18 January 2013

Africa Cup of Nations 2013 preview

It seemed like only last week that South Africa staged the FIFA World Cup.

Now, though, international football is back in the Rainbow Nation as 16 teams arrive for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations. With so much world-class talent on show, this is a tournament that grows in stature with every edition.

Which team will be lifting the trophy in Soccer City on 10 February? I've taken a look at all of the teams and given my predictions below:

South Africa's Siphiwe Tshabalala has good moves, and not just when he's playing.

GROUP A
SOUTH AFRICA
Gordon Igesund has declared this his 'dream team', but Bafana Bafana will have to up their game in a difficult group. Midfielder Siphiwe Tshabalala will be a key player for the hosts, and young striker Tokelo Rantie will be keen to make a name for himself. There is also a surprise call-up for Oldham Athletic's Dean Furman, who'll hope to take advantage of Steven Pienaar's retirement.
Prediction: Quarter Finals.
ANGOLA
Managed by Uruguayan Gustavo Ferrin, Angola will be looking to former Manchester United forward Manucho for goals. They'll also want left-winger Gilberto to be on firm if they're to do better than last season, when they got knocked out of the group on goal difference.
Prediction: Quarter Finals.
MOROCCO
There's no Adel Taarabt in the Moroccan squad, but Premier League newcomers Karim El Ahmadi and Oussama Assaidi are on board. Morocco have underperformed in recent years and could struggle again with a very inexperienced team.
Prediction: 3rd in Group.
CAPE VERDE
This a team that has both David Silva AND Platini - unfortunately, those midfielders are the ones that play for Olhanense and Santa Clara respectively. In all seriousness, though, Cape Verde will struggle to get out of the group as the Blue Sharks lack bite up front.
Prediction: 4th in Group.

Asamoah Gyan will be the key man for Ghana - just don't mention Luis Suarez.

GROUP B
GHANA
After 31 years of hurt, surely this is the year for James Kwesi Appiah's Black Stars! In the Marmite-esque goal machine Asamoah Gyan, they boast one of the continent's superstar strikers. Anthony Annan has been a Ghana mainstay for half a decade, and Kwadwo Asamoah has become an important part of Serie A leaders Juventus's side, so there's plenty of talent here.
Prediction: CHAMPIONS.
MALI
Mali's good form can only have been helped by Seydou Keita's decision to come out of retirement. Another familiar face in the Eagles side is defensive midfielder Mohamed Sissoko, who becomes even more important now that Mahamadou Diarra is out injured.
Prediction: 3rd in Group.
NIGER
Niger lost every game on their debut last year, and I'm afraid it's hard to see them picking up any points in 2013. Little is known about their side, in fairness, but the performances of captain Moussa Maazou and their other Europe-based player William N'Gounou will be key.
Prediction: 4th in Group.
DR CONGO
Claude Le Roy's Leopards will strongly fancy their chances of reaching the knockout stages. Anderlecht striker Dieumerci Mbokani has a fast-growing reputation, and West Bromwich Albion's Youssouf Mulumbu called off his very premature international retirement to be in South Africa.
Prediction: Semi Finals.

Will Zambia, spearheaded by Christopher Katongo, be African champions again?

GROUP C
ZAMBIA
Last year's shock winners Zambia, masterminded by Hervé Renard, have struggled for form lately. They will need star striker and captain Christopher Katongo to be at his deadly best if they're to retain the title. Southampton and Reading fans will be interested in seeing how Premier League rookies Emmanuel Mayuka and Stoppila Sunzu do respectively.
Prediction: Semi Finals.
NIGERIA
Failing to qualify last year hit Nigeria hard but Stephen Keshi will have high hopes of bringing home their first title since 1994. Among their most promising youngsters in this fairly young side are Chelsea winger Victor Moses and midfielder Reuben Gabriel.
Prediction: Quarter Finals.
ETHIOPIA
Among the tournament's co-founders from 1957, Ethiopia have finally qualified again after a 31-year absence. They look almost certain to go home pointless, but if forward Adane Girma and captain Degu Debebe can shine, you never know what'll happen.
Prediction: 4th in Group.
BURKINA FASO
Burkina Faso are slowly improving, and have made it to the finals of the last three ACNs. Alain Traore's goals to games ratio for the Stallions is near enough one in two, so if he and leading scorer Moumouni Dagano are in good form, getting out of the group won't be impossible.
Prediction: 3rd in Group.

Ivory Coast's Yaya Toure is one of most complete midfielders to come out of Africa.

GROUP D
IVORY COAST
The Elephants are consistently rated the best team in Africa but constantly fail to live up to expectations. Can ex-France midfielder Sabri Lamouchi lead them to glory this year? As always, they'll be expecting big performances from box-to-box midfielder Yaya Toure, his brother Kolo Toure, and a certain chap by the name of Didier Drogba.
Prediction: Runners-Up.
ALGERIA
Much-travelled coach Vahid Halihodzic is not short of talent - Valencia midfielder Sofiane Feghouli has been given the lofty tag of 'the next Zidane'. But what he really needs is plenty of goals, and young Islam Slimani could make the difference for them in that department.
Prediction: 3rd in Group.
TUNISIA
Winners as recently as 2004, Tunisia look solid enough, with the very dependable Aymen Mathlouthi keeping goal for them. Tricky winger Youssef Msakni was in last year's Team of the Tournament and if he impresses again, European clubs will start to show interest in him.
Prediction: Quarter Finals.
TOGO
Didier Six may be the manager, but in truth, this Togo side is all about one man - Emmanuel Adebayor. The Hawks are back for the first time since the 2010 tragedy of Cabinda, and if they're to do well, they'll need him or former Aston Villa flop Moustapha Salifou to perform.
Prediction: 4th in Group.

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