Thursday, January 29, 2015

The lucky last quarterfinalist

Yesterday Group D in the Africa Cup of Nations was decided: with Ivory Coast beating Cameroun 1-0, they won the group. But in the other match Guinea and Mali tied 1-1. This was the third 1-1 tie for each of them, and meant a draw would decide the quarterfinalist.
Guinea won, and will be excited to face Ghana in their next match, where Ghana will undoubtedly be the great favourite.
This must leave a bitter taste in Mali's participation, and one has to wonder whether there could not have been another better way of deciding this..?
Everyone knew that the teams were head to head when the matches ended yesterday. So why could they not have played extra time? Or perhaps gone directly to a penalty contest? One can argue that these are as much lotteries, but are they not better than a simple draw?
Guinea cannot deny they are the luckiest of all teams in the Africa Cup of Nations, no matter who wins!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Comeback Group Winners

Things have looked against Ghana in this Africa Cup of Nations: they started losing 1-2 to Senegal on a last minute goal. They then barely managed to defeat Algeria in the last minute. And today at first half, they were 0-1 down against South Africa. With Algeria leading 1-0 against Tunisia, it looked as if Ghana would end at the bottom of the group.
But Ghana have shown that they are a great side with a lot of routine by their ability to come back when things look the most difficult: with 17 minutes to go, and after intense pressure on the South  Africans, John Boye managed to equalize. With seven minutes to go Andre Ayew scored what would be the winner for the Ghanaians.
And with Algeria winning 2-0, the Black Stars moved from last to first in the group of death, ahead of the Algerians. Senegal, for whom everything looked so good, are out. So are South Africa, who played well, but who were up against a strong Ghana side that can still go all the way!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The first ones out

Living in Liberia it has not been easy to watch the Africa Cup of Nations. With matches at 4 PM I have been mostly at work, and quite a few places have preferred to show English Premier League. Very disappointing for the football culture in Liberia, a country that is light years from even qualifying to an African Cup of Nations.
On Friday afternoon I managed to watch my first match when I left the office early to watch Ghana versus Algeria while seeing the sun setting over the ocean at a bar/restaurant called Anglers. I was the only customer there when I rose to cheer Asamoah Gyan's late goal, that gave Ghana such an important victory. The final match against South Africa on Tuesday will be a drama!
Today the final round of matches of group A took place, and last tournament's finalists, Burkina Faso, needed to defeat Congo to continue in the tournament. But it was the Congolese who won 2-1 and are in the quarterfinals, quite surprising, by winning the group. In the other match, the home team of Equatorial Guinea came out celebrating after a 2-0 victory over Gabon, another side that more was expected from. The Guineans will be full of hope now in the quarterfinals of a tournament that they had originally been expelled from.
But a pity for Burkina Faso and Gabon; look forward to seeing them in the next tournament.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The 2015 Africa Cup of Nations

2015 will be a great football year. Besides the outstanding leagues, the Champions League, there will also be a women's World Cup in Canada, Gold Cup, Copa America, an ongoing Asian Cup in Australia, and today the Africa Cup of Nations starts in Equatorial Guinea.
African Cups of Nations have become better and better over the years, and this one is set to be great, despite missing the defending champions of Nigeria, who failed to qualify. Rather than saying it is because Nigeria were bad, I would argue that the fact that the champions did not qualify shows the versatility and strength in depth of African football. The only ones who will not be missed are Morocco, who were correctly disqualified for not wanting to host the tournament for their exaggerated panic for Ebola. I hope they stay out of African football for a long time.
The groups are as follows:

Group A:
  • Equatorial Guinea
  • Burkina Faso
  • Congo 
  • Gabon
The hosts, who did actually not qualify for the tournament, have high expectations nevertheless as they play in front of their fans. Congo were the ones who qualified ahead of Nigeria, so will also have to be reckoned with, although expectations are probably not that high.
Last tournament Burkina Faso made it to the final, and will again be a team to watch, although one should also note that Gabon won their qualification ahead of exactly the Burkinabe. A lot of the Gabonese hopes are set on Pierre-Emerick Aubemegyang, who is certainly one of the players to watch in the tournament, but also watch out for Burkina Faso's own Jonathan Pitroipa, who was the most scoring player in Africa during qualification!
This is set to be a very close group!

Group B:
  • Tunisia
  • Cape Verde
  • DR Congo
  • Zambia
Cape Verde have been improving in huge strides over the last years, and in fact they also qualified in their group ahead of the Zambians, who are an experienced side, but not likely to repeat their fantastic victory of 2012.
Although DR Congo qualified as the best third placed team, it was behind the giants of Cameroon and Ivory Coast, and should thus not be underestimated. Nevertheless, the favourites of this group should be the Tunisians with an experienced side of European and Tunisian based players who qualified ahead of Senegal and Egypt.

Group C:
  • Ghana
  • Algeria
  • South Africa
  • Senegal
This looks like the Group of Death. Senegal qualified ahead of Egypt, even defeating the former champions in Cairo. South Africa are also back in the tournament after eliminating the champions of Nigeria in Uyo by tying them 2-2 in an intense match. Most players are home based and present a compact side.
Ghana enter the tournament as favourites yet again, this time under the tutelage of the former Chelsea manager Avram Grant. He has gone for a more young side with a lot of experience though, and  captained by a very experienced Asamoah Gyan.
Finally, Algeria, after their splendid World Cup, are certain to be going for the title. They have a strong side with the fantastic trio of Sofiane Feghouli, Yacine Brahimi and Nabil Bentaleb having become household names in Europe.
I cannot wait to see the Algerians in action, but of course, my heart is with GHANA!

Group D:
  • Ivory Coast
  • Mali
  • Cameroon 
  • Guinea
Player for player, Ivory Coast has one of the strongest sides in the world. They are captained by the African player of the year, the fantastic Yaya Toure, and a potent striking force with Gervinho and Wilfred Bony. But Ivory Coast has excelled in disappointing, the last time at the World Cup in Brazil. That said, they must be considered among the candidates for the title.
Cameroon in fact qualified ahead of Ivory Coast. Without any big superstars, Cameroon look more stable, and should be focusing at washing away the pathetic display they gave at the World Cup, where they were an embarrassment to watch.
Neither Guinea or Mali seem to be threats to Cameroon and Ivory Coast. Guinea were one of the last teams to qualify when they defeated Uganda in their last match, which was played in Casablanca due to the Ebola outbreak in Guinea (and yet the weird Moroccans did not want to host the tournament...), and expectations will not be as high as for other sides. Mali has an old side led by the veteran Seydou Keita, and only qualified after a last match victory over Algeria (who had already won the group).