By Ed Dove
The draw for the Cup of Nations tournament took place recently in Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea.
The competition has had a troubled history to date, notably a last-minute venue change when Morocco refused to host due to the Ebola crisis.The deadly virus and the erstwhile hosts were referenced during yesterday’s drawing ceremony, but there was definitely a desire to focus on the football and get down to the specifics of the event itself. The draw—conducted by CAF General Secretary Hicham El Amrani and Egypt legend and former winner Mohamed Aboutrika—has thrown up some potentially thrilling matches, resumed some juicy rivalries and produced one notable Group of Death.As ever, there were mixed reactions from the competing nations when the groups were revealed. In this piece we present the winners and losers from the Afcon draw.
Cameroon will surely be delighted with their Cup of Nations draw, particularly when they glance over to South Africa (who also started the day in Pot Three) and look at what might have been. The Indomitable Lions have been drawn into the intriguing Group D, featuring four Francophone West African (or very near West African) nations who have several points of commonality.
What sets Cameroon apart, however, is how they breezed through qualification. Their Afcon rivals cannot look back on such a convincing qualifying campaign. One potential banana skin for Volker Finke’s Lions is a rematch (the third since the World Cup) with the Ivory Coast. However, considering Cameroon recorded a 4-1 win over the Elephants in September, they are unlikely to fear Herve Renard’s side.
None of the teams in Group C, the Group of Death, will be happy with their lot. None of the foursome will have been hoping to encounter any of the other sides that, subsequently, complete the pool.I would argue, however, that Ghana have the most to lose.Largely, this is because the Black Stars, as has recently been the case, will head into the competition as one of the favourites.
However, while South Africa and Algeria have recently made strong starts under new managers, the Black Stars have only just completed the appointment of Avram Grant. The new boss made some bold announcements upon taking the job—revealing that he is open to recalling the disgraced Sulley Muntari and Kevin-Prince Boateng—but he has precious little time to get to know his players.
Similarly, with Kwadwo Asamoah, arguably Ghana’s key player, ruled out through injury, the Israeli boss will have to do without a devastating weapon. Grant will have been hoping for an easy draw to let him ease into the competition. The Group of Death is anything but!
While the other groups may well steal more headlines—particularly Group C and Group D—Group B has the potential to offer tantalising drama.Tunisia and Cape Verde both cruised through qualification and will hope to take the top two spots, but the Democratic Republic of Congo are arguably a more intriguing prospect.
The Leopards only qualified as the best third-placed runner-up, but will doubtless point to their tricky qualifying draw (they were pooled with Cameroon and the Ivory Coast) and argue that they would have progressed automatically from any other group. They will get the chance to prove it in Equatorial Guinea, and if they can add defensive resiliency to their undoubted attacking potency—they scored four away in Abidjan—then they could be set for an unexpected run.
Ahead of the draw, I championed Senegal as my Cup of Nations dark horses. The Lions of Teranga have had a dismal record in major international tournaments since the 2002 World Cup, but the threads of the 2012 Olympic generation have bolstered an already-talented squad. It was imperative, however, that Alain Giresse’s side grew into the tournament—particularly to avoid a repeat of their embarrassing showing in 2012.
Unfortunately, the West Africans have received almost the worst-possible draw and now sit as outsiders to escape the group, let alone run to the latter stages of the competition. Can Mohamed Diame, Mame Biram Diouf, Kara Mbodj and Co. escape from the Group of Death?
Winners Bokina Faso
All of the teams in Group A will be happy with their lot. Equatorial Guinea will likely be content to have avoided some of the continent’s genuine giants, while the other three nations will likely be delighted to have been pooled with the hosts. I suspect, also, that the Republic of Congo, nestled in Pot Four, would have been a secret hope for many of the competing nations.
By my reckoning, Burkina Faso and Gabon will advance from this pool. The Stallions were finalists against the odds two years ago when they escaped from a tricky opening pool, and they will see this draw as an excellent opportunity to pick up where they left off in 2013. Culled from the Bleacher Report
Cameroon Indomitable Lions pic: www.allafrica.com