January 21, 2012 by joshilan14
Gabon and Equatorial Guinea will be the hosts of the 28th edition of the African Cup of Nations. With the champions of the last three tournaments in Egypt failing to qualify for the tournament, there will be a new champion this time out. Joining Egypt in failing to qualify are fellow African heavyweights Nigeria, Cameroon and South Africa; this was after they comically thought they had qualified as they had wrongly thought that goal difference and not head to head record decided the table. The tournament will be wide open with many contenders failing to qualify. This has led to many un-fancied and smaller nations gaining their places, with three teams making their debut at the African Cup of Nations and those teams are co-hosts Equatorial Guinea, Niger and Botswana. The tournament is bound to awake one of the many sleeping giants in African football and this is well and truly the tournament of the underdogs. The tournament starts on the 21st of January and ends in just over three weeks.
Equatorial Guinea- Despite being co-hosts of the tournament, controversy is the only thing surrounding their debut tournament. Henri Michel resigned twice as manager due to disharmony with the team and the FA over selection disagreements. This is due to the inclusion of many naturalized players in the side, with many players in the squad having no link to the country. Gilson Paulo has now taken charge but the Nzalang Nacional are not expected to make their mark on the tournament.
Player to watch-Beira Mar midfielder Javier Balboa wants to prove his doubters wrong after failing to make the grade at Real Madrid and Benfica.
Libya-The story of Libya’s qualification is quite remarkable. With a civil war taking place in the country, which helped to end the tyrannical reign of Gadaafi, the national team managed to qualify despite only being able to play one qualification match at ‘home’. The country’s coach Marcos Paqueta summed up the team’s importance to the country by saying “not only playing for football success but for a new government and a new country”.
Player to watch-Braga midfielder Djamal Mahamat is the only player in the Libya team to be playing in Europe, in which he has been a regular in the Portuguese Liga for three years.
Senegal-If any team is going to awake the sleeping giant, it is likely to be 2002 World Cup quarter finalists Senegal. With one of the strongest squads in the tournament, a good showing is needed for the Lions of Terranga. They have arguably one of the strongest forward lines in international football, with Newcastle’s Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba, Fenerbache’s Moussa Sow and Mahamdou Niang leading the line. It wouldn’t surprise me if they went on to win the tournament.
Player to watch-Demba Ba will be hoping to carry his stunning Premier League form into the ACN as he is expected to be the main striker.
Zambia-With former manager Herve Renard back in charge after the surprise and controversial sacking of Dario Bonetti, there is renewed optimism that Zambia can be one of the sides to profit from a few heavyweights failing to qualify. The squad might have no standout players, but the team spirit makes up for this, with their captain Chris Katongo saying that this “can take Zambia far in the competition.” And he might not be wrong in saying that.
Player to watch- Emmanuel Mayuka is the best of the younger players emerging into the national team, with the striker now a regular at Swiss side Young Boys Bern.
Ivory Coast-The Elephants come into the tournament with the favourites tag; this has proved to be a burden for the country in previous competitions and one that Francois Zahoui’s side are determined to break. For the likes of Didier Drogba, Kolo Toure and other members of the ‘Golden Generation’, this could be one of the last chances they get to win an international trophy. They will not have a better chance than this to break that spell.
Player to watch-Yaya Toure’s form has been essential to his club’s Manchester City’s rise to the top of the Premier League and he will be hoping to replicate that for his country.
Sudan-On the contrary to the Ivory Coast, who have a squad with no domestic based players, Sudan’s side has only domestic based players; in which all of them play for either Al Merreikh or Al Hilal. This can be seen as a negative due to playing in a league of a lesser quality but having a domestic based squad can mean extra training and a better group unity. It is hard to see them making an impact on the tournament.
Player to watch-Al Hilal’s attacking full back Omar Bakheit is hoping to help his side give a good showing by using his defending and attacking skills to his country’s advantage.
Burkina Faso-Namibia’s many attempts to replace them in the tournament where in vain; this was after they believed Hevre Zengue was ineligible when he played against them in qualification. Paulo Duarte’s side will be hoping to improve on the country’s goal record as they drew blanks in their three matches in the 2010 ACN. They have also failed to register an ACN victory on foreign soil, but many people expect this record to change at this competition.
Player to watch-Attacking midfielder Alain Traore has had an extraordinary breakthrough season at Auxerre and a good tournament will see his stock rise even more.
Angola-The Palancas Negras almost missed out on qualification but a mixture of luck, Uganda’s bad end to qualification and Lito Vidigal’s appointment insured that they got there in the end. The team’s main problem is that the squad has the tournaments highest average age, with eight players in the squad over the age of 30. Many people think that the hangover from the 2006 World Cup has continued and this could be their chance to stop it.
Player to watch-Djalma’s move to Porto hasn’t seen him get the playing time he wanted but the ACN gives the former Nacional winger a chance to show why he should be in their starting eleven.
Gabon-The co-hosts of the 2012 edition could use home advantage to their benefit and despite many people expecting them to struggle, Gernot Rohr’s side could be the dark horses of the tournament. This is because the team has an ideal mix of youth, experience and domestic and abroad based players. Their only downfall could be their country’s fans massive expectations of this side and whether this works to their advantage, only time will tell.
Player to watch-Signed as a replacement for Laurent Koscielny at Lorient, centre back Bruno Ecuele Manga has impressed so much in Ligue 1 that he has been linked with a move to Arsenal.
Niger-Harouna Doula’s side’s qualification is one of the biggest shock’s in ACN history as the minnows came through a group including South Africa, Sierra Leone and reigning champions Egypt. This was courtesy of an impeccable home record, in which they won every match but a failure to pick up a point in the road shows that this has to improve immediately for Niger to give them a chance. They will probably prove to be this year’s whipping boys but qualification is an achievement in itself.
Player to watch-Temper mental Zulte Waragem striker Ouwu Moussa Maazou might have struggled at his parent club CSKA Moscow but he has enjoyed successful spells at Lokeren and AS Monaco.
Prediction- Group stages
Morocco-The Atlas Lions have been one of Africa’s biggest disappointments of the last decade, with no World Cup appearances and only once have they gone beyond the group stages of the ACN since 2000. However this should all change at this tournament due to Eric Geret’s building up a quality side which ranks amongst the best at the tournament. The majority of the squad are only in there due to their parent’s links to the country but this will be forgotten should they impress.
Player to watch-Anzhi Makhachkala’s tricky winger Mbark Boussoufa will be looking to build on a successful first season in the Russian Premier League by having a starring role at the ACN.
Tunisia-Sami Trabelsi have Chad to thank for them being in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea as their stoppage time equalizer against Malawi prevented them from qualifying ahead of Tunisia. There is optimism that this side can do well due to an ageing and faltering squad being replaced by a young and energetic one. The improvement in quality of the Tunisian league has seen the best players from the league being able to challenge the ones playing in Europe for places in the team, and this can only lead to improvements.
Player to watch-Centre back Aymen Abdennour made a welcome return to European football with Toulouse this season after a previous loan spell at Werder Bremen.
Ghana-The Black Stars go in as one of the favourites to win the tournament. The 2010 World Cup quarter finalists built on that success by going through qualification unbeaten. Goran Stefanovic’s has seamlessly taken over from Milovan Rajevac and he has added more young players into what is already a very strong and competitive side. Ghana’s ‘Golden Generation’ has an ideal opportunity to win a trophy and there is a big chance of their thirty year wait for an ACN tournament win could be over.
Player to watch-Abedi Pele’s son Andre Ayew has become a key cog in the Marseille and Ghana teams and he should prove to people why he was chosen as BBC’s African footballer of 2011.
Botswana-Manager Stanley Tshosane has masterminded his country’s qualification for their first ever African Cup of Nations. This is due to him introducing two factors; youth development which has seen the quality of players increase and a change in mindset, in which captain Dipsy Selowane said that “… he has really changed everyone’s thinking.” They should struggle in the tournament due to a lack of experience at both international and club level.
Player to watch-Striker Jerome Ramatlhakwane might have struggled for games at club level but he is his country’s best source of goals, with him getting five goals in qualification.
Mali-Many critics say that this is the weakest squad Mali have had in recent years; this is due to defender Adama Coulibaly’s injury, midfielder’s Mohamed Sissoko and Mahamadou Diarra not being called up for the tournament and striker’s Fredi Kanoute’s retirement. The squad is young and inexperienced but former Gabon manager Alain Giresse claims to know what he is doing. This tournament will show if his experiment has worked and if it doesn’t, Giresse will face fierce criticism from both fans and the media.
Player to watch-Barcelona midfielder Seydou Keita has finally been called up after eighteen months away from the national side and his return has been welcomed by the Malian public.
Guinea-It is expected that Michel Dussuyer’s Guinea side will challenge with Mali for second place in the group and they hope to reach their fourth consecutive quarter final place. Many of the team’s player’s club careers have gone downwards in the last few years but they still produce their best form for the Eagles. Pascal Feindouno is the player with the most ACN goals at the finals with eight goals.
Player to watch-Guinea captain and former Hull City centre back Kamil Zayatte will need to be at his best defensively for his side to qualify for the knockout stages.
If the finals in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea are just as unpredictable as the qualification process, we are in for a treat for the tournament. There is no doubt that one major heavyweight will fail to live up to the expectations and that one ‘minnow’ will exceed expectations. The only downside of the tournament are the off the field issues as per usual, with pay rows (Botswana), player eligibility issues (Burkina Faso) and accommodation problems (Zambia, Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso) amongst many controversies surrounding the tournament. Some people might say that without the other ‘big’ nations such as Nigeria, Egypt, Cameroon and South Africa, the competition will be weaker for it. However I think that this just goes to show the improving quality of African football and the competition will be more open for it. This is the time for the smaller teams to shines and a new generation of heroes could be made. This is also the time for the older guard to give their country a crowning glory for their long international careers. Shocks, goals and thrills will be expected and the African Cup of Nations 2012 will be one to remember.
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