African Cup of Nations of Friday, 18 January 2013
The excitement around this group lies with the team that are set to enjoy a homecoming at the African Nations' Cup (ANC). Ghana's dream run at the 2010 World Cup took place in South Africa and they won the hearts of local fans who even nicknamed them 'BaGhana BaGhana', in reference to their own team Bafana Bafana.
- Group A: The hosts and others
Some Ghanaians did not take kindly to being adopted so blatantly but may now yearn for it as they look for support in what is a fairly tough group. Mali reached the quarter-finals of the 2012 edition and have enjoyed a run of good form, while Niger are desperate to make good after their 2012 performance and the Democratic Republic of Congo are coached by a veteran of the African game.
Group B will largely play out at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth, a facility that does not see much football because the city does not have a team in the league. It is expected to be well supported especially because marketing has been more noticeable than at other venues. Football Africa takes a look at the four teams who will compete in this pool.
Ghana Expectation rests heavily on the Black Stars. They are four-time winners of the cup but their previous success came more than 30 years ago. Ghana were last crowned continental champions back in 1982 but their 2010 World Cup performance has had fans hopeful they will be able to replicate their success in Africa.
The hero and villain of that campaign, Asamoah Gyan will lead the team and it may be a cathartic journey for him. Gyan missed the decisive penalty of the quarter-final match against Uruguay in South Africa three years ago and has said he will not take spot kicks for the team in this tournament. Gyan will carry other emotional distress too. After the event, he will bury his mother who passed away late last year.
Ghana began their preparation well, with a 3-0 thrashing of Egypt in Abu Dhabi. The training camp in the Middle East was part of an $8 million plan to ready the team for the tournament. They will spend eleven days in the desert before journeying to South Africa.
Mali Mali began training in Port Elizabeth last week. After finishing third in 2012 they are currently ranked the highest they have ever been - 25th. Political turmoil in their country unified the team at the last event where Seydou Keita appealed for people to assist those dying in the Sahel.
Keita will be an important part of their campaign but the focus will be on PSG midfielder Momo Sissoko, who despite fitness concerns, was named in the squad. Sissoko has not played for Mali since the 2010 ANC and has only played three matches for PSG this season.
Injuries have taken their toll on Mali's preparations. They are missing four key players for this tournament with none of Muhammed Diarra, the former captain, Abdou Traore, Mustapha Yatabare and Tongo Hamed Doumbia. Diarra has now missed successive ANC's.
Niger After a 2012 campaign (which was also their first appearance in the ANC) where they lost all three matches, Niger have decided to change tack for this edition. They have opted to load their squad with foreign-based players as supposed to last year's tactics of playing mostly locals.
Financial constraints have held them back in terms of preparation but hope is high that they have learned lessons from their experience a year ago. Coach Gernot Rohr said the most important consideration for his team is to operate as a unit. "We don't have stars in this team. We must be united. Unity will be the strength of this team as it was its strength against Guinea, which was not an easy team to beat. We have been lucky to have the players at our disposal quite often, we have been able to work well," he said.
DR Congo Claude Le Roy has been asked to wave his wand one more time, this time with the DRC. A stalwart of the African game, Le Roy has managed Cameroon to 1986 ANC runners-up and the 1998 World Cup, Senegal to the 1992 ANC quarter-finals and Ghana to their highest position in the rankings. He is considered a magician because of his ability to get the best out of teams and the DRC qualifying for the event is proof of that.
They are the least fancied of the teams in this group but have some players to look out for. TP Mazembe striker Tresor Mputu, who has been linked with a move to Celtic, will lead the squad while former captain Lomana LuaLua is also part of the group.
Their training has been punctuated with an issue over bonuses. Players refused to practice at their pre-tournament base in Qatar two days ago because they had not been told the amount of money they would receive. Le Roy, while frustrated, said his players could not be told to play for pride alone especially because the overseas based players are taking a risk by not continuing to play for their clubs for the duration of the event. Le Roy maintained the camp is a happy one and relations between him and the players are good.