current holders Egypt will be looking to be the first team to achieve three titles in a row. After both them and Algeria finished with an identical record throughout World Cup qualifying. FIFA decided upon a one-match playoff held in Sudan in which Egypt lost by a solitary goal. Egypt’s domestic league that is arguably Africa’s strongest, and Egypt have19 players included in the squad from the league.
Key player Mohamed Zidan (Borussia Dortmund). After a turbulent and controversial start to his international career he has won over critics with excellent performances in the 2008 African Cup of Nations and the 2009 Confederations Cup. With key playmaker Mohamed Aboutrika and striker Amr Zaki both out injured, Egypt will be depending on Zidan to perform.
The two time champions, scraped into this year’s World Cup at the expense of Tunisia with two late goals on the final day. They will be desperate to improve on their 2008 African Cup of Nations campaign where they only reached the quarterfinals in what was their worst performance since 1988 (Excluding the 1996 and 1998 competitions where they didn’t take part in because of political reasons).
However Coach Shaibu Amodu team selection has been described as a “Suicide Mission” by picking eight strikers including; Yakubu (Everton), Nwankwo Kanu (Portsmouth) and Former Newcastle player Obafemi Martins who is currently nursing a shin injury. This is compared to only five midfielders including English based players Dickson Etuhu (Sunderland) and Seyi Olofinjana (Hull City).
Key player: John Obi Mikel (Chelsea). Seems to have regressed into a holding player at Chelsea, but Nigeria will look to him for creativity that was so prominent in his early international career.
Making only their fourth appearance in the African Cup of Nations and first since 1998. In qualifying they finished third place behind Nigeria and Tunisia, this was thanks to a late goal from striker Dário Monteiro in the final game against Tunisia which incidentally, cost Tunisia a World Cup spot. To progress they will need to be more productive in front of goal, 3 goals from 6 games through qualifying will not be good enough to progress with a group consisting of Nigeria and Egypt.
Key player: Tico-Tico. The 36-year-old plays for South African team Jomo Cosmos and has scored over 90 goals for them. He is Mozambique’s captain and record goal scorer with 27 goals.
With wins against Ghana, Mali, and Angola throughout qualifying Benin have shown glimpses of what they are capable of, they have the ability to cause a big upset. Captain Romuald Boco known as the “King of Benin” in his homeland may be familiar to League of Ireland fans. The Benin midfielder plays for Sligo Rovers and played in every qualification match for Benin.
Key player: Stephane Sessegnon (PSG) partnered captain Romuald Boco in midfield the 25 year old was named in the French Ligue 1 team of the year for last season and may become a transfer target once the competition get under way.
Prediction: Nigeria and Egypt.
The four time champions’ World Cup qualification campaign got off to a slow start, when they only picked up one point from their first two games but they eventually took control of the group and secured their spot in South Africa. Tottenham duo Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Sebastien Bassong have been omitted from the squad and this will leave a massive void in defense in which Espanyol goalkeeper Kameni will have to reorganize. With Alexandre Song (Arsenal), Landry N’Guémo (Celtic) and Former Newcastle player Geremi forming the midfield triangle they have the potential to steamroll some of the weaker nations.
Key player: Samuel Eto’o (Inter Milan), scored 36 goals for Barcelona last season including the opening goal in the Champions League final against Manchester United, and he is the African Cup of Nations all-time leading goal scorer with 16 goals.
Put early pressure on Cameroon and looked like qualifying for the World Cup but ran out of steam after the death of president Omar Bongo forced their matches with Cameroon to be rescheduled by which time Cameroon had gathered back momentum.
Key player: Daniel Cousin (Hull City). The Gabonese captain has scored 7 goals in 19 games for his country and will be the deciding factor as to whether Gabon can progress further than the group stages.
In 1993 nineteen Zambian first team players were killed in a plane crash, Star player Kalusha Bwalya missed the flight as he was playing for PSV at the time. Only months after the plane crash Bwalya lead a depleted Zambian side to the final of the 1994 African Cup of Nations only to lose to Nigeria 2-1 despite taking an early lead. They returned home national heroes. Since then Zambia have failed to emulate the team of 1994 and haven’t managed to progress past the group stages since 1996.
They struggled throughout this qualifying campaign, only scoring 4 goals in 10 games.
Key player: Captain Christopher Katongo a pacey striker is well suited to Zambia’s counter attacking style used in their away matches. His team will be reliant on his goals if they stand a chance of progressing past the group stage.
2004 Champions, looked like certainties to qualify for the World Cup after a late Oussama Darragi equalizer against Nigeria put them in the driving seat with two games to go. However A 93rd min winning strike for Nigeria against Mozambique in the next round of games kept Nigeria’s slim chances alive. This still meant going into the final round of games Tunisia only needed a draw to qualify. In the final moments of the game Tunisia conceded making it 0-1, while almost simultaneously Nigeria scored making it 3-2 in their match, Thus eliminating Tunisia from the World Cup.
Key Player: Oussama Darragi. The 22-year-old playmaker impressed in the latter stages of qualification, scoring two vital goals, with Tunisia an aging side youthful midfielder will have to provide the creativity and energy.
Prediction: Cameroon and Gabon.