Events

2017 AFRICA CUP OF NATIONS PREVIEW

Although it comes at not the most convenient time in the football calendar. The ACON is always an exciting tournament full of attacking flair and unexpected results.

What is even better is the standard and quality of football has continued to improve and I feel this year will be no different.

This years tournament will be held in Gabon and will run from January 14th to February 5th.

Below is the group by group preview and predictions…..

GROUP A

BURKINA FASO

Best Finish: Runners up 2013
Star Man: Charles Kabore
One to Watch: Bertrand Traore

The Stallions qualified for this tournament by the thinnest of margins in history. They topped a group containing Botswana, Comoros and Uganda. But ended with the exact same record of Uganda and only squeezed through due to head to head record as they beat Uganda 1-0 at home and drew 0-0 away. In their previous 9 appearances they have only been past the group stages twice.

They are a tight, defensive  type team who like stifle opponents, squeezing the play and closing the spaces. Led by influential midfield and skipper Kabore, who dictates play from midfield with help from Alan Traore. Then they expect a bit of magic upfront. This is where young Ajax striker Bertrand Traore could come into play. Along with strikers Pitroitpa & Bance.

PREDICTION: GROUP STAGES

CAMEROON

Best Finish: Champions 84, 88, 00, 02
Star Man: Vincent Aboubakar
One to Watch: Fabrice Ondoa

The indomitable Lions are the joint second most successful nation in this tournament and strolled their group containing Gambia, South Africa and Mauritania by 6 points. They were unbeaten winning four and drawing two. They didn’t concede an away goal in the group. Although they have won it four times, since they last won the tournament. They have only been past the QF’s once in five attempts.

Although many of their players opted out, they still have an array of stars many who play in Europe. Due to the Cameroon try to play and pass and move style of football in front of a solid foundation. They will look to star striker Aboubakar to provide the goals with young Sevilla keeper performing heroics in goal. Other players are defenders Fai Collins and Nicolas Nkoulou. Midfielder constant Mandjeck and forward Clinton Njie.

PREDICTION: QUARTER FINALS

GABON

Best Finish: QF’s 1996, 2012
Star Man: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
One to Watch: Mario Lemina

The Panthers are the host nation who stepped in after Libya pulled out due to ongoing war in their country. Gabon joint hosted in 2012 with Equatorial Guinea where they topped their group winning all three games but was beaten on penalties by Mali in the QF’s. They have only qualified for six previous tournaments. Gabon are the lowest ranked Fifa team in the tournament (108).

Obviously Aubamyang is their darling, their leader, their go to guy and star man. The key is keeping it relatively tight and providing him with the ammunition to provide the goals. That is where young Juve midfielder Lemina comes in. At the back a lot will be asked of defenders Ecuele Manga & Appindangoye and goalkeeper Ovono. 

PREDICTION: QUARTER FINALS

GUINEA-BISSAU

Best Finish: First Appearance
Star Man: Bocundji Ca
One to Watch: Zizinho

The Djurtus have qualified for their very first tournament and surprised all by topping their group by one point from Congo who reached the QF’s in 2015. Also Kenya and 2012 champions Zambia. Not much is expected of them but that could work in their favour as they have the element of surprise. Expect them to be good on the ball with a squad heavily influenced by Portugal.

Due to that Portuguese influence, Guinea-Bissau like to be forward thinking and attacking. They have some players that like to keep the ball at their feet and play football. The key to this is skipper Bocundji Ca. With contributions from defenders Soares & Eridson. Striker Federic Mendy and Midfielders Toni Silva & Zizinho who could be a hidden gem.

PREDICTION: GROUP STAGES

GROUP B

ALGERIA

Best Finish: Champions 1990
Star Man: Riyad Mahrez
One to Watch: Islam Slimani

The desert foxes eased through their group with Lesotho, Seychelles and Ethiopia by fives points, winning five and drawing one. They scored the most goals in the group stages (25). They were formidable at home recording 7-1, 4-0, 6-0 wins. Since winning the tournament they have only reached the SF’s once in their last nine appearances.

Algeria are in the midst of a golden era having qualified for the last two World Cups. They currently have a squad full of talent. Led by Mahrez. He will be looked upon to pull the strings and make things happen but they have competent players from back to front with defender Ghoulam & Mandi. Midfielders Bentaleb, Brahimi & Taider and strikers Soudani who topped the qualifying stages with 7 goals. Also Slimani who finished joint fourth with 4 goals in qualifying and has impressed in England. Algeria play an exciting, direct, attacking type football with plenty of balls in the box.

PREDICTION: RUNNERS UP

SENEGAL

Best Finish: Runners Up 2002
Star Man: Sadio Mane
One to Watch: Mohamed Diame

The Teranga Lions have never won the tournament despite qualifying 13 times. They have reached the SF’s four times placing fourth three times and RU once. They qualified with ease and was the only team in qualifying to record a perfect record winning 6 from 6 in a group with Burundi, Namibia, Niger. Who were all a massive 12 points behind.

Senegal probably have their most talented squad. Led by captain Kouyate in midfield and Mane causing problems up front. The general consensus is this could be their best opportunity ever to win the tournament with their attacking flair type football and the likes of defenders Koulibaly & Mbodji. Midfielders Gueye, Diame also strikers Sow, Diouf, Konate & Kieta. Senegal are the highest ranked Fifa team in the tournament (33).

PREDICTION: WINNERS

TUNISIA

Best Finish: Champions 2004
Star Man: Wahbi Khazri
One to Watch: Aymen Mathlouthi

The Carthage Eagles qualified for this tournament topping their group by two points from Togo. Liberia and Djibouti. Their 8-1 win against Djibouti was the biggest in qualifying. They scored the joint second most in qualifying (16). Since winning the tournament as hosts, they have failed to get past the QF’s in losing at that stage four times and with two group stage finished in the last six.

Though Tunisia no longer have many players from Europe, they still have a distinctive European style with a solid defensive unit, precise, keep ball build up, looking for an opening. Khazri is key to that play using his creativity in midfield. Goalkeeper and captain Mathlouthi as well as Defenders Abdennour, Maaloul & Youssef are also key as well as Khalifa upfront. Tunisa are the fourth highest Fifa ranked team in the tournament (36)

PREDICTION: GROUP STAGES 

ZIMBABWE

Best Finish: Group Stages 2004/2006
Star Man: Willard Katsande
One to Watch: Khama Billet

The Warriors qualified two points ahead of Swaziland and Guinea, also Malawi. This is only the third time they have qualified for the tournament and did not get out of the group stages in 04 & 06. Both times they won just one game in the group stages but both times took big scalps in Algeria 04 and Ghana 06. They are the second lowest Fifa ranked team in the tournament (103). 

Zimbabwe are an athletic team full of runners but its a big ask for them to create history and make it out the group for the first time. To do this they will need to call on their captain Willard Katsande dictating play in midfield alongside flair player Khama Billet who has an eye for goal. It’s no doubt keeper Mkuruva, defenders Nhamoinesu, Muroiwa & Zvirekwi will have to be on top of their game and hope strikers Malajila & Musona could nick something.

PREDICTIONS: GROUP STAGES

GROUP C

DR CONGO

Best Finish: Champions 1968/1974
Star Man: Dieumerci Mbokani
One to Watch: Youssouf Mulubu

The Leopards qualified by five points from Central African Republic, Angola and Madagascar. Winning 5 and losing 1. Scoring the joint second most in qualifying (16). Since they last won the tournament they have only been past the QF’s twice in 12 tries. Both times they finished third in 1998 and the last tournament in 2015.

Congo like to play expansive, skillful attacking football but their game will be hugely depleted with the absence of Bolasie and Afobe. However, they will be led by Mulumbu in midfield and backed up by Kebano pulling the stings in midfield. At the back they have Mbemba and Mpeko with Botaki and Mbokani who is the go to guy upfront. I feel Congo will be hard pressed to emulate their third placed finish of 2015.

PREDICTION: GROUP STAGES

IVORY COAST

Best Finish: Champions 1992/2015
Star Man: Wlfried Bony
One to Watch: Wilfried Zaha

The Elephants finally fulfilled their golden era status by winning the tournament last time out after finishing RU, 4th, QF’s, RU, QF’s in the five previous agonising tournaments. They surprisingly stuttered to qualify in a three team group a point ahead of Sierra Leone and two ahead of Sudan. They were unbeaten but only won one game and drew three.

Although they are missing some of the older stars of 2015, they sill have the likes of Bony & Kalou up front. Gradel in midfield along with Captain Die. Also Bailly, Konan & Aurier at the back. In Zaha, they could just have a rare gem that could light up the tournament and win a few games for the strong-looking defending champions. who are the second highest ranked Fifa team in the tournament (34).

PREDICTIONS: QUARTER FINALS 

MOROCCO

Best Finish: Champions 1976
Star Man: Medhi Benatia
One to Watch: Sofiane Boufal

The Atlas Lions stormed their qualifying group by seven points ahead of Cape Verde in second, Libya and Sao Tome and Principe. They only conceded one goal in the qualifying. In their last seven appearances they have only made it out the group stages once when they were runners-up in 2004. They have failed to qualify from the group stages in their last four tournaments where they have only won 2 of their last 12 group games.

Morocco try to build on a very disciplined, organised defensive outfit. Where they try to find the odd opening to punish their opponents. Obviously the defense is key with captain and Juve defender Benatia leading the way alongside Da Costa and Munir in goal. In midfield Boussoufa & El Ahmadi will create some stability for El Arabi upfront who finished joint fourth with 4 goals in qualifying. This tournament could be the perfect time for Southampton midfielder Sofiane Boufal to really announced himself to the world.

PREDICTION: QUARTER FINALS

TOGO

Best Finish: QF’S 2013
Star Man: Emmanuel Adebayor
One to Watch: Floyd Ayite

The Sparrow Hawks were one of the two teams to qualify as the best second placed team, as they finished second, two points behind Tunisia. They qualified via goal difference ahead of Benin and Ethiopia. Their QF finish in 2013 was the only time they got out of the group stages in seven attempts.

Togo are the third lowest Fifa ranked team in the tournament (90). They will really be up against it to get out the group stages for only the second time in their history. Though he’s without a club Adebayor is still their main man and will hope for one last swansong. At the back they will need all the experience of captain Akakpo & Djene. Midfielders Romeo and Agbegniadan upfront. This tournament could well see the torch passed from Adebayor to Fulham midfielder Ayite.

PREDICTION: GROUP STAGES

GROUP D

EGYPT

Best Finish: Champions 57, 59, 86, 98, 06, 08, 10
Star Man: Mohamed Salah
One to Watch: Ahmed Hasan

The most successful nation in the tournament are back. After The Pharaohs won an unprecedented three tournaments in a row, they failed to qualify for the next three. They qualified in what was in the end a three team group when Chad withdrew on financial grounds. Egypt had beaten them 5-1 away. In the end they qualified in a straight forward group by five points, ahead of Nigeria and Tanzania. winning 3 and drawing 1. They are the third highest ranked Fifa team in the tournament (35).

Egypt are led by their goalkeeper El Hadary who has an amazing 147 caps. But they are not exactly defensive and like the play a fast paced brand of attacking football where Salah is the key. He finished joint fourth with 4 goals in the qualifying stages. Egypt’s been playing well lately and have a decent squad with the likes of Fathy & Gaber in defence. El Nenny, El Mohamady & Said in midfield. Also Hasan upfront, who might surprise everybody with all eyes concentrating on Salah, he could really take advantage.

PREDICTION: FOURTH

GHANA

Best Finish: Champions 63, 65, 78, 82
Star Man: Asamoah Gyan
One to Watch: Christian Atsu

The black stars are the joint second most successful nation in this tournament but have not won a tournament for over three decades. It’s not for the want of trying as their last five appearances read 3rd, 2nd, 4th, 4th, 2nd. The 2015 runners-up qualified by seven points ahead of Mozambique, Rwanda and Mauritius. They recorded the joint second highest victory in qualifying 7-1 against Mauritius and did not concede a goal away.

Ghana are a strong, physical outfit who play with pace and power. Led by Gyan who is currently playing in UAE. They have quality throughout the team with defenders Mensah, Rahman at the back. Acheampong, Tetteh & Badu in midfield and the Ayew brothers supporting upfront. Also in midfield is Christian Atsu who after showing plenty flashes of brilliance is now starting to put together performances his potential had promised.

PREDICTION: THIRD 

MALI

Best Finish: Runners Up 1972
Star Man: Yacouba Sylla
One to Watch: Bakery Sako

Since The eagles finished RU in 1972 they have appeared in 8 tournaments and have finished 4th three times. Group stages three times and third twice. They have now qualified for the last five tournaments in a row. They qualified five points ahead of Benin. in a group also with Equatorial Guinea and South Sudan. Winning 5 and drawing 1.

Due to their two third place finishes in 2012 & 2013 many are not completely writing off Mali in this group. Led by midfielder Sylla and supported in midfield by the very competent Yatabare, Sow & Traore. In defense Wague & Coulibaly and Marega upfront. In further support, Bakary Sako has fit into Mali’s attacking formation superbly and has emerged as their unexpected goal machine.

PREDICTION: GROUP STAGES

UGANDA

Best Finish: Runners Up 1978
Star Man: Geofrey Massa
One to Watch: Farouk Miya

The Cranes qualified as the best placed runners-up team in the qualifiers. They only lost out on top spot in the group due to a head to head record, after they drew at home and lost away with Burkina Faso. Their second place in 1978 was the last time they qualified for this tournament.

Uganda did not concede a goal at home in the tournament and that is an indication of their stalwart defensive unit. They do however try to play football and keep the ball on the deck. Led by striker Massa, he is the main man they look to for goals or a creative spark upfront. In conjunction they also have young midfielder who has a real eye for goal. However their success is built on defense where goalkeeper Onyango will be key along with defenders Wakusimbi, Isindi & Iguma who no doubt will have their work cut out for them.

PREDICTION: GROUP STAGES