The group stages of the African Cup of Nations concluded today with a couple of surprise inclusions making up the quarter-finals of the competition which begin on Friday.
The biggest surprise came about in Group A where Cape Verde, making their first appearance in the tournament finals, managed to get through a tough group unbeaten. Having drawn their first two games against hosts South Africa and Morocco, Cape Verde were losing their final group game against Angola with ten minutes to play before they turned it around to win 2-1. The hero for the Blue Sharks was Heldon Ramos whose stoppage time winner allowed Cape Verde to finish second in the group behind South Africa on goal difference and progress ahead of the much fancied Morocco.
The other surprise is Burkina Faso who progressed in first place from Group C and helped play their part in eliminating defending champions Zambia from the competition. Burkina Faso, who have previously only graced the knockout rounds of this tournament once in seven attempts, easily defeated Ethiopia and drew with fellow group qualifiers Nigeria as well as Zambia who needed to win the last group match in order to qualify for the last eight.
Côte d’Ivoire are still most people’s favourites to win the competition having finished top of Group D ahead of Togo, Tunisia and Algeria. The likes of Yaya Touré, Gervinho and Didier Ya Konan have helped the Elephants to two wins and a draw, the same record which graced Group B winners Ghana. The Black Stars began their campaign with a 2-2 draw against Congo DR but finished it perfectly by defeating Mali, who also qualified from the group, and Niger who were the only team not to score in any of the group games.
South Africa v Mali (02.02.13)
Ghana v Cape Verde (02.02.13)
Côte d’Ivoire v Nigeria (03.02.13)
Burkina Faso v Togo (03.02.13)
South Africa hosts its second major international football tournament in a little over two years from Saturday. Having hosted the 2010 FIFA World Cup the “Rainbow Nation” is preparing for the 2013 African Cup of Nations, the 29th edition of the competition, and will hope to restore themselves as a force in African football following a particularly difficult decade.
This will be the second time that South Africa plays host to the tournament. The first time, back in 1996, saw the country return to the international scene following an enforced three decade absence due to the country’s previous position on issues of apartheid. Having returned, however, South Africa emerged victorious and claimed the African title for the first time when defeating Tunisia 2-0 in the final. Apart from the following tournament, when the “Bafana Bafana” ended up losing 2-0 to Egypt in 1998, the South Africans haven’t come close to winning the trophy since. Could home advantage prove to be a lucky omen once again? South Africa feature in Group A alongside Angola, Morocco and tournament debutants Cape Verde.
One team which hopes to put a stop to the hosts’ ambitions is Zambia. The surprise package in 2012, Zambia weren’t even spoken of as a potential champion before the tournament kicked off yet managed to carry off the trophy for the very first time having edged the Côte d’Ivoire 8-7 on penalties following a tense goalless final. The title holders scraped into this year’s tournament as well due to another penalty shoot-out, this time a 9-8 success against Uganda in the 2nd qualifying round after their two-legged clash finished 1-1 on aggregate. With the difficulty of qualifying over with, Zambia will compete in Group C along with two-time winners Nigeria, Burkina Faso and 1962 winners Ethiopia who are competing in their first African Cup of Nations for the first time since 1982.
Amongst the traditional heavyweights of African football, Egypt are once again conspicuous by their absence. The record champions, who have won the title seven times, failed to qualify in 2012 and were once again found wanting in 2013 having gone out at the first qualifying round stage at the hands of Central African Republic. After Egypt, the most successful country in African Cup of Nations history is Ghana with four title wins. However the last of those wins is becoming a distant memory and should The Black Stars win the trophy for the fifth time it will be their first success in this tournament since 1982. Ghana will headline Group B which includes two nations who have yet to win the trophy, namely Mali and Niger, and a country which has won the title twice but under different guises. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, to give the country its present name, were previously victorious in 1968 as Congo-Kinshasa and six years later as Zaïre.
Côte d’Ivoire, who have made more tournament finals appearances (19) than any other nation, haven’t had much luck since winning their one and only title in 1992 having reached and lost two further finals. The Elephants will hope to go one better this time and have been put into Group D along with 2004 champions Tunisia, 1990 winners Algeria and Togo, who have now confirmed Emmanuel Adebayor’s participation in this year’s competition.
The top two teams in each group will progress to the knockout stage. At this point the remaining octet will not only be fighting it out for the African Cup of Nations trophy but also to represent the continent of Africa in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil later this year. Whoever emerges triumphant in South Africa this year will expect to play against world and European champions Spain in their Confederations Cup group, a prize every bit as rewarding as lifting the silverware itself, along with South American champions Uruguay and Oceania champions Tahiti.
The 2012 African Cup of Nations begins this weekend with two host nations, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, which have such a limited record in this competition. The former has never qualified for an African Cup of Nations before and will be an unknown quantity to most observers of this year’s tournament whilst the latter have competed in just four previous tournaments and have only progressed beyond the group stage on just one occasion when reaching the last eight in 1996.
Indeed there is quite a strange feel about the Cup of Nations this year if only for the fact that defending champions, and record winners of the tournament, Egypt will not be there as they failed to qualify this time out finishing bottom of their qualifying group behind Niger, South Africa and Sierra Leone. Egypt, seven times winners of the trophy, made history in the most recent tournament two years ago in Angola when winning the competition for a third consecutive time, the first time this had ever been achieved. Another African powerhouse, Cameroon, failed to qualify as they were always playing catch-up on qualifying group winners Senegal who topped the table with a five point margin on the four-time winners.
With the absence of two of the most successful nations in the tournament’s history this year could be the year that a nation such as Senegal or Ivory Coast finally get their hands on the cup again whilst there will be many amongst the sixteen nation tournament who will be hoping to spring a surprise.
GROUP A: Equatorial Guinea; Libya; Senegal; Zambia
Hosts Equatorial Guinea should enjoy this tournament seeing as it will be their maiden appearance but they will have a tough group to negotiate. Senegal are amongst the favourites to win the competition even though they are one of the strongest countries never to win the trophy before having ended up empty-handed in twelve tournament finals appearances. Libya were one of the two best runners-up to qualify for the finals and have done against the backdrop of civil war and one can only hope that a good showing in this tournament will help to heal some of the wounds that have torn the country apart in recent months. Zambia made the quarter-finals in 2010 and will be hoping of a repeat performance as a minimum requirement this time out.
GROUP B: Ivory Coast; Sudan; Burkina Faso; Angola
1992 champions Ivory Coast, in the absence of Egypt and Cameroon, will be the favourites to win this year with a host of stars based in some of Europe’s top leagues. Players such as Salomon Kalou, Didier Drogba and the Touré brothers of Yaya and Kolo will have high expectations of getting their hands on the trophy especially as they will compete in one of the easier groups of the tournament. Sudan, like Libya in Group A, qualified as one of the two best runners-up and have a squad which comprised of players based only in their home nation, the only such squad to do this in this tournament. Both Burkina Faso and Angola participated in the 2010 tournament with the latter unable to progress beyond the group stages and the latter, as tournament hosts, reaching the quarter-finals. With the strength of the squads in this group it is more than likely that this will be the case again this time around.
GROUP C: Gabon; Niger; Morocco; Tunisia
Gabon will have the honour of hosting the 2012 African Cup of Nations final in its capital of Libreville on February 8th but whether the co-hosting nation will be there is debateable. Gabon has qualified for the tournament for only the fifth time in its history and has only got beyond the group stage on one occasion. However, home advantage does give Gabon hope of reaching the last eight this time but the likelihood of the two North African superpowers of Tunisia and Morocco finishing in the top two spots in Group C is strong given both teams’ strengths within their squads. Each of those nations can be classed as a good outside bet to win their second title whereas the final team in this group, Niger, did impress in qualifying finishing top of a group containing both Egypt and South Africa but have no previous form in the finals to speak of with this being their maiden appearance.
GROUP D: Ghana; Botswana; Mali; Guinea
Outside of Egypt and Cameroon, Ghana is the most successful nation in this tournament having appeared in a record eight finals winning it on four occasions. However the glory days are becoming a distant memory for the Ghanaians who last won the African Cup of Nations in 1982 and are desperate to claim a fifth title especially as they finished in second and third places in the last two tournaments. Mali and Guinea should battle it out for one of the two quarter-final spots from this group but Botswana, who are participating in their maiden finals, will arguably be one of the weaker sides in the competition.
The African Cup of Nations has come a long way since its inception in 1957 and is now one of the most respected football tournaments in the world. Only three nations participated in the inaugural competition but has steadily risen over the years to become a fully-fledged tournament of 16 teams. In honour of the 27th African Cup of Nations final, which takes place tomorrow between Egypt and Ghana, Stoppage Time takes a look back at previous tournament finals.
It is, perhaps, fitting that the most successful team in the cup’s history were also the first ever champions of the continent. Egypt won the first tournament in 1957 after winning their semi-final against Sudan before going on to easily dispatch of Ethiopia 4-0 in the final with Mohamed Diab el-Attar scoring all four goals. Egypt regained the title as host nation in 1959 beating the same teams as the previous tournament in a mini-league format. Egypt, however, failed to make it three-in-a-row after they lost to hosts Ethiopia in the 1962 final and would not celebrate success in the competition for another two decades.
In 1963 Ghana won their first tournament at home defeating Sudan 3-0 in the final after both teams had topped their groups, each containing three teams. Ghana defended the title two years later after beating host nation Tunisia 3-2 after extra-time but would be the defeated finalists in the next two tournaments against Congo DR in 1968 (1-0) and Sudan in 1970 (3-2). In 1972 Congo, not to be confused with 1968 champions Congo DR, won their only tournament beating Mali 3-2. Zaire, who had won the cup in their previous guise as Congo DR in 1968, reclaimed the title under their new name in 1974 after defeating Zambia 2-0 in the first replayed final in the tournament’s history. In 1976 the format changed whereby the knockout stage was replaced by a final group of four teams after the conclusion of the first round. Morocco won the cup in this year topping the final table from Guinea, Nigeria and Egypt. In the following tournament in 1978 the format reverted back to having a knockout system following the group stage. Ghana celebrated their third triumph after Opoku Afriyie scored both goals in a 2-0 defeat of Uganda.
The 1980 tournament saw Nigeria win their first ever African Cup of Nations after the host nation beat Algeria 3-0. Two years later host country Libya reached the final for the first time but were unfortunate to lose in the first penalty shoot-out to decide an ACN final losing to Ghana 7-6 on spot kicks, a victory which saw the Ghanaians claim their fourth and, hitherto, last title. The 1984 competition saw Cameroon emerge as an African football heavyweight beating Nigeria 3-1. Two years later the Egyptians reached the final for the first time since the group phase finals round of 1976 and emerged triumphant for the third time in their history beating Cameroon on penalty kicks. The next two tournaments saw Nigeria reach the final only to suffer the anguish of defeat on both occasions against Cameroon in 1988 (1-0) and host nation Algeria in 1990 (1-0).
The 1992 tournament saw an expansion of the format from eight teams up to twelve split into four groups of three with an extra knockout round. The Ivory Coast won their first African Cup of Nations title in this tournament beating Ghana 11-10 on penalties after a disappointing final finished 0-0. The 1994 ACN saw Nigeria win the trophy for the second time thanks to a brace from Emmanual Amunike in a 2-1 win over Zambia. The 1996 tournament not only saw a further expansion from twelve to sixteen teams but was also the first tournament in which South Africa were allowed to participate following the country’s re-introduction to the international sporting stage following the end of the Apartheid regime. The Bafana Bafana, as the South African national team are known, exceeded all expectations to win the cup thanks to a 2-0 win over Tunisia, Mark Williams making himself a national hero by scoring both goals. The 1998 tournament was held in Burkina Faso for the first time in the event’s history but saw old favourites Egypt claim their fourth title beating the defending champions South Africa 2-0 in the final.
For the first time in the event’s history the 2000 tournament was held in two countries, Ghana and Nigeria. The latter got to the final, which was held in their home stadium in Lagos, but lost an African Cup of Nations final for the fourth time after losing to Cameroon 4-3 on penalties after a 2-2 draw. Cameroon defended the trophy in 2002 after winning on penalty kicks again, this time against Senegal (3-2 after the match had finished 0-0). The following two competitions were won by host nations as Tunisia beat Morocco 2-1 in 2004 and Egypt beat the Ivory Coast on penalties in 2006. Egypt successfully defended their title in the 2008 competition by narrowly defeating Cameroon 1-0 thanks to a late Mohamed Aboutreika goal.
This year’s final takes place tomorrow in the Angolan capital of Luanda with record champions Egypt looking for a history making third consecutive title and a record increasing seventh title overall but in their way will be a Ghana side who despite not scoring many goals haven’t conceded many goals either and will be a tough nut to crack. The Egyptians are on a high after a 4-0 semi-final victory over eternal rivals Algeria in the usual bad-tempered clash on Thursday whilst Ghana also celebrated success against a rival beating neighbours Nigeria 1-0 thanks to a goal from Asamoah Gyan. Due to their recent record in the tournament Egypt go into the match as favourites but Ghana cannot be underestimated especially as they are a four-times African champion themselves. A truly intriging African Cup of Nations final awaits….
The group stage of the African Cup of Nations is over and now there are four mouth watering quarter-finals to look forward to. With traditional heavyweights such as Egypt, Ivory Coast and Ghana involved along with hosts Angola the tournament is now about to enter the business end. Stoppage Time looks back at each of the groups:
GROUP A (ANGOLA, ALGERIA, MALI, MALAWI)
The group and the tournament started off with an epic 4-4 draw between hosts Angola and Mali, a game revered for its dramatic comeback as Mali were 4-0 behind with eleven minutes to go. Malawi won their first game against Algeria but, alas, they were the only points they were to collect in the tournament whilst the other three nations fought it out for the top two places. Algeria’s narrow 1-0 win over Mali would have significant consequences at the group’s conclusion as Algeria went into their final group match knowing that a draw would secure a quarter-final place regardless of what happened in the Mali-Malawi encounter. Algeria got the point they needed thanks to a 0-0 draw against Angola who topped the group but the Malians were upset with the way both teams went about the game and lodged an official complaint with the African Football Confederation (CAF). Algeria went through by virtue of their head-to-head record over Mali but when one looks at the statistics it would seem that Mali were more worthy of a place: a positive goal difference of plus two compared to Algeria’s minus one whilst Mali scored seven goals in the tournament compared to Algeria’s one.
GROUP B (IVORY COAST, GHANA, BURKINA FASO – TOGO disqualified)
Togo were disqualified from the African Cup of Nations after they didn’t take part in their first scheduled game against Ghana following the tragic shooting in Cabinda. Despite the Togolese delegation requesting that they be allowed back into the tournament after a period of grief the CAF continued with the tournament and, therefore, the three remaining nations played just two matches in the group stage. Ivory Coast had a difficult start only managing to draw 0-0 against Burkina Faso but turned on the style in their second game defeating Ghana 3-1 to top the group. In the final game Ghana beat Burkina Faso 1-0 to seal their place in the last eight.
GROUP C (EGYPT, NIGERIA, BENIN, MOZAMBIQUE)
The six time winners and defending champions Egypt, who some people had written off before the competition started, easily topped the group with a 100% record, the only country to do so in the group stage. They beat Nigeria (3-1), Benin (2-0) and Mozambique (2-0) to finish three points ahead of nearest challengers Nigeria who secured second thanks to easy victories over Mozambique (2-0) and Benin (3-0) which gave them a five point cushion over the groups’ whipping boys who, in their head-to-head, shared the points after a 2-2 draw.
GROUP D (ZAMBIA, CAMEROON, GABON, TUNISIA)
This group went right to the death as various tie-breaking criteria decided who finished where in the group. After three matchdays three nations had four points each, Zambia, Cameroon and Gabon whilst Tunisia finished in last place with three points from successive draws to leave them out of the equation. The other three countries all had a record of having won one, drawn one and lost one of their games and all three had equal goal difference so the crucial tie-breaker proved to be the number of goals scored. Both Zambia and Cameroon scored five goals each whilst Gabon only scored two so it was they who had to step aside for the others in a heartbreaking way to depart from any tournament.
QUARTER-FINAL DRAW (Games to be played on January 24/25)
ANGOLA – GHANA
IVORY COAST – ALGERIA
EGYPT – CAMEROON
ZAMBIA – NIGERIA
Going into this year’s African Cup of Nations many pundits have predicted that Ivory Coast, including the likes of Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou and Yaya Touré, will win the tournament. At the same time Egypt, who are back-to-back defending champions having won the most recent two tournaments in 2006 and 2008, have been written off especially as their big guns of Mohamed Aboutrika, Amr Zaki and Mido are missing either through injury or non-inclusion in their national team. However their opening matches in Angola in the last couple of days have given these pundits food for thought.
When Ivory Coast played against Burkina Faso on Sunday many thought that three points for the former would pretty much secure their passage into the quarter finals, especially as they are in the group which Togo have now been disqualified from due to their reluctance to participate after the gun attack in Cabinda last Friday. However the Burkina Faso side were determined to prove that they are not in Angola just to make up the numbers and held their more illustrious opponents to a credible 0-0 draw in Group B’s opening match. This means that the second game of the group between the Ivory Coast and Ghana is something akin to an early cup final. If the Ivorians lose then a draw in the final game involving Burkina Faso and Ghana would be enough to send ‘Les Éléphants’ crashing out of the tournament at the group stage, something which was unthinkable before the competition began.
In contrast Egypt have started the tournament strongly. They went behind to a super strike from Chinedu Obasi after only twelve mintes in their 3-1 win over Nigeria. The defending champions equalized when Nigeria’s keeper came out of his penalty area which allowed Emad Moteab to go around him and put the ball into an empty net on 34 minutes. Egypt captain Ahmed Hassan, playing in the African Cup of Nations for a remarkable eighth time, scored the second goal ten minutes into the second half albeit thanks to a wicked deflection of Taye Taiwo. Mohamed Gedo completed the victory for the Pharaohs three minutes from time to give the Egyptians the perfect start in Group C, especially as their other group opponents Mozambique and Benin could only draw 2-2 in their encounter.
Perhaps the fact that Egypt haven’t qualified for the FIFA World Cup this season means that they will try their level best to secure a history making third consecutive African Cup of Nations trophy. It is possible that the Ivory Coast will get through their group and go all the way but after the opening match results they must be fearful that yet another opportunity to become continental champions is going to be squandered. But in what appears to be an open tournament so far I don’t think too many pundits should be making predictions just yet….
After the troubles that have beset the tournament before a ball had even been kicked the Orange African Cup of Nations began in the most amazing fashion. Host nation Angola squandered a four goal lead in the final twelve minutes of the game to allow their opponents Mali to claim a most unlikely point, having to settle for a 4-4 draw.
Before the game both teams paid their respects to the victims of the gun attack that had targeted the Togo squad on Friday afternoon. Events since the shooting have provided confusion as to whether the Togolese would participate in the tournament or not but it’s been reported today that despite the Togo squad’s change of heart, their government has advised them not to travel and the organisers have now barred them from entry. Despite the politics of the situation the tournament was always going to go ahead and the two teams played at the Estadio 11 do Novembro under heavy security.
The first thirty minutes were largely dominated by the home side with players Flavio and Manucho impressing from the start. As the half went on Mali tried to impose themselves on the game physically but were made to pay in the 37th minute when Angola made their possession and quality count. Flavio deservedly scored for Angola with a close range header following a Gilberto free-kick. Five minutes later the hosts doubled their lead thanks to Flavio heading in an Alberto Mabina cross from the right.
The second half began with Mali looking to get back into the game early on as Mahamodou Diarra had their first serious chance of the game. However midway through the second half Angola had a great chance to extend their lead as Gilberto was brought down in the Mali penalty area by Mamadou Bagayoko. Gilberto took the kick and thought he’d scored but the referee ordered the kick to be re-taken but this didn’t put off Gilberto who dispatched the second attempt to make it 3-0. Another penalty was awarded on 73 minutes after Gilberto had been fouled yet again. This time, though, it was Manucho who took the spot kick and made it 4-0.
However the fun was just about to begin. In the 78th minute Mali scored what looked to be a mere consolation after Seydou Keita prodded home from six yards following an error from Angola ‘keeper Fernandes. Even when Freddie Kanouté scored Mali’s second goal two minutes from the end of normal time it looked like it was too little, too late. The Angolans began to show tired legs and the Malians had a shock in store for the home side. Barcelona star Keita ghosted in at the far post to volley home Mali’s third three minutes into stoppage-time and, one minute later, Mustapha Yatabaré secured the most amazing comeback when sliding in to tuck home a 94th minute equalizer. The hosts were stunned and the anguish on the home team’s faces was clear for all to see after the final whistle. After such a dramatic outcome to the tournament’s opening game let’s hope that the African Cup of Nations can now be remembered for the football during the rest of the competition. That will be the case if the rest of the tournament produces more matches like this one.
It is with great sadness that I should have to post a blog today that focuses on off the field tragedy rather than looking forward to on the field matters building up to the African Cup of Nations that begins in Angola tomorrow. However it has been announced that the Togolese national team has decided to withdraw from the tournament after their team bus came under attack from people, whose motives are unknown, brandishing machine guns with which they killed the bus driver and injured two of the squad, Serge Akakpo and Kodjovi Obilale.
Unfortunately it is increasingly the case that people who think that sports stars are immune from the sort of danger that ordinary citizens face in everyday life are incorrect. Other sports have suffered tragedy, most recently cricket has had to face up to a similar horror when the Sri Lanka team bus was attacked when about to play in a Test Match against Pakistan in Lahore in March 2009. Several cricket players, including captain Mahela Jayawardene, were injured whilst six policemen and a civilian were killed. In both these tragic cases it happened despite the presence of heavy security and it seems that people who intend to injure, harm or kill others will do so no matter what it takes.
Despite the decision taken by Togo to withdraw from the tournament it has been announced this afternoon by the African Football Confederation (CAF) that the competition will go ahead as planned from tomorrow. FIFA president Sepp Blatter has asked the head of the CAF, Issa Hayatou, for a full report into the incident, no doubt hoping to learn lessons with the FIFA World Cup due to take place in South Africa later this year. Issues surrounding crime and safety have already been brought up in relation to the World Cup as thousands of fans from over thirty countries will travel this summer to a country whose troubles with law and order have been well documented in the last few years and this attack will certainly worry the powers that be as they seek to re-assure fans, officals and players that their safety is paramount.
There will be many people who will say that the only way to ensure that the terrorists don’t win is to go ahead with everything as normal. Of course there is some sympathy for that argument but one must consider that should anything equally, if not more, tragic should occur during this tournament then serious questions will need to be asked and fully accounted for. One can fully understand why the Togo national team has no desire to participate in this tournament despite the prestige that such a competition can give to their nation. Team captain Emmanuel Adebayor convened a meeting with his players after the incident and made a statement later on stating that “most of the players want to go back to their family. No-one can sleep after what they have seen today. They have seen one of their team-mates have a bullet in his body, who is crying, who is losing consciousness and everything….I don’t think they [the players] will be ready to give their life.”
That final point is the most poignant. To many people football, to use that oft-quoted remark from Bill Shankly, is a matter of life or death. Sadly it became, yesterday, a matter of life AND death and it is with this is mind that everybody in the world of football and elsewhere should send their sympathies and condolence to the Togo national team and pray that nothing else happens to compound this truth even further during the next few weeks in Angola.Thilan Samaraweera and
Tharanga Paranavitana were hospitalisedThilan Samaraweera and
Tharanga Paranavitana were hospitalised