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The history of football is a sad voyage from beauty to duty.
Tuesday, January 17, 2006

African Cup of Nations


The African Cup of Nations kicks off in Cairo this Friday and runs through to February 10th. From a betting prospective the tournament can often prove a lottery, only one team has managed to retain the title in 35 years of the competition and no less than thirteen different countries have lifted the trophy in that time. The fact that two countries (Togo and Angola) have qualified for the World Cup but are not among those who have lifted the ACN, speaks volumes for the unpredictability of the competition and African football in general. When you throw in witchcraft, boycots, riot police, furious club versus country cat-fights, political machinations, financial quarrels, illegal kits, dodgy pitches and bafflingly eccentric refereeing, you get some idea how arbitrary and capricious this market can be.

Current odds- Cameroon(6) Egypt(6); Tunisia(7.6) Ivory Coast(7.6); Nigeria(10); Senegal(13); Morocco(17.5); Ghana(20); Angola(24); Togo(26); South Africa(32); Guinea(60); Zambia(75); Congo DR(95); Zimbabwe(130); Libya(140)
(Betfair)

GROUP A- Egypt, Ivory Coast, Libya, Morocco
History suggests it is never wise to back against the hosts in the African nations and Egypt have a better home record than most, winning almost twice as many games on their own territory as they do away. They have also won two of the three previous competitions they have hosted. If they are to prosper this time then they will need a good tournament from Mohammed Barakat, the playmaker who guided Al-Ahly to the African Champions League in November. Goals have not been a problem despite a poor World Cup qualifying campaign, but Egypt can only benefit from the return of their big European based player Mido. The in-form Tottenham striker had fallen out with previous coach, Marco Tardelli. The seedings bizarrely place Ivory Coast only third in the group but, in Didier Drogba and Aruna Dindane, they have arguably the most potent strikeforce in African football. Add in the mesmeric dribbling of Bonaventure Kalou, the midfield guile of Didier Zakora and the defensive strength of Kolo Toure and, having already eliminated Cameroon from the World Cup, there is no reason why Henri Michel's well-organised side cannot be serious contenders for the ACN. A question mark still remains about the side's ability to perform on the big stage and in the hostile surroundings of North Africa, but encouragement can be taken from the fact that the side twice defeated Egypt in qualifying for Germany. Morocco are under a new coach and much will depend on how a young squad of players react to the new regime. Under the previous coach Morocco missed out on the World Cup by a single point to Tunisia, and were the only team on the continent to be undefeated away from home. The Atlas Lions will have arguably the strongest defence in the competition but are likely to struggle to score goals. Much will depend on the form of Bordeaux hitman Chamakh. In 21 previous meetings with Egypt, Morocco have lost just twice. Libya are the undoubted outsiders of the group, but, thanks to the expenditure of Al-Saadi Gadaffi and the coaching of Croatian Loncarevic, they are improving. Talent spotters will be watching gifted captain Tarek El Taib but a first round exit looks probable.

GROUP B- Angola, Cameroon, DR Congo, Togo
Four sub-Saharan sides and a fascinating battle between the traditional powers of in African football and the emerging forces. Cameroon will not be in Germany and are desperate to reassert their supremacy within African football by clinching a third title in four attempts. They retain a defensive resiliance instilled by Winfried Schafer and can also claim the continent's best keeper in Espanyol's Kameni. As long as he travels, prodigiously talanted Samuel Eto'o will provide the main attacking threat. DR Congo are seeded second in the group but it would be a considerable achievement for them to progress from this group. Recent improvement under the stewardship of Claude LeRoy is continually undermimed by a chaotic domestic background. Angola's Portuguese coach Luis Oliveira Goncalves has developed a bristling team spirit reminiscent of Senegal four years ago. However, if they are to prosper, so much will depend on the shoulders of frorwards Fabrice Akwa and the sensational Pedro Mantorras, who could be one of the stars to emerge from the tournament. Togo are also heavily reliant on a work ethic, keeping things tight and hoping Emmanuel Adebayor can nick a goal. The new Arsenal striker will be many punters' choice for tournament top goalscorer. Although Togo have qualified for the World Cup, coach Steve Keshi has still condemned the FA for unprofessionalism after the side finished last behind Paraguay, Iran and Macedonia in a recent competition.

GROUP C- Guinea, South Africa, Tunisia, Zambia
Tunisia have benefitted the most from the seedings as they have been handed the easiest group. They are the reigning African champions and will also be on their way to Germany. Roger Lamerre presides over a very talented squad and has infused his charges with a supreme confidence. Defensive stability provided by Trabelsi and Jaidi and an attacking inventiveness courtesy of Jaziri and the Brazilian-born Dos Santos make this team genuine contenders, especially given the tendency for north African teams to prosper in north Africa. South Africa, champions in 1996, are likely to struggle. They had a bad World Cup qualifying campaign and only just scraped passed Burkino Faso to reach the ACN. They have a bullish new coach in Ted Dumitru but a severe lack of firepower following the retirement of Shaun Bartlett. Guinea reached the quarter-finals two years ago and in forward Pascal Feindouno they have a real talent. Their coach, Patrick Neveu, has targeted the last eight again and given that Guinea did beat Tunisia in the World Cup qualifying, his confidence is not without foundation. African legend Kalusha Bwalya has Zambia heading in the right direction after they failed to reach the ACN two years ago, but there is some doubt that Russia-based Gift Kampamba will make the trip. Without their main star the Chipolopolo are likely to find things tough.

GROUP D- Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Zimbabwe
One group and three powerhouses of African football. Nigeria were probably the most surprising casualties of the World Cup qualifying competition, but there seems a renewed optimism since the arrival of new coach Austin Eguavoen. The final two qualifiers saw the team score five against both Tunisia and Zimbabwe, Martins helping himself to five of those 10 goals. The Inter striker will be a key figure and on song there is no reason why Nigeria should not win the tournament even if they are a nation with a unique predilection for self-destruction. Ghana last won the the ANC 23 years ago but are riding a wave after finally reaching the World Cup finals. They have the strongest midfield pairing in African football in Essien and Appiah but one half of that partnership will be missing here and that seriously damages their chances. They will be expertly coached by alchemist Ratomir Dujkovic but miserble recent form is a considerable worry. Senegal are another team licking their wounds after not making Germany. The perception is they are a team in slow decline, with many of the players from four years ago still clinging to their places. They have never really replaced coach Bruno Metsu, but with the likes of Bouba Diop and El-Hadji Diouf still retain the ability to pack a punch. Zimbabwe are in only their second ACN and have been handed an almighty task to qualify here. The fact that veteren Peter Ndlovu remains their biggest name speaks volumes about their chances here.

There is a perceived wisdom that home advantage is a huge factor in African football and in the recent World Cup campaign it certainly seemed the case. Morocco were the only side on the continent to remain unbeaten on their travels, although too many draws saw them eventually pipped by Tunisia for a place in Germany. When the ACN was played two years ago, in Tunisia, the hosts edged out Morocco in the final. On three other occasions, Egypt in '59 & '86 and Algeria in '90, North African hosts have lifted the cup, part of a series of nine 'home' victories in 24 tournaments.

Below is a country by country list of the European based players who could be on show in Egypt. It doesn't include such casualties and absentees as Essien, Nonda and Atouba. The list is also liable to change as squads are not finalised until the last minute...

Angola
- Kali (Santa Clara)- Titi Buengo (Clermont Foot); Pedro Mantorras (Benfica)

Camerun
- Kameni (Espanyol)- Angbwa (Lille); Ateba (PSG); Kalla (Bochum); Song (Galatasaray)- Atouba (Hamburg); Djemba-Djemba (Aston Villa); Emana (Toulouse); Geremi (Chelsea); Kome (Murcia); Makoun (Lille)- Douala (Sporting Lisbon); Eto'o (Barcelona); Webo (Osasuna)

Cote D'Ivoire
- Gnanhouan (Montpellier)- Boka (Strasbourg); Domoraud (Creteil); Eboue (Arsenal); Kouassi (Troyes); Meite (Marseille); Toure (Arsenal); Kpolo (Messina)- Akale (Auxerre); Demel (Hamburg); Fae (Nanates); Tiene (St Etienne); Yapi-Yopo (Nantes); Zokora (St Etienne)- Dindane (Lens); Drogba (Chelsea); Kalou (PSG); A Kone (PSV); B Kone (Nice); Romaric (Le Mans)

DR Congo- Ilunga (St Etienne); Kinkela (Amiens)- Matingou (Bastia)- Lualua (Portsmouth)

Egypt
- A Hassan (Besiktas); Hosni (Strasbourg)- Mido (Spurs/Roma)

Ghana- McCarthy (Feyenoord)- Abubakari (Vitesse); Kuffour (Roma); Mensah (Cremonese)- Appiah (Fenerbahce); Asamoah (Modena); Yakubu (Vitesse)- Amoah (Vitesse); Gyan (Modena)

Guinea
- Bobo Balde (Celtic); Kaba (Gueugnon)- Camera (Burnley): Diawara (Ajaccio); Feindouno (St Etienne); Mansare (Toulouse)

Libya
- Muntasser (Triestina)

Morocco- El Karkouri (Charlton); Naybet (Spurs); Ouaddou (Rennes)- Aggoudi "Moha" (Osasuna); Hadji (Rennes); Kharja (Roma); Regragui (Racing Santander); Safri (Norwich)- Aboucherouae (Lille); Chamakh (Bordeaux)

Nigeria- Taiwo (Marseille); Yobo (Everton); Lawal (Roda)- Obodo (Udinese); Okocha (Bolton); Oruma (Marseille)- Kanu (WBA); Makinwa (Palermo); Martins (Inter); Obinna (Chievo); Odemwingie (Lille); Utaka (Rennes)

Senegal
- Sylva (Lille)- Beye (Marseille); Cisse (Portsmouth); Coly (Parma); Daf (Sochaux); A Faye (Bolton); Diatta (Lyon); Diawara (Sochaux); Diop (Guingamp) I Faye (Troyes)- Bouba Diop (Fulham); Diao (Portsmouth); Fadiga (Bolton); N'Diaye (Levante)- Camara (Wigan); Diouf (Bolton); D Faye (Clermont Foot); Kamara (WBA); Mendy (St Etienne); Niang (Marseille); Sakho (St Etienne)

South Africa
- Issa (Watford); Makoena (Blackburn)- McCarthy (Porto); Zuma (A Bielefeld)

Togo
- Agassa (Metz)- Assemoassa (Clermont Foot)- Salifou (Brest)- Adebayor (Arsenal); Toure (Metz)

Tunisia- Haggui (Strasbourg); Jaidi (Bolton); Trabelsi (Ajax); Yahia (St Etienne)- Benachour (Guimaraes); Chedli (Nurnberg); Mnari (Nurnberg)- Ben Saada (Bastia); Dos Santos (Toulouse); Gmamdia (Strasbourg); Jaziri (Troyes); Jemaa (Lens); Namouchi (Rangers)

Zambia- Sinkala (Koln)- Mbesuma (Portsmouth)

Zimbabwe- Ndlovu (Sheffied United)

posted by Trilby at 12:13 pm
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