Ivory Coast Can Take Advantage Of Big Name Absences At African Cup Of Nations
Such is football in Africa that only eight of the teams who qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations finals two years ago will be in action in this year’s event which kicks off this weekend. Notable absentees include champions Egypt who finished bottom of their qualification group while four times winners, Cameroon, also failed to qualify. Twice winners, Nigeria, who reached the semi final two years ago, were banned by their President from playing International football for two years after a poor performance in the 2010 World Cup and their fellow 2010 semi finalists, Algeria, also did not make it to the finals. These significant absentees should still make for an interesting tournament which this year is being hosted jointly by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
The football odds see the Ivory Coast as the favourites to lift the trophy with odds of 13/8 with next best being Ghana at 9/2; the only other nation given a serious chance by bookmakers is Senegal who are rated a 13/2 chance.
The Ivory Coast certainly look like a team that should win the tournament outright, they have a squad that their rivals can only drool over and many names that Premier League fans will be familiar with, which includes the likes of the Toure brothers Yaya and Kolo of Manchester City, Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou of Chelsea, Cheick Tiote of Newcastle and Gervinho of Arsenal. They won all six of their qualification games, scoring 19 times while conceding only four. Top scorer in qualifying was Drogba with four goals, while Gervinho was close behind with three. Drogba is also the team captain and they are coached by former Ivory Coast international player, Francois Zahoui.
The Ivory Coast have been drawn in what looks to be winnable Group along with Sudan, Burkina Faso and Angola. Their first game is on 23rd January against Sudan and it would be a major shock if they did not start with three points.
The biggest threat to the Ivory Coast it appears will be Ghana, who are in Group D along with Botswana, Mali and Guinea for which they are the 8/11 odds on favourites to finish top. They qualified almost as emphatically as the Ivory Coast, winning five from six matches and drawing the other. Defensively they look like the best team in the competition as they conceded just one goal in those six qualification games while scoring 13. Prince Tagoe, who plays for Bursaspor in Turkey, was the top scorer in qualification with three strikes.
Overall Ghana has a good record in the tournament winning it four times and finishing runners up four times including in 2010 when they were beaten in the final by Egypt.
Senegal comes to the tournament as one of the more revered teams, who, like Ghana, qualified with five wins and a draw in their six games. Also similar to Ghana, Senegal have developed a very strong defence which conceded just two goals in those qualification games while at the other end they managed 16 goals with former Marseille striker Mamadou Niang netting five of them.
Particularly pleasing for Senegal was their ability to stifle the Cameroon team, who were the original favourites to win the qualification group. A 1-0 win in Dakar with the goal coming from Newcastle’s Demba Ba and a 0-0 draw in the reverse fixture was enough for Senegal to win the group.
In addition to Demba Ba, who has been a sensation for Newcastle in the Premier League this season, they also boast one or two others who ply their trade in the top tier of English football. Included in those are Papiss Cisse also from Newcastle and defender Armand Traore from QPR. Cisse in fact finished the qualification stage one behind Niang with four goals.
Senegal have been drawn in Group A with co-hosts Equatorial Guinea, Libya and Zambia, who they open up their campaign against on Saturday. They are huge 5/11 odds on to win Group A and are 13/10 to qualify along with Zambia for the knock out stage.
The favourite to be top of the tournament’s Golden Boot is Didier Drogba at 5/1 with Demba Ba next best at 7/1. Ghana’s former Sunderland striker, Asamoah Gyan, is next at 8/1 with Cisse at 9/1. Interestingly, Mamadou Niang is as long as 16/1 and could be a lively outsider.
Not for the first time in international football, it would appear that the Ivory Coast look like worthy favourites, a mightily strong team on paper and are blessed with a great deal of experience. come to the tournament in great form and the experience of their world class stars should prove crucial and they can win the African Cup of Nations for the first time in the country’s history.