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African Cup of Nations: Group D Preview

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Sat, 21 Jan 2012 Source: just-football

GROUP D

Botswana – Ghana – Guinea – Mali

BOTSWANA

Before you read the rest of this preview, listen to this. That is what it means to the people of Botswana to be at an African Cup of Nations for the first time. Botswana stomped their way to their maiden AFCON in qualifying, finishing top of a group that included Tunisia, Togo and Malawi with consummate ease. The Zebras have tip-toed around Africa’s international wilderness aimlessly for decades but suddenly burst into life in 2010/11 and were the first team in Africa to qualify for the finals.

Botswana’s triumph has sent the nation football crazy. Inspired by neighbours South Africa at the World Cup, Friday in Botswana is ‘Football Friday’ in the build-up to the competition, a colourful, visual celebration of an historic achievement. The team’s kit supplier, All-Kasi, has struggled to cope with demand for replica shirts and football at all levels has seen a huge boost in popularity, with youth and womens football matches also receiving much larger support.

Botswana’s rise from obscurity to a place in the spotlight and an opening day game against continental giants Ghana is the stuff of fairytale. One of seventeen emerging nations leading the way in a renaissance of African economic development, the nation’s fortunes off the pitch echo the good things happening off it. This is the reward for a disciplined group of players and a charismatic coach.

Stanley Tshosane has overseen Botswana’s transformation and will aim to go even further at AFCON2012. A former army officer and strict disciplinarian, one of his key pieces of pre-tournament advice to the players was simple: no sex please, we’re Batswana. “I don’t expect any of my players to engage in sex during the tournament,” Tshosane has ordered and he is not one to be ignored. On the field he has moulded a group of players who all play either in their domestic league or in South Africa, and turned them into an impressive unit.

Worryingly, pre-tournament plans were disrupted by a player strike over money and injury to important players. Joel Mogorosi (Township Rollers) will miss the tournament and defender Mompathi Thuma (Botswana Defence Force XI) also has injury worries while star man and national hero Dipsy Selolwane (SuperSport United) is suspended for the opening game. The omission of pacy winger Sekhana Koko also caused controversy. In attack Jerome Ramatlhwane is key – he hit 5 of Botswana’s 7 goals in qualifying.

GHANA

In the absence of their conquerors (Egypt) and enemies (Nigeria), Ghana are the glamour team of this 2012 African Cup of Nations in the eyes of Europe and the Western media in general (alongside Ivory Coast). The Black Stars’ journey at World Cup 2010 won the hearts and minds of a sympathetic public, while on the pitch Ghana’s swagger, confidence and youthful exuberance made them a team to remember. The dark moments of a now infamous defeat to Uruguay were softened by an overriding feeling: they’ll be okay. They’ll be back.

AFCON2012 represents Ghana’s chance to show they do possess the resilience and style to bounce back in emphatic fashion. Overwhelming favourites along with Côte d’Ivoire, the two narratives are nevertheless completely different. Côte d’Ivoire’s story is all about the last chance, rescuing the dying embers of a golden era never realised. Right now Ghana don’t care much about the past. They’ve got the future.

It will be fascinating to see how the Black Stars cope with the added pressure of being favourites. They’ve dealt with it before of course, but this is a new generation. The baton has passed to the youngsters of 2010; the fresh-faced Under-20 World Cup winning kids who brought energy and fresh impetus to the senior team in 2010 are now beginning to form their own nucleus. The Black Satellites are becoming the Black Stars.

Given the talents at Goran Stevanovic’s disposal, we can expect a lot from Ghana. The influence of Andre Ayew (Olympique Marseille), Samuel Inkoom (Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk), Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu (Udinese) and co is growing, while the talents of Sulley Muntari (Internazionale), Asamoah Gyan (Al-Ain) and John Mensah (Lyon) remain. Meanwhile Kwadwo Asamoah develops into an excellent player at Udinese and should be one of the most exciting players to watch here.

Ghana’s mission statement here is simple: win the tournament. This team is a far more cohesive and confident unit than the one that reached the 2010 final, and with Egypt not around this time the Black Stars could well make it five stars on the shirt.

(Follow the links for Group A, Group B and Group C and full AFCON2012 squads)

GUINEA

Guinea proved themselves a team of real character and resolve when, last October, they turned a desperate situation against Nigeria in Abuja into a ticket to this their 10th African Cup of Nations. 2-1 down with minutes remaining and their opponents set to advance, Ibrahima Traore pulled a rabbit out of a hat to stun the hosts and send the Syli National through.

Guinea’s last appearance at an AFCON finals ended when they were battered 5-0 by Côte d’Ivoire in Ghana 2008 but they return here with another intriguing squad that could surprise. There are goals in the team – 4-1 thrashings of Ethiopia and Madagascar proved that – and coach Michel Dussuyer does have options going forward. The ever-enigmatic Pascal Feindouno has 8 tournament goals, the most of any player at these finals (10 behind all-time top scorer Samuel Eto’o; perhaps unrealistic but you never know with Pascal…) while Bastia’s Sadio Diallo courted the attention of several French clubs recently before agreeing to join Rennes. Goalkeeper Naby Yattara (Arles-Avignon) also impressed in qualifying.

Guinea have a hint of unpredictability about them as well as an attack-minded, cavalier spirit, a combination that makes for a fun team to watch. I don’t expect them to go as far as some have predicted but their opening game in Franceville against Mali could be key in deciding this group.

MALI

Two years ago Mali sent a team to Angola with genuine ambitions of going all the way. The squad was a promising mix of strength in depth alongside world stars like Mahamadou Diarra, Seydou Keita and Fredi Kanoute, players with the technical ability and skill to impose themselves at the vital moment and win games. Despite the big build-up however it all went wrong for Les Aigles - an incredible 4-4 comeback from 4-0 down against Angola aside their impact on the tournament was negligible and the Eagles went home with wings clipped.

The challenge for Mali now is to erase that painful memory with a better showing at this their 7th Cup of Nations appearance. “2010 will forever be a failure,” Mahamane Traore (Metz), one of the younger members of Mali’s 2010 squad has said. “This time we must go as far as possible.”

Despite the nation’s expectations though Mali can feel lucky to be here at all. They made a mess of what looked a straightforward qualification group, losing to Cape Verde and Zimbabwe, and only advanced to the finals by way of a marginally better head-to-head record than lowly Cape Verde (goal difference).

With several high profile players no longer available to French coach Alain Giresse (Momo Sissoko, Diarra, Kanoute) for various reasons, this is a new Mali team. Barcelona’s Seydou Keita is back after returning from international wilderness for a final hurrah, but otherwise this is a younger team that could struggle to make the impact desired by a passionate public. In attack Modibo Maiga (Sochaux) will be looking to impress scouts. He’s had a difficult time in France this season off the pitch and is desperate to leave, but remains a powerful, bustling striker good in the air and on the ground, and could make a difference. Cheikh Diabate (Bordeaux) has proved reasonably prolific at international level and is another aerial threat for Giresse to consider.

In terms of key players, Giresse considers Keita and Cedric Kante (Panathinaikos) the main men. “Seydou is the technical leader, Cedric our moral leader” he has said and both will need to use all their experience to guide a team some (but not myself) see as dark horses.

Just Football Prediction: I’m backing an upset in this group. Ghana to progress along with the team ranked 94 in the world – Botswana, whose unity and wide-eyed enthusiasm see them spring a surprise.

GROUP D

Botswana – Ghana – Guinea – Mali

BOTSWANA

Before you read the rest of this preview, listen to this. That is what it means to the people of Botswana to be at an African Cup of Nations for the first time. Botswana stomped their way to their maiden AFCON in qualifying, finishing top of a group that included Tunisia, Togo and Malawi with consummate ease. The Zebras have tip-toed around Africa’s international wilderness aimlessly for decades but suddenly burst into life in 2010/11 and were the first team in Africa to qualify for the finals.

Botswana’s triumph has sent the nation football crazy. Inspired by neighbours South Africa at the World Cup, Friday in Botswana is ‘Football Friday’ in the build-up to the competition, a colourful, visual celebration of an historic achievement. The team’s kit supplier, All-Kasi, has struggled to cope with demand for replica shirts and football at all levels has seen a huge boost in popularity, with youth and womens football matches also receiving much larger support.

Botswana’s rise from obscurity to a place in the spotlight and an opening day game against continental giants Ghana is the stuff of fairytale. One of seventeen emerging nations leading the way in a renaissance of African economic development, the nation’s fortunes off the pitch echo the good things happening off it. This is the reward for a disciplined group of players and a charismatic coach.

Stanley Tshosane has overseen Botswana’s transformation and will aim to go even further at AFCON2012. A former army officer and strict disciplinarian, one of his key pieces of pre-tournament advice to the players was simple: no sex please, we’re Batswana. “I don’t expect any of my players to engage in sex during the tournament,” Tshosane has ordered and he is not one to be ignored. On the field he has moulded a group of players who all play either in their domestic league or in South Africa, and turned them into an impressive unit.

Worryingly, pre-tournament plans were disrupted by a player strike over money and injury to important players. Joel Mogorosi (Township Rollers) will miss the tournament and defender Mompathi Thuma (Botswana Defence Force XI) also has injury worries while star man and national hero Dipsy Selolwane (SuperSport United) is suspended for the opening game. The omission of pacy winger Sekhana Koko also caused controversy. In attack Jerome Ramatlhwane is key – he hit 5 of Botswana’s 7 goals in qualifying.

GHANA

In the absence of their conquerors (Egypt) and enemies (Nigeria), Ghana are the glamour team of this 2012 African Cup of Nations in the eyes of Europe and the Western media in general (alongside Ivory Coast). The Black Stars’ journey at World Cup 2010 won the hearts and minds of a sympathetic public, while on the pitch Ghana’s swagger, confidence and youthful exuberance made them a team to remember. The dark moments of a now infamous defeat to Uruguay were softened by an overriding feeling: they’ll be okay. They’ll be back.

AFCON2012 represents Ghana’s chance to show they do possess the resilience and style to bounce back in emphatic fashion. Overwhelming favourites along with Côte d’Ivoire, the two narratives are nevertheless completely different. Côte d’Ivoire’s story is all about the last chance, rescuing the dying embers of a golden era never realised. Right now Ghana don’t care much about the past. They’ve got the future.

It will be fascinating to see how the Black Stars cope with the added pressure of being favourites. They’ve dealt with it before of course, but this is a new generation. The baton has passed to the youngsters of 2010; the fresh-faced Under-20 World Cup winning kids who brought energy and fresh impetus to the senior team in 2010 are now beginning to form their own nucleus. The Black Satellites are becoming the Black Stars.

Given the talents at Goran Stevanovic’s disposal, we can expect a lot from Ghana. The influence of Andre Ayew (Olympique Marseille), Samuel Inkoom (Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk), Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu (Udinese) and co is growing, while the talents of Sulley Muntari (Internazionale), Asamoah Gyan (Al-Ain) and John Mensah (Lyon) remain. Meanwhile Kwadwo Asamoah develops into an excellent player at Udinese and should be one of the most exciting players to watch here.

Ghana’s mission statement here is simple: win the tournament. This team is a far more cohesive and confident unit than the one that reached the 2010 final, and with Egypt not around this time the Black Stars could well make it five stars on the shirt.

(Follow the links for Group A, Group B and Group C and full AFCON2012 squads)

GUINEA

Guinea proved themselves a team of real character and resolve when, last October, they turned a desperate situation against Nigeria in Abuja into a ticket to this their 10th African Cup of Nations. 2-1 down with minutes remaining and their opponents set to advance, Ibrahima Traore pulled a rabbit out of a hat to stun the hosts and send the Syli National through.

Guinea’s last appearance at an AFCON finals ended when they were battered 5-0 by Côte d’Ivoire in Ghana 2008 but they return here with another intriguing squad that could surprise. There are goals in the team – 4-1 thrashings of Ethiopia and Madagascar proved that – and coach Michel Dussuyer does have options going forward. The ever-enigmatic Pascal Feindouno has 8 tournament goals, the most of any player at these finals (10 behind all-time top scorer Samuel Eto’o; perhaps unrealistic but you never know with Pascal…) while Bastia’s Sadio Diallo courted the attention of several French clubs recently before agreeing to join Rennes. Goalkeeper Naby Yattara (Arles-Avignon) also impressed in qualifying.

Guinea have a hint of unpredictability about them as well as an attack-minded, cavalier spirit, a combination that makes for a fun team to watch. I don’t expect them to go as far as some have predicted but their opening game in Franceville against Mali could be key in deciding this group.

MALI

Two years ago Mali sent a team to Angola with genuine ambitions of going all the way. The squad was a promising mix of strength in depth alongside world stars like Mahamadou Diarra, Seydou Keita and Fredi Kanoute, players with the technical ability and skill to impose themselves at the vital moment and win games. Despite the big build-up however it all went wrong for Les Aigles - an incredible 4-4 comeback from 4-0 down against Angola aside their impact on the tournament was negligible and the Eagles went home with wings clipped.

The challenge for Mali now is to erase that painful memory with a better showing at this their 7th Cup of Nations appearance. “2010 will forever be a failure,” Mahamane Traore (Metz), one of the younger members of Mali’s 2010 squad has said. “This time we must go as far as possible.”

Despite the nation’s expectations though Mali can feel lucky to be here at all. They made a mess of what looked a straightforward qualification group, losing to Cape Verde and Zimbabwe, and only advanced to the finals by way of a marginally better head-to-head record than lowly Cape Verde (goal difference).

With several high profile players no longer available to French coach Alain Giresse (Momo Sissoko, Diarra, Kanoute) for various reasons, this is a new Mali team. Barcelona’s Seydou Keita is back after returning from international wilderness for a final hurrah, but otherwise this is a younger team that could struggle to make the impact desired by a passionate public. In attack Modibo Maiga (Sochaux) will be looking to impress scouts. He’s had a difficult time in France this season off the pitch and is desperate to leave, but remains a powerful, bustling striker good in the air and on the ground, and could make a difference. Cheikh Diabate (Bordeaux) has proved reasonably prolific at international level and is another aerial threat for Giresse to consider.

In terms of key players, Giresse considers Keita and Cedric Kante (Panathinaikos) the main men. “Seydou is the technical leader, Cedric our moral leader” he has said and both will need to use all their experience to guide a team some (but not myself) see as dark horses.

Just Football Prediction: I’m backing an upset in this group. Ghana to progress along with the team ranked 94 in the world – Botswana, whose unity and wide-eyed enthusiasm see them spring a surprise.

Source: just-football