Group A will see two of the most fancied teams in this year’s Africa Cup of Nations, square off against each other – Senegal and Zambia. Co-hosts Equatorial Guinea will look to maximize their home advantage while surprise entrants Libya will be looking to continue their odd-defying performances.
FIFA Ranking: 44
Best Performance: Runner-up (2002)
The football world still fondly remembers the performances dished out by Bruno Metsu’s team in 2002. However, the Lions of Taranga has not managed to reach the same dizzy heights since the Korea-Japan World Cup. Neither have they qualified for a World Cup nor have they reached the final of AFCON, failing to qualify last time. Senegal will be looking to remedy a decade long streak of under achieving, when they travel to Gabon as one of the dark horses of AFCON 2012.
The Lions possess one of the most in-form and exciting attacking line-ups in the continent. Dembe Ba has been unstoppable in EPL, having scored 14 times for Newcastle United this season. It was Ba who scored a 92nd minute goal to secure a 1-0 win over Cameroon in a crucial qualifier match. SC Freidburg’s Papiss Cisse became the club’s all-time top scorer for a single season, when he scored 22 goals in last season’s Bundesliga. Cisse and Ba will have the highly rated Moussa Sow for company. Sow played a huge part in Lille’s Ligue-1-Cup double last season – finishing the season as top scorer with 25 goals. Experienced Mamadou Niang is also a contender for a starting spot, giving coach Amara Traore a selection head-ache, which he is not likely to complain about.
Rémi Gomis and Guirane N’Daw will provide organization and creativity in midfield. Senegal’s defence was particularly impressive in qualifiers and conceded only two goals in six matches, despite having Cameroon and Congo in their group. Traore is likely to fall back on the experienced pair of Pape Diakhate and Souleymane Diawara to shore up the backline.
Senegal’s preparation almost got jolted, as the country’s football association and sports ministry came head to head regarding a new contract for coach Amara Traore. Traore got his extension but he has been given the task of reaching the last four of AFCON 2012, atleast.
TheHardTackle’s Players To Watch Out For: Dembe Ba, Moussa Sow, Souleymane Diawara
FIFA Ranking: 79
Best Performance: Runners-up (1974, 1994)
The name of the Zambian national team will always be connected to one of the most romantic events in the history of AFCON. In 1993, almost the entire squad of Zambia lost their lives in a horrific plane crash off the coast of Gabon. Despite losing most of the first team players, a hastily assembled Zambian team reached the 1994 AFCON final, only to lose 2-1 to Nigeria.
The Copper Bullets have made a lot of improvement recently and are one of the dark horses of AFCON 2012. They slumped to a 1-0 defeat against Libya in their second qualifier match but eventually topped their group with four wins out of six.
Kennedy Mweene is one of the best and most experienced ‘keepers in Africa right now, having been a regular for the national team since making his debut in 2004. Zambian defence will be marshalled by Nyambe Mulenga, Stopilla Sunzu, Kampamba Chintu and Joseph Musonda. The backline will however miss the services of Emmanuel Mbola due to a suspension. Clifford Mulenga and Felix Katongo are the two midfield lynchpins.
Young sensation Evans Kangwa was picked for the AFCON squad despite being just 17-year old. The youngster emerged as the top scorer in the recently concluded Cosafa Under-20 tournament and also notched up an impressive hattrick against India National Team some months back. 27-year old Collins Mbesuma has already registered 14 goals in 36 matches for Zambia and is likely to be a part of starting XI. One of the strongest points about Zambia during qualifiers was the number of different goal scorers, enabling the team, not to get over-dependent on one player.
Under Hervé Renard, Zambia topped a group comprising Cameroon and Tunisia in AFCON 2010. In the quarter-final, the Copper Bullets lost out to Nigeria after a tense penalty shootout. The Frenchman has mentioned that he targets a last four finish this time; he certainly has the team to do so.
TheHardTackle’s Players To Watch Out For: Collins Mbesuma, Kennedy Mweene
FIFA Ranking: 151
Best Performance: First Appearance
Equatorial Guinea has traditionally been one of weakest teams in Africa, having never qualified for the continental masterpiece in their history. However, Guinea’s performances in recent years have been better than their current ranking suggests. Owing to the fact that they didn’t participate in AFCON qualifiers, Nzalang Nacional dropped from their ranking of 68 in 2008 to their current dismal state. The co-hosts’ preparation for AFCON has hardly been ideal with experienced coach Henri Michel resigning few weeks back. Brazilian Gilson Paulo, who replaced Michel, has a huge task in his hands to steer the team to some degree of success.
A number of Spanish players of Equatoguinean heritage have joined the national team in recent times. Among them is captain and striker Rodolfo Bodipo, who plays for Deportivo La Coruna. Winger Javier Balboa is another Spanish origin player, who will be representing Nzalang Nacional in AFCON. Balboa joined the Real Madrid cantera, eventually playing for the first team after rising through B and C sides. He even scored a goal for Real in Champions League, against Olympiacos in 2007. Balboa’s career in Real Madrid took a nosedive, after he was involved in an altercation with Pepe during training. A failed move to Benfica didn’t do him any favour either, as his stock steadily plummeted. Much travelled goalkeeper Danilo Clementino is of Brazilian origin and adds more variety to an already cosmopolitan squad.
Despite being one of the host nations, it will be an extremely difficult task for Eq. Guinea to get anything out of a group which includes two highly fancied teams. Their squad has been assembled with comparative haste and a number of players have joined despite not representing the national team for most of their careers.
TheHardTackle’s Players To Watch Out For: Rodolfo Bodipo, Javier Balboa
FIFA Ranking: 63
Best Performance: Runner-up (1982)
When the Libyan National team began their AFCON 2012 campaign, they played under an all green flag, in an all green jersey, favourite colours of Muammar Gaddafi. By the time their qualification campaign ended, they played under a flag coloured red, green and white, a similar jersey, a different nickname and they sang a different national anthem. While regional powerhouse struggled to cope with troubles back home, Libyan players showcased the triumph of human spirit in adverse conditions. On 3rd September, 2011, Libya faced Mozambique in a “home” match in Cairo. This match against Mozambique was an all-important game but a number of Libyan first teamers were trapped inside the battle ground that was Tripoli. Libya won 1-0 with Rabee Allaffi becoming the first player to score a goal for “new” Libya. No one was there to celebrate this goal in a stadium kept empty on purpose.
After finishing second to Zambia in qualifiers, Libya qualified as one of the two best runner-up teams. Brazilian Marcos Paqueta continued to coach the team despite not getting paid for almost nine months, while his players often risked their lives by travelling to Tunisia via bus for training camps. Things have hardly eased up now but tensions still brewing amongst the football fraternity in Libya. Footballers, like ex-captain Tariq El Tayeb have been ostracized for his support of the Gaddafi regime.
With just six goals scored in qualifiers, Libya’s attacking line-up has often looked toothless. Ahmed Zuway has shown good form in domestic football, but the lanky striker is yet to replicate that form for Mediterranean Warriors. The core of Libya’s team will be made up of veterans who played in 2006 AFCON. Captain and 39-year old goalkeeper Samir Aboud, who made three crucial saves against Zambia during the final qualifying match, will be one of the driving forces behind the team. SC Braga’s holding midfielder Jamal Abdallah will be one of most important players in the defensive minded setup preferred by Paqueta.
The Libyans will be coming into AFCON 2012 as one of the sentimental favourites. It will be interesting to see if they can replicate what another sentimental favourite, Iraq did in AFC Cup 2007.
TheHardTackle’s Players To Watch Out For: Samir Aboud, Jamal Abdallah