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AFCON 2015: A preview of tournament favourites

AFCON 2015: A preview of tournament favourites

Afcon-2015

The 30th edition of Africa Cup of Nations is finally here, the bi-annual tournaments kicks off tomorrow January 17 at Bata in Equatorial Guinea.

Equatorial Guinea co-hosted the finals with Gabon in 2012. Equatorial Guinea might have the advantage of home support but there is little else going for the host nation as they kick off the African Nations Cup against Congo in Bata on January 17.

Banned from the competition for fielding ineligible player, Equatorial Guinea have had to scramble to prepare for the tournament after stepping in as hosts after Morocco were stripped of the right in November.

As is tradition for the home team, the hosts are top seeds in Group A where they have drawn Burkina Faso, Congo and Gabon in a modest group that offers hope of emulating their achievement of three years ago when, as co-hosts of the 2012 finals, they reached the quarterfinals.

Several nations can also be considered among the favourites including top-ranked team Algeria to win the prestigious trophy.

Algeria

Brazil Soccer WCup Algeria Russia

Bookmakers are also tipping Algeria, Ivory Coast and Ghana as top favourites to win an unpredictable African Cup of Nations tournament, which begins on Saturday.

Algeria had a great show at the World Cup last year especially in a game against Germany where they almost upset Joaquim Low’s side.

A very sound, disciplined and tactically sound team; they are also very organised and structured. Most of their players play in the local league. Algeria is the team to beat at the Afcon tournament.

Under French coach Christian Gourcuff, Algeria steamed through the Afcon qualifiers with five wins in six games after an excellent World Cup in which they took champions Germany into extra time in the last 16.

One of the team’s stars, Porto winger Yacine Brahimi, was recently voted the BBC’s 2014 African Footballer of the Year.

Read also: Counting the cost of Nigeria’s absence at AFCON 2015

Brahimi scored his first international goal in the group stage against South Korea in the World Cup last year. He has scored six goals in 15 appearances for the Portuguese club.

Algeria, are part of the Group C “group of death” which includes: Senegal, Ghana and South Africa who is looking confident after not having lost in 11 games.

Ivory Coast

Ivory-Coast

The Elephants of Ivory Coast is another team to look out for. The Elephants parades a collection of excellent players, including the Yaya brothers, Cheick Tiote and new Manchester City striker, Wilfred Bony.

The team will do battle in group D with Guinea, Mali and Cameroon.

Man City midfielder Yaya Toure will lead the Elephants after the retirement of veteran striker Didier Drogba who retired from international football.

Although, Ivory Coast, have poor history at the Afcon tournaments, but soccer analysts are not ruling the coach Herve Renard side of lifting the cup.

The responsibility will be on Yaya Toure as fans expect him to play the way he does for Man City if the team is to reach the finals of the tournament.

Ghana

Ghana

The Black Stars of Ghana, who are also in Group C, are another team to watch but have a tough challenge against Algeria, Senegal and South Africa.

Coach Avram Grant has been forced to leave two of his stars, defender Jeffrey Schlupp and striker Majeed Waris, out of his final squad of 23, due to injury.

Two others top players, Sulley Muntari and Kevin-Prince Boateng, have been left out after being suspended indefinitely for gross misconduct during the World Cup in Brazil last year.

Kwesi Appiah who plays for Crystal Palace striker has been called to the team, after scoring for the Black Stars in a warm up game in Portugal last week.

Appiah will make his Afcon debut with Daniel Amartey, Baba Rahman, Frank Acheampong and David Accam. Striker Asamoah Gyan will captain the squad.

Burkina Faso

Burkina-Faso

A dark horse for the tournament seems to be Burkina Faso, in Group A with Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Congo.

Burkina Faso is also favourites to finish top after being surprise runners-up at the last edition held in South Africa in 2013.

Two years ago, Belgian tactician Paul Put led the  Burkinabe all the way to the final, where they lost 1-0 to Nigeria in Johannesburg, and then to within a post’s width of a place at the World Cup finals.

Burkina Faso reached the playoffs for the tournament in Brazil only to lose on the away goals rule to Algeria after hitting the woodwork in the final minute of the second leg.

South Africa

South-Africa

Bafana Bafana coach Shakes Mashaba has set his sights on upsetting high ranked teams on the continent, Algeria, in their opening clash of the tournament on January 19.

Mashaba is confident his team could claim the Africa Cup of Nations title in Equatorial Guinea.

“In 1996 we set the standard that we are championship material. With this team we are trying to revive that spirit and show that we are one of the best.

“All the teams are equal. When they say the group of death it gives us motivation. It will be good to beat the No 1 team on the continent.

“I have told the players not to fear anybody because we have no reason to feel inferior. The boys are ready. The players know why they are here and they know what it means to wear the Bafana jersey,” Mashaba said in Johannesburg.

Nigerian football legend Austin “Jay Jay” Okocha also picks Algeria, Ivory and Ghana as his favourites for the tournaments.

Nigeria won the 2013 edition of the tournament but did not qualify for Equatorial Guinea.

“For me, the favourites are Algeria, Ghana, Tunisia and Ivory Coast who for some time now have always been tipped to win the Afcon,” Okocha disclosed this in chart with French football website Le Buteur.

“Algeria is likely to advance to the quarterfinals. I would say the team has the chance to win the African Cup.

“We saw how well they performed at the last World Cup – advancing to the last 16 was a respectable achievement. Algeria also had a very good run in the Afcon qualifying which shows continuity.”

The tournament was initially scheduled to be hosted by Morocco, but the Moroccan government’s request for a postponement because of the Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa but was rejected by the African Football Confederation CAF.

Morocco were then excluded and Equatorial Guinea stepped in.

The tournament kicks off in Bata with Equatorial Guinea and Congo playing opening match. The final will be played in the same venue on February 8.