African Cup of Nations 2012: Group B Preview
Angola – Burkina Faso – Côte d’Ivoire – Sudan
Angola scraped their way through to AfCoN 2012 by the skin of their teeth in qualifying. A 2-0 win away to Guinea-Bissau on the final day meant the Palancas Negras narrowly edged out Uganda, who would have taken their place had the East Africans managed any sort of goal in a 0-0 draw against Kenya.
The Lusophone nation has become something of a mainstay at recent tournaments. Before 1996 Angola had never previously qualified – independence from Portugal came later than the standard in Africa and was promptly followed by a 27-year civil war. But this will be Angola’s 4th finals in a row. In previous years reaching the quarter finals would be considered a huge success. After reaching the final of the 2011 African Nations Championship in Sudan, it is all but expected.
To do so however Angola will have to overcome deceptively difficult opponents. They meet Burkina Faso and Sudan in their first two games and will need to find answers to an increasingly worrying goalscoring problem before a potentially decisive game against Ivory Coast. Manucho (Real Valladolid) hit four of Angola’s seven goals in qualifying but as Manchester United, Hull City and now Valladolid fans might attest, his explosion onto the scene in Ghana four years ago looks like a career zenith. Djalma (Porto), Mateus (Nacional) and veteran Flavio (Lierse) will need to help out too but creativity in midfield is an issue. Captain Andre Makanga is the defensive midfield sentinel who will look to dominate and supply Gilberto (Lierse) down the left.
At least 500 supporters are flying out to Malabo to cheer the Black Antelopes thanks to the “Movimento Nacional Espontâneo” fans group but it will be nothing like the fervent home support that carried them to the quarters on a crest of a wave in 2010.
Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire go together like beans and rice when it comes to recent African tournaments, so it was not surprise to see Les Etalons – The Stallions – drawn in Group B alongside the tournament favourites, having also met in 2010 World Cup qualifying and Cup of Nations finals groups.
Here they meet again at Burkina Faso’s 8th African Cup of Nations. Some might argue they are lucky to be participating at all. Days before the tournament the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in their favour after Namibia’s complaints that they fielded an ineligible player in qualifying were thrown out.
Burkina Faso played in a 3-team group in qualifying, following Mauritania’s withdrawal, and dominated it quite straightforwardly. Alain Traore (Auxerre) and Jonathan Pitroipa (Stade Rennes) are the key men, pacy, penetrative attacking players who will look to dominate central and wide areas to provide for Moumoni Dagano (Al-Khor) and Aristide Bance (Samsunspor). Pitroipa has been superb at Rennes; equally comfortable down either flank and a dangerous, skilful dribbler while Traore , who once had a trial at Manchester United, has delighted Auxerre fans with 7 goals and 2 assists in 17 games. Teenage prodigy Bertrand Traore, Alain’s brother, is another to look out for although not guaranteed playing time.
As Pitroipa told Just Football in a recent interview, the main objective is to qualify here, with anything else a welcome bonus.
“When elephants fight the grass gets hurt” is an old African proverb, often used to portray the feeling of powerlessness in the face of larger forces. As far as The Elephants of Côte d’Ivoire go the proverb not only retains its original meaning but gains added context. For if these Elephants had only shown more fight in the last two African Cup of Nations, we would surely not be talking about the ‘last chance’ for a golden generation spearheaded by the extensive talents of Didier Drogba and co.
Lack of fight cost them in 2008 when the team bought its own hype and became complacent only to be humiliated 4-1 by Egypt in a stunning semi-final. The psychological scars of that defeat took time to heal, but lessons were evidently not learned when, two years later, Côte d’Ivoire again lost their nerve, going 2-1 up in the last minute of their quarter final with Algeria only to immediately concede in stoppage time before losing in extra time. It was a catastrophe.
The Elephants would do well not to forget all that here. Fortunately star player and 2011 African Footballer of the Year Yaya Toure (Manchester City) is clear about the importance of fight:
“I have thought about this a lot of times, long and hard. I’ve come to the conclusion that we have not won anything because we have not got the right balance in the side yet.
“One thing that we are is very strong. In this tournament we are like a strong man who is going to fight another strong man. The one who triumphs is the one who knows how to control and use his strengths best.”
The ability is there for all to see. Drogba, the Toure brothers, Didier Ya Konan, Seydou Doumbia, Gervinho, Cheick Tiote – the list goes on. This is, by and large, the most naturally gifted and complete squad in Africa. But skills don’t always pay the bills. Hard work, concentration and unity are equally important virtues not always evident with this group.
“If my country does not achieve an African Cup of Nations success before I retire it will be my biggest failing as a player,” Toure junior has stated. Having cruised through qualifying, the time is now.
Sudan return to Africa’s continental showpiece after a four-year absence and will be looking to give a better account of themselves than in Ghana 2008, where they departed the scene with barely a whimper, losing all three group games 3-0.
1970 feels like a long time ago now, when, as hosts Sudan saw off all the competition to win their first and only title at this level. In the 42 years since this is the fourth time they have qualified. Mohamed Abdallah coached the Nile Crocodiles at the 2008 edition and does so again here, with Sudan the only team present to name squad entirely comprised of players from their domestic leagues.
Predominantly drawn from the big two – Al Hilal and Al Merreikh – Abdallah has chosen a large chunk of the squad that reached the semi-finals of the 2011 African Nations Championship in Khartoum last February. Captain Haitham Mustafa (Al Hilal) is in despite a recent fallout with the coach while upfront Mudathir El Tahir (Al Hilal), joint top scorer at the Nations Championship, will be looked to for goals.
It is a testament to the strength of Sudan’s domestic football that Abdallah can name a squad drawn entirely from its own league. Al Hilal and Al Merreikh are often steady performers in the CAF Champions League, but Sudan’s performance in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea will go far in determining just what sort of level the Nile Crocodiles are really at. Abdallah believes merely being here is enough; the aim for him is to “keep this growth up [so] we can qualify for the Nations Cup on a regular basis in future years.”
Prediction: Côte d’Ivoire progress along with Burkina Faso, who just have that little bit of extra craft needed to see off Angola.
- Namibia’s Nations Cup protest is rejected (indepthafrica.com)
- Yaya begs to stay in England for an extra week ahead of African Cup of Nations (indepthafrica.com)