African Cup of Nations 2012 preview - Group B
Cote D’Ivoire, Sudan, Burkina Faso, Angola
In the absence of Egypt, Cote D’Ivoire are widely regarded as the favourites to lift the African Cup of Nations trophy.
The form of The Elephants in qualification lends substantial support to this opinion, with François Zahoui’s side ending the campaign with a 100% winning record.
The likes of Chelsea’s Didier Drogba and Arsenal’s Gervinho (pictured) were key to the free-scoring nature of a Cote D’Ivoire side that amassed 19 goals in just six games; an average of more than three goals a game.
Complementing the Ivorians’ attack are the likes of Yaya Toure and Didier Zokora. But Cote D’Ivoire’s inclination to attack can, at times, render them vulnerable defensively; examples in 2011 included their 4-3 win over Israel.
Nonetheless, The Ivorians will expect to qualify as group winners and provide fierce competition for any other tournament hopefuls.
Sudan will take confidence from a relatively impressive qualification campaign, in which they only finished in second place behind Ghana following a final group game loss to the Black Stars.
Sudan, a side notoriously problematic to play at home, have suffered indifferent form since the qualification campaign ended, with defeats against Palestine and Rwanda.
Coach Mohammed Abdalla will be reliant on defensive-midfielder Haitham Mustafa to provide the defensive discipline that was central to Sudan’s success in qualifying for the 2012 African Nations Cup.
Burkina Faso qualified top of a relatively weak group of three featuring Gambia and Namibia.
The Burkinabe finished their campaign unbeaten, scoring 12 in the process. They will, however, be ranked outsiders having failed to progress past the group stages since finishing fourth as hosts in 1998.
Al-Khor and Burkina Faso’s influential striker Moumouni Dagano is likely to be the West African side’s main attacking threat.
Coach Pablo Duarte has also commenced his side’s preparations in spite of the controversy surrounding the nature of their qualification: Namibia are contesting that Burkina Faso fielded ineligible players in the qualifiers, including defender Herve Zengue.
Angola recovered from a 3-0 defeat against Uganda in their opening qualifying game to top the group en route to the 2012 tournament in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
Angola will also be keen to match or improve upon their performance in 2010 in which they narrowly missed out on a semi-final berth; a tournament inextricably linked to the shooting of the Togolese national team bus.
To progress from Group B, Lito Vidigal’s side will have to reduce their overreliance on attacker Manucho, who scored four of their seven goals during qualifiers.
Tournament favourites Cote D’Ivoire are widely tipped to qualify as group winners. Thus, it appears that the battle for second-place will be centred on the third group fixture: Sudan versus Angola. The Burkinabe, however, will remain hopeful of causing an upset.
By Kofi Gyamera-Mensa
See our Group A, C and D previews: