2013 Africa Cup of Nations: Group D Preview
Group D, undoubtedly the “group of death” for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, includes the two highest ranked teams in Africa, tournament favourites Côte d’Ivoire (16th in the world) and Algeria (24th). Tunisia (45th) has also been in good form this year, but Togo’s challenge could be undone by football politics. Check out our quick team profiles.
2013 Africa Cup of Nations: Group D
- Côte d’Ivoire
If the outcome of the Africa Cup of Nations was decided on paper, based on star power, there is no question that Côte d’Ivoire would be the African champions of 2013. Games, however, have to be played, but there can be no question that the Elephants are the favourites to lift their first Afcon title in 20 years in South Africa.
In a recent interview with Fifa.com, coach Sabri Lamouchi said: “We accept our status as favourites. When I was appointed in May to coach the Elephants, I was perfectly aware of the level of this team. It has great strength, with players who have won a lot with their clubs.”
Two of those players, striker Didier Drogba and midfielder Yaya Toure, are among the list of five players nominated for the Best African Player Award.
At the age of 34, Drogba remains a handful for defenders. In May, he was man of the match in Chelsea’s victory over Bayern Munich in the 2012 Uefa Champions League final. He now plys his tarde with Chinese club Shanghai Shenhua.
Yaya, the 29-year-old younger brother of defender Kolo Toure, was, meanwhile, a key player for Manchester City as the club captured the English Premier League title in 2011/12, winning England’s leading league for the first time since 1967/68. Toure is a commanding presence in the midfield and is also a goal-scoring threat.
Arsenal’s Gervinho gives the Ivorians another striker who has experience of playing in the very tough English Premier League. He is not a prolific striker like Drogba, but is a fine player to play off of.
Salomon Kalou, who previously played with Drogba at Chelsea, now campaigns for Lille in France, and offers another excellent striking option. He is also a very effective performer on the flanks.
Other names familiar to football followers will be Emmanuel Eboué, Didier Zokora, and Siaka Tiéne – players who would be the biggest names in many other teams.
The only real question surrounding the Elephants is whether or not the team’s age – it is the oldest squad in the Afcon tournament – will catch up with it.
Coach Lamouchi told Fifa.com in December: “It’s true even though the team has everything it needs to do so (win Afcon 2013). Somehow, it has been a waste, and if this generation would never win anything, it would be a huge waste. So to win the Africa Cup of Nations is our ambition, and I know my players are capable of it. They must take ownership of this project. For some of them, this is probably their last chance to win this competition. I believe in this group.”
- Highest Fifa ranking in 2012: 15
- Previous Afcon appearances: 19
- Best Afcon results: champions in 1992, runners-up in 2006 and 2012, third in 1965, 1968, 1986 and 1994
- Players to watch: striker Didier Drogba, striker Gervinho, striker Salomon Kalou, midfielder Yaya Toure, defender Siaka Tiéné, midfielder Didier Zokora, striker Salomon Kalou, defender Emmanuel Eboué
Tunisia holds a record that will never be broken. It was the first African country to win a World Cup game, defeating Mexico 3-1 in Rosario, Argentina, in the 1978 World Cup.
If their recent Africa Cup of Nations record is anything to go by, they’re a team to be reckoned with. They won the title in 2004 on home soil and then reached the quarterfinals in three of the next four Afcon finals.
However, just making it out of Group D will be an achievement in South Africa, with Côte d’Ivoire ranked as Africa’s number one team and Algeria, in 19th place, only four places below them in the Fifa rankings and second in Africa.
The Eagles of Carthage proved themselves tough to beat in 2012. Apart from a 2-0 loss to Côte d’Ivoire early in January, they also lost 2-1 to Ghana in a contest that went to extra time and went down by a single goal to Gabon and Switzerland. On the plus side, they won six times and drew four matches.
Striker Issam Jemâa, an international player since 2005, is Tunisia’s all-time leading international goal scorer and will be playing in his fifth Afcon finals.
The 28-year-old former Espérance and Lens star now plays for Kuwait Sporting Club where has made a big impact since signing with the team earlier this year. A good showing from Jemâa is vital to Tunisia’s chances.
Another former Espérance star, Oussama Darragi, who now plys his trade for Switzerland’s Sion, is also a standout performer. An attacking midfielder, he was chosen as the best player in the Tunisian league in 2010 and was named the Confederation of African Football’s Best African player based in Africa in 2011.
- Highest Fifa ranking in 2012: 41
- Previous Afcon appearances: 15
- Best Afcon results: champions in 2004, runners-up in 1965 and 1996, third in 1962
- Players to watch: striker Issam Jemâa, midifelder Oussama Darragi
Algeria began 2012 in 32nd place in the Fifa world rankings. They dropped as low as 38th in April, but finished the year on an upward trend by rising from 34th in August to a high of 19th in November. It’s their highest ranking in at least 20 years.
During the course of the year, they won six matches and lost two. What was impressive was the Fennec Foxes’ ability to score goals. They netted 17 times in their eight games, including a 4-0 win over Rwanda, 4-1 over Gambia, and 3-0 over Niger. At the same time, they conceded only five goals.
Clearly, then, this seems to be a well balanced team, with scoring ability and a stingy defence. Despite the retirements in mid-year of some established stars, Algeria has continued to perform well, and they travel to South Africa with knowledge of the elements, having contested the 2010 Fifa World Cup in which they drew 0-0 with England and narrowly lost 0-1 to Slovenia and the United States.
Madjid Bougherra made his international debut way back in 2004 and lends the team considerable experience in defence. At 6 foot 3 inches, he’s a solid presence at centre back.
In the midfield, Karim Ziani, who first turned out for the Fennec Foxes in 2003, pulls the strings in midfield. A small man, he is a creative player and experienced, too, having played in the Afcon finals of 2004 and 2010, and the World Cup in South Africa.
Striker El Arbi Hillel Soudani, although only in the early stages of his international career, is a player to watch out for. He has made a strong start to his international career and is a proven goal scorer at club level. In 108 matches for Algerian club ASO Chlef, he scored 48 times before moving to Portugal’s Vitória Guimarães.
Soudani has formed an effective partnership with Islam Slimani, who is also inexperienced, but not short on goals, and good striking parternships, as opposed to single strikers are what make the biggest impact on the attacking end of the field.
- Highest Fifa ranking in 2012: 19
- Previous Afcon appearances: 14
- Best Afcon results: champions in 1990, runners-up in 1980, third in 1984 and 1988
- Players to watch: defender Madjid Bougherra, midfielder Karim Ziani, strikers El Arbi Hillel Soudani and Islam Slimani
Togo have never progressed beyond the group stage of the Africa Cup of Nations. Their chances of changing that in South Africa look slim. Not only are they in a very tough group, with tournament favourites Côte d’Ivoire, Africa’s second highest ranked team, Algeria, and Tunisia, they’re also without star striker Emmanuel Adebayor.
The Togolese captain and former African Footballer of the Year ruled himself out of Afcon 2013 early in November after a row with the national football federation over unpaid bonuses. It was a decision that pleased Tottenham Hotspur manager Andre Villas-Boas, but one that disheartened fans of the Sparrow Hawks.
Ominously, in a statement, Adebayor said: “The atmosphere currently prevailing within the Hawks will not help the team achieve its set out objectives.” The news of Adebayor’s decision not to play in the Afcon finals came along with reports that coach Didier Six said his position was untenable because of the row.
“I’m held hostage by the situation and I have no other solution but to think about my future,” the former French international told Radio France International. “This raises inevitable questions about a year spent putting a team together and then the entire edifice crumbling inside a very short time.”
Some believe if Six follows Adebayor and leaves the team there could an exodus of players from the line-up before South Africa 2013.
On a positive note, though, Togo rose 20 places in the Fifa World Rankings in November, climbing to 73rd place, the country’s best position since 2009.
After losing three and drawing one in their first four matches of 2012, Togo finished the year with three wins and a draw in their last four matches, but the quality of the opposition in South Africa will be the best of any of the four groups and they’ll be hard pressed to meet the challenge they face.
There is no proven goal scoring option besides Adebayor, so the Sparrow Hawks will need someone to raise their game and do a reasonable impression of Adebayor.
Midfielder Moustapha Salifou made his debut in 2000 and played in the 2006 World Cup, where he was praised for his performances. French-born Alaixys Romao played for the French national under-18 team, but twitched his allegiance to Togo in 2005 and turned out for the Hawks at the World Cup in Germany.
At the back, tall centre back Daré Nibombé and full back Abdoul-Gafar Mamah, who also made his national debut in 2000, provide the team with stability.
- Highest Fifa ranking in 2012: 88
- Previous Afcon appearances: 6
- Best Afcon results: group stages in 1972, 1984, 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2006
- Players to watch: midfielder Moustapha Salifou, midfielder Alaixys Ramao, defender Daré Nibombé and defender Abdoul-Gafar Mamah