Of Afcon Twists, Turns

| January 27, 2015

Africa’s biggest football competition, has already kick-started in Equatorial Guinea and just like any other tournament, there has been a lot of surprises.

Before the tournament began, a lot was expected from Africa’s powerhouses of football such as Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Ghana and Mali but so far they have performed below par in their opening games.

With the absence of other big teams such as the last edition’s winners Nigeria and seven times AFCON winners Egypt, big teams were expected to easily sail through in the group stages matches but the underdogs have proven them wrong.

Southern African teams on the other side have hugely disappointed their fans and they can only hope for a better outcome in the remaining group stage matches.

Neighbours South Africa lost 1-3 to Algeria in their opening match after taking a lead but the 2014 African national team of the year made an amazing comeback after a sloppy defending on their opponents’ side.

Shakes Mashaba’s men who are tied up in difficult group against Ghana and Senegal have already stumbled for a draw against Senegal and at best their chances are only mathematical.

Having passed the group stage when they hosted the tournament in 2013, the current Bafana Bafana crop is yet to match the class of 1996. Ghana on the other side has been a let-down in their opening match when they lost 1-2 against the Senegalese side.

A lot was expected from Ghana who are an all-time favourite in the competition but losing their opening match proves that the competition is even tougher than it was anticipated.

Perhaps Algeria and Senegal are the only teams who have so far managed to live up to their expectations in the tournament.

The Algerian team who are among the favourites to win the tournament pulled up a good show in last year FIFA World cup, and the same team is capable of repeating the same heroics displayed during the world biggest competition.

Even though the South Africans stepped them on the toes during most of the match but the Desert Warriors managed to use their mental strength and force a comeback.

Their ability to keep pushing forward even when the team is down is their biggest weapon.

They emphasized that last year when they pushed the World champions Germany to extra-time and that is one of the qualities teams should be weary of.

Senegal’s performance against Ghana is not surprising considering their recent form and they also boast of players in form like Mama Bigram Diouf who possess the ability to turn things around in crucial times.

The lions of Teranga have been absent in the football arena for years now, and in this form, perhaps they can reach their 2002 peak.

They crashed out early in the group stage in 2012 and failed to qualify in 2013 and this tournament can be their rebirth.

In Group A, nothing has been the same for last edition’s finalist Burkina Faso who have lost their opening match and drawn the second one.

Even with the presence of last edition’s marksmen Aristide Bance, the Stallions have failed to register a goal thus far.

Another top team in Group A, Gabon have blown hot and cold with a convincing first win only to be downed by Congo in their second game.

Inspired and lead by the talented Pierre Aubameyang, Gabon have a very crucial last group stage match ahead of them and if the 24 year old Borussia Dortmund forward cannot save them, no one will.

However for the hosts, Equatorial Guinea the ball is in their court and it will be embarrassing to lose out in their early stages therefore the last game it is a must win for them.

In group B, 2004 AFCON champions Tunisia is the favourite to top the group having won 1 game and drawn the other so far. Having qualified as group winners in their qualifiers, Tunisia have proven that they are among the contenders though it is still too soon.

Having crashed out in the group stage two years ago in South Africa, the Carthage Eagles’ time is now.

2012 winners, Zambia has failed miserably thus far and they are so close to packing if they don’t inspire a comeback in their last match.

So much was expected from the southern African giants who did the impossible by beating Ivory Coast in the final three years ago but now they lack the same leadership possessed by then winning Captain Chris Katongo.

It is still very unconvincing for Cape Verde Islands and Congo DR who have not won nor lost a single game so far. Congo DR crashed out in the group stages in the last edition after drawing all the games and it looks like they are on a trend of draws in this tournament again.

Same thing goes for Cape Verde Islands if they do not win their last game. They reached as far as the quarter finals in South Africa.

In group D, another tough group, no sparks have been fired so far with the tournament favourite Ivory Coast almost losing to Guinea in the first game. Gervihno’s red card is also a setback for the Ivorians who boast of a talented crop of players including the best player in Africa, Yaya Toure.

Though they can still survive without Gervihno, Ivory Coast does not only have to qualify to the next round but they are also expected to come out as group winners. With the absence of their legend Didier Drogba, the Ivoirians can possibly win the cup which has evaded them on the brink of touch.

The other big giant in the group Cameroon has been sleeping for a while now and they lack the same momentum they had during the times of Samuel Etoo’s peak. They drew against Mali in the first game and the job is getting tougher as they go on.

For the Mali side which can be remembered very well for their miraculous comeback against Angola in 2010, nothing is impossible for Seydou Keita’s side. They finished third in the last two competitions and they are one of the most consistent team in the tournament and this time they should aim for the final.

As the tournament is on a brink of the quarterfinals, the competition is getting even fiercer and perchance they can ignite the spark and bring the vibe that is known and associated with Africa’s biggest football competition.

Source : BOPA

Source : Botswana Daily News

Category: General

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