Boasting the likes of Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure and Gervinho, Ivory Coast is one of the favourites to lift AFCON 2012. While the Elephants look good enough to top Group B, Burkina Faso, Sudan and Angola are likely to fight for the second spot.
FIFA Ranking – 16
Best Performance – Champions (1992)
Despite taking star studded squads to AFCON in last three editions, the Elephants have not managed to win it even once. Currently the best ranked African team in the world, Ivory Coast is one of the favourites to lift AFCON 2012. The 1992 Champions possess a number of players in their rank plying their trade in the best leagues in Europe.
On paper, Ivory Coast has the best attacking line-up in the tournament. With 50 goals in 75 appearances for the national team, Didier Drogba has done justice to his position as one of the most feared strikers of last decade. Despite winning a number of titles with Chelsea, Drogba has never laid his hands on silverware for Ivory Coast. With the likes of Egypt and Cameroon out of the equation this could be his best chance to remedy that record. Drogba will be assisted by Arsenal’s Gervinho and fellow Chelsea striker Salomon Kalou upfront. The Elephants have another ace up their sleeve in the form of Seydou Doumbia. Doumbia, Russian player of the Year in 2011, has scored over 75 goals in European football over last three seasons.
Ivory Coast’s midfield can easily challenge their attacking line-up in terms of star power with Yaya Toure being a central figure. The younger Toure brother has turned into one of the best midfielders in the world during his time in Barcelona and Manchester City. Since joining Newcastle United in 2010, Cheick Tiote has been one of the most consistent defensive midfielders in English football. His combination with Toure is certain to cause nightmares to opposing midfields.
The Elephants will be taking some of the most experienced defenders to AFCON with Kolo Touré, Siaka Tiéné and Emmanuel Eboué having played over 200 international matches amongst themselves.
Ivory Coast swept aside everything in their qualifier group. They finished the qualifiers with a 100% record, the only team to do so and also scored a whopping 19 goals in 6 matches. François Zahoui, who took over from Sven Goran Ericsson has one of the best teams in AFCON at his disposal but he also knows that anything less than a title will be considered a failure.
TheHardTackle’s Players to Watch Out for: Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure, Cheik Tiote
FIFA Ranking – 83
Best Performance – Quarter Final (2008, 2010)
For a country which had not qualified to knock out stages of AFCON till that time, Angola’s journey to play the 2006 FIFA World Cup came as a shock to many. The Palancas Negrashave performed consistently in AFCON since their world cup qualification, reaching the quarter-finals in 2008 and 2010 editions. Angola’s AFCON 2012 began on a sour note as they lost two of their first three qualifying matches to Uganda and Kenya. Three consecutive victories in next three matches ensured that they qualified to the main tournament without any hassles.
One of the most interesting selections in Angola’s AFCON squad is 27 year old striker Nando Rafael. The ex-German U21 striker left Angola as a child during the civil war and Angola still doesn’t have FIFA’s permission to use his services during AFCON. Real Valladolid striker Manucho averages a goal every two games for the national team and he will be one of their main sources for goals. Manucho stayed true to his reputation during qualifiers – scoring 4 times in 6 matches. Two time top scorer in Egyptian Premier League, veteran striker Flávio Amado has already scored seven goals in his three previous AFCON appearances and will be looking to add to the tally.
Defensive midfield André Macanga and winger Sebastião Gilberto are two of the most experienced players in the squad with over 100 international matches between themselves. They are likely to form the crux of Antelope’s midfield.
Angola will be travelling to AFCON in an upbeat mood, having beaten Sierra Leone 3-1 in their final friendly match before the tournament. Manucho, Mateus Galiano and Flavio Amado found the back of the net for the Palancas Negrashave. Like some of the other teams there have been angry murmurs regarding payment problems but the Angolan Federation has pledged that all financial problems will be solved before AFCON begins.
In 2008, while hosting the tournament, Angola made headlines around the world when they let slip a 4-0 lead in 11 minutes against Mali to draw 4-4. With Ivory Coast as overwhelming favourites in Group B they can ill afford a similar start this time. The Black Antelopes haven’t won an opening AFCON match in their last three appearances and will be looking to buckle the trend when they face Burkina Faso on 22nd January.
Players to Watch Out for: Sebastião Gilberto, Manucho
FIFA Ranking – 113
Best Performance – Champions (1970)
Since gaining independence from British rule, Sudan has been one of the most turbulent countries in Africa. People of Sudan have seen two Civil Wars and one of the worst humanitarian crisis in recent times in the form of Darfur Crisis. Despite a large number of International Sanctions placed on them Sudan continues to be one of the fastest growing economies in the world. The inflow of cash has seeped down to domestic football, as a result of which Sudanese players have preferred to stay in their own country in recent times. This move has been pointed out by some as main reason behind the underachievement of the national team in last few decades.
The Falcons of Jediane were one of the earliest superpowers of African football, having finished in top-3 of AFCON in three of the first six editions. The pinnacle came in 1970 when Sudan defeated Ghana, Egypt and Cameroon to lift their first and only title. Sudan’s fortunes fell after 1976 and the team had to wait for 32 years to play in AFCON again. Their performance in 2008 was appalling as the Falcons made a meek exit after losing all three games and failing to score a single goal. Sudan became the only team from Eastern Africa to qualify for AFCON 2012 when they finished runners-up behind Ghana and qualified as one of the best placed runner-up teams. The qualification campaign included a creditable away draw against the Black Stars..
As expected the two giants of Sudanese football have contributed handsomely to the national team with Al Merreikh having ten players and Al Hilal with nine. Al-Hilal and Sudanese legend Haitham Mustafa will be one of their mainstays. One of the best playmakers in Africa during his peak, Mustafa has played over 100 matches for Sudan. The Falcons will be looking towards highly rated striker Mudather El Tahir. The 23 year old has notched up 47 goals in 62 matches for Al Hilal. Opponent teams will be weary of full-back Ahmed Al-Basha who has the nickname of “Sudanese Sergio Ramos” for his crossing ability. Striker Muhannad Tahir, known as the “deer” for his gazelle like speed will be one of the main attacking threats with El Tahir.
Players to Watch Out for: Haitham Mustafa, Mudather El Tahir
FIFA Ranking – 62
Best Performance – Semi Final (1998)
The Stallions have been one of the most improved teams in Africa in recent times. Since 1996, they have qualified for every edition of AFCON save two. Their best performance came in 1998 when they reached last four as host nation. Their qualification for this year’s edition was met with a lot of controversy. Burkina Faso qualified straight forward from Group F after winning three out of four matches. However, the Burkinabe fielded Cameroon born left-back Herve Zengue during qualification matches. Namibia, another team in Group F lodged a complaint with Court of Arbitration for Sports to disqualify Burkina Faso on grounds of fielding an ineligible player. Burkina Faso eventually won the case a week back and was cleared to participate in the continental showpiece. The Stallions have dropped Zengue as well as Ivory Coast born defender Stephane Agbre over eligibility problems.
Portuguese coach Paulo Duarte steered Burkina Faso to AFCON 2010 and will be back in charge of the team in 2012. One of the mainstays of their team will be 23 year old Abdou Traore, a striker cum midfielder who was given nationality just before the AFCON qualifiers began. Ligue-1 hitman Alain Traore will be a major goal threat for Stallions in AFCON. Traore has notched up eight goals for the national team in 18 appearances and also scored a stunning hattrick in a 4-0 victory over Namibia in qualifiers.
Bakary Kone is one of the star names in defence. The 23 year old defender has been a regular starter for FC Lyon this season. Jonathan Pitroipa, who enjoyed a successful spell with German powerhouse Hamburg SV is likely to be the cornerstone of Burkinabe midfield.
While Burkina Faso have not managed to cross the first hurdle in last few AFCON edition, they have certainly caused problems to bigger teams. In 2010, they held Ivory Coast to a goal less draw in the opening game and eked out a similar result against Senegal in 2004. Other teams in Group B need to weary about the Stallions.
Players to Watch Out for: Alain Traore, Bakary Kone