Africa Nations Cup Roundup! – Mags’ Barmy Army recaps!

Due to budget constraints, the above ball will be the one and only used in African Nations Cup match play this year...

Unpredictable. In a nutshell, that is the African Cup of Nations first week diagnosis; that and of course tragic. The results have caused some eyebrows to be raised, with the some of the supposed stronger countries not playing to their usual standard.

But first let us take a moment to focus on the tragic and unprecedented events take took place on January 8th as the Togo’s national team drove to their training facilities in Cabinda, in preparation for the ACN. This oil rich province is an enclave and lies to the north of Angola, separated by a small strip of land belonging to the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Province has historically been the scene of much violence and disruption mainly through the Forças Armadas de Cabinda (FAC), the armed volunteer rebels connected with the political Cabindan nationalist group the Frente para a Libertação do Enclave de Cabinda (FLEC, Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda). Their prime objective has been to obtain independence and detach itself from Angola and the ruling MPLA party. Such political turmoil doesn’t actually sound like the ideal environment in which to organise and partake in a game of football! The whole incident shrouds the tournament in a mixture of sadness, compassion and confusion; and raises many questions:

Firstly, we can look towards the Angolan government and the Conferderation of African Football (CAF) and question their administrative and organizational skills in putting this together. Both were well aware to the unrest and instability in the region, why have the area a host of teams and a venue for games in the first place? According to many reports on both the BBC World Service and from French media, it was a well known fact that one should never drive into Cabinda in the first place the, the danger was just too acute, the rule of thumb is to fly. Whose decision was that? Did the Togo team undertake that dangerous journey with adequate knowledge of the political climate and civil unrest?

These callous attacks that resulted in three deaths, national days on mourning in Togo and ultimately Togo’s withdrawal from the competition, could have perhaps been prevented if communication had been improved. More confusion arouse about whether to the Togo national team would stay or go. Initially, in an act of compassion and dignity for their slain countrymen they made the decision to head home. The press reported the Togo government had called the team home, but late Saturday night the Togo players and staff seemingly made the decision to return in honor of their fallen brothers; “There was a meeting between players yesterday (Saturday) and we said we were still footballers,” Emmanuel Adebayor told French radio station RMC. “We all decided to do something good for the country and play to honour those who died.”. This fact was reiterated by CAF, “Meanwhile, Kodzo Samlan, a spokesman for the tournament organisers, the Confederation of African Football (CAF), said he had spoken to Togo’s players and “they confirmed they want to play”.
But come Monday morning CAF make the incomprehensible decision to disqualify Togo from the tournament entirely? Why oh why? Hasn’t the country the team, the players and staff involved in cowering for their lives on the floor of a bus for twenty minutes as shots rang out around them earned the right to determine whether they continue? Matches could have been rescheduled, concessions could have been made and in the light of such atrocities, surely this would have been the appropriate resolution? Carnage of this magnitude shouldn’t dictate the overall outcome, these unprovoked attacks were not Togo’s fault, they’ve already paid a heavy price, why should they lose out entirely? It should have been their decision whether to play and take part or not, and CAF should have respected and honoured that decision and worked with the team to solve logistical questions. It reeks of an unsympathetic and uncompassionate governing body that wants to move on to the matter of football as soon as possible, and forget about the negative image such an event has bestowed upon the ACN.

The harrowing images and events that opened this years tournament will remain with us and the international footballing community for a long time, and so they should, but let us now turn our attention towards the task which is now underway and the pomp and circumstance that is African Football!

Thanks to our friends at justfootball.com here is a list of the FIFA rankings going into this years African Cup of nations. The number on the left represents the nations’ standing within Africa, the number in brackets their overall world ranking.

1. Cameroon (11)
2. Cote d’Ivoire (16)
3. Nigeria (22)
4. Egypt (24)
5. Algeria (26)
6. Ghana (34)
7. Mali (47)
8. Gabon (48)
9. Burkina Faso (49)
10. Tunisia (53)
11. Benin (59)
12. Togo (71)
13. Mozambique (72)
14. Zambia (84)
15. Angola (95)
16. Malawi (99)

Conveniently followed by the bookies odds (these may not be available down at your local OTB):

Cote d’Ivoire – 9/4
Ghana – 5/1
Cameroon – 5/1
Nigeria – 8/1
Egypt – 8/1
Algeria – 12/1
Tunisia – 12/1
Angola – 20/1
Mali – 22/1
Gabon – 28/1
Burkina Faso – 33/1
Benin – 40/1
Zambia – 50/1
Mozambique – 100/1
Malawi – 100/1

With that information in hand lets progress and look at a few of the teams that represent the crème de la crème of African football and will apparently run off with the silverware:

Cameroon
Cameroon have won the tournament four times. Not as star studded as some of the other teams, they still have depth and strength, although this was obviously lacking in their surprise loss to Gabon in their opening game. They steadied themselves and won against Zambia, but need to play far better if they want to win the whole thing.

Woe be to the team who draws the elephants out of the gate!

Ivory Coast
The Elephants have a whole host of stars in their line up including Drogba, Kalu, the Toure brothers and Eboue. They had a bad showing last Tournament, finishing a dismal fourth. They had a shaky start, being held to a goal less draw with lowly Burkina Faso, but they soon found their stride beating another front runner Ghana 3-1. They have the potential to go all the way, but need to focus on playing their style of football.

Nigeria
The Super Eagles’ current squad features some of the best talent the country has produced in recent times, including Everton striker Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Wolfsburg’s Obafemi Martins, Osaze Odemwingie of Locomotiv Moscow and Victor Obinna Nsofor, currently on loan at Malaga from Inter Milan, although the glamour boys were trounced by Egypt in their opening game. They only scraped into this years world cup, but look to these boys to make it into the final stages.

Egypt
Sadly the Pharaohs will not be visible at this years World Cup, they missed out to their north African rivals Algeria, in a highly contentious and politically charged game. They have however won the ACN a total of six times, twice more than any other country. They have won the Tournament the last two times and a strong showing against Nigeria proves they mean business once again. I think they will get to the final and could even win the whole shabang!

Ghana
The Black Stars are a young side, but are well drilled and effective. They recently won the Under-20 World Cup, but have a few injury worries to deal with leading up to this tournament. They were schooled by Ivory Coast in their opening game, but still posed a sizable threat. Look for these stars to shine.

Methinks either Egypt or Nigeria will take this years honours, but look for fast paced, exciting football all round at this years tournament. The rest of the world will be watching with interest, it will certainly be a good indicator for potential World Cup winning candidates.

And to end with: yet more controversy, well it wouldn’t be African football without it. Mali are incensed by their exit from this years Cup, and to be honest I think they have a point. The draw in the final Group A game resulted in Algeria finishing level on four points with Mali, who beat Malawi 3-1 in their final match. Algeria, though, advanced thanks to their better head-to-head record with Mali after the Desert Foxes beat the Eagles in their group game. In their protest to CAF, the Malian football federation (FMF) claimed the attitude of both sides was contrary to Fifa’s ethics of fair play. It’s a new policy, implemented for the first time this year, the old better goal difference rule has been replaced, with this bizarre new concept of head-to-head record??? It’s very strange and I cant see it lasting, Mali rightly, should feel hard done by.

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