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2012 Africa Cup of Nations Preview

Saturday 14th January 2012

The Africa Cup of Nations is one of my favourite international tournaments, and I'm delighted that the 2012 edition kicks off in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea on the 21st January. I watched the last two tournaments, in Angola and Ghana with interest, and I aim to do the same this time round too.

2010's tournament was full of drama, before it had even started after the terrible shooting on Togo's team bus, and although nowhere near as shocking or fatal, this year's tournament has already sparked interest, with me anyway, as a number of the continent's top sides have failed to even qualify!
Firstly, Egypt, the current holders having won the last three Africa Cup of Nations on the bounce; as well as record holders for most titles won (7), somehow managed an abysmal qualifying campaign, the Pharaohs finishing bottom of their group with a measly five points from six games. Minnows Niger qualified from the group due to a better head-to-head record than Sierra Leone and South Africa – hosts of this tournament in a year's time.

Then there's the likes of Cameroon and Nigeria who also failed to make the cut, the former missing out to Senegal, the latter to Guinea. In fact, only two of Africa's six representatives in the 2010 FIFA World Cup (Ivory Coast and Ghana) managed to qualify for the tournament.

While it's disappointing that we won't see the likes of Samuel Eto'o, and Obafemi Martins (who as a Birmingham City fan I've got a lot of love for) it'll give us an opportunity to see a number of players, maybe some hidden talents for the more unknown teams.

Group A  - Teams to Progress: Senegal & Zambia

The first group includes co-hosts Equatorial Guinea, Libya, Zambia and Senegal. I'm no expert but I think this group should be an easy one for Senegal, especially if Demba Ba continues his club form of 15 goals in 21 games this season. I'd tip Zambia to qualify out of it alongside them, on the basis of their quarter final appearance two years ago. I admit I know little about the other teams to make a decent judgement.

Group B – Teams to Progress: Ivory Coast & Angola

Ivory Coast are favourites for this tournament, as expected. They've called up a very strong squad too. I've no doubt Les Éléphants will win the group. Angola have done reasonably well the last couple of tournaments too, reaching the quarter finals in their home country last time out and two years previous. Burkina Faso and Sudan join them in the group. I'm interested to see if Chelsea midfielder Bertrand Traore makes an appearance in the tournament. He's in Burkina Faso's 23-man squad at just sixteen years of age!

Group C – Teams to Progress: Morocco & Gabon

Group C's a funny group. I reckon it's the most open of the lot. Morocco have quality in their side. Those of us who follow the English Premier League would know all about Marouane Chamakh and Adel Taraabt among many players in their squad based at big-ish clubs around Europe. They'll qualify for sure, I feel, but the other place may go down to the wire. Tunisia are a team who are regulars to this competition, they won it in 2004, but last time out they failed to make it past the group stages. Co-hosts Gabon, the third team in the group finished above them in that group two years ago too. I expect them to do so again and qualify, what with the added incentive of tournament being on home soil. Niger are the outsiders of the group.

Group D – Teams to Progress: Ghana and Guinea
Take that back, this is the most open group of the lot. Again we have the outsider team in Botswana, who are making their debut appearance in the competition. They'll more than likely finish bottom of Group D. The two quarter-final places could go to any of the three other teams though. Ghana finished 3rd in 2008, runner up last time out, and after such a great World Cup campaign the Black Stars are up there with Ivory Coast as favourites to go one better and win the tournament. They should qualify, meaning Mali and Guinea will battle for the final quarter-final berth. My gut feeling tells me the latter team will sneak it. Looking at both squads Mali's just looks that little bit weaker, massively due to the lack of Frédéric Kanouté this time out, having retired from international duty after the last Africa Cup of Nations in two years ago.

Tournament Winners – Senegal

I've gone for Senegal to win this year. Put a fiver on them in fact. They're third favourites at 13/2, and I feel it might just be their time. On paper there are only two teams better than them, and in knockout competition one bad game and you're out. It's very likely that Senegal would have to defeat both Ghana and Ivory Coast en route to winning the trophy, but with Ba up front, they've got more than a good chance.
Top Goalscorer – Gervinho (Ivory Coast)

I've seen Gervinho play a few times for Arsenal this season, and he's been absolutely rubbish. That's exactly why I reckon he'll be the tournament's leading scorer. Call me bonkers by using that logic but it wouldn't surprise me at all. He has appeared to lack the composure in scoring positions when playing for his club so far this season, but I feel he'll gain much more confidence playing with his national side. He's more than capable. I'm sure the likes of Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast), Ba (Senegal) and Asamoah Gyan (Ghana) will be up there amongst the goals too.

Surprise Package – Zambia

I like Zambia. They're a team that tend to do okay in the Africa Cup of Nations. The way the groups have been drawn I can't see them getting past the quarter-finals, but they're a very young side and have looked promising in the last couple of tournaments. I hope they do well. I think Guinea could surprise a few people too.

There will be immense pressure on the likes of Ivory Coast and Ghana to be victorious in the final in Libreville on February 12th, the former especially after a poor showing in 2010. These teams won't get a much better opportunity to win this tournament with many of the big teams missing this year. Nations such as Senegal and Morocco will be looking to take advantage too. With the competition's curtain raiser just a week away there's not long for us fans to wait for what's likely to be a great event!

(And if it's not a great tournament, at least we only have to wait 12 months for the next one!)
Blake Peterson

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