African Cup of Nations 2012 preview - Group C
Gabon, Niger, Morocco, Tunisia
Akin to Equatorial Guinea, Gabon qualified automatically for the African Nations by virtue of being co-hosts for the competition.
Therefore, having been exempt from the qualifiers coach Gernot Rohr’s Panthers embarked upon a series of testing friendlies throughout 2011, during which they suffered only three defeats; succumbing to a disappointing home 0-1 loss against Gambia and defeats to Brazil and Ghana.
These are, however, potentially exciting times for Gabonese football, in spite of their current FIFA World Ranking of 91. The U-23 side were victorious in the continental championship, consequently qualifying for the 2012 Olympic Games Men’s Football tournament.
As co-hosts Gabon can expect staunch support from their fans, and have even received words of encouragement from President Ali Bongo ahead of their campaign.
Niger recovered from a 2-0 defeat against South Africa in the opening qualifying fixture to finish top of a group that also included the seven-time winners of the competition, Egypt.
Having already superseded expectations by actually qualifying from the preliminary rounds, coach Horouna Doula’s side are ranked as outsiders to progress from the group stage.
Their FIFA World Ranking of 98 attests to this, as well as the fact that their top scorer in qualification, Moussa Maazou, scored just two goals. Niger were, in fact, the only side to qualify for the tournament with a negative goal difference, highlighting potential defensive frailties.
Morocco have been unspectacular in recent editions of the African Cup of Nations. The Atlas Lions failed to qualify in 2010 and bowed out of the competition in the group stages in 2008 and 2006, despite finishing as runners-up in 2004.
In terms of results, coach Eric Gerets’ side have had a mixed year; notable victories include a resounding 4-0 win over north African rivals Algeria and a commendable 2-0 win against Senegal in Dakar.
Morocco qualified as group winners following a strong qualification campaign, during which they were unbeaten at home. Their success in this group will surely be dependent on the defensive quality that saw them concede just twice in qualification.
No longer the dominant force
In attack Gerets will be hopeful that Arsenal’s Marouane Chamakh can rediscover goal-scoring form. Supporting Chamakh are likely to be Anzhi Makhachkala’s Mbark Boussoufa and QPR’s Adel Taarabt (pictured).
2004 winners Tunisia are not the dominant force on the continent they once were under former coach Roger Lemerre. And the Carthage Eagles can consider themselves fortunate to have qualified for the 2012 competition: a late equaliser by Chad against Malawi proved decisive, allowing Tunisia to qualify ahead of Malawi.
Regrettably for Tunisia, the Eagles’ top scorer in qualification, Issam Jemaa, is struggling to recover from injury despite being named in the final squad.
Jemaa’s goals were crucial to Tunisia’s qualification campaign but coach Sami Trabelsi remains hopeful that he can guide his team to the quarter-finals at the very least. Much will rest upon the outcome of their opening group fixture: a clash against north African rivals, Morocco.
Niger coach Horouane Doula has stated that his side wish to avoid 'ridicule', thus almost setting the precedent for his side and resigning them to early elimination. So progress from Group C appears to be a three-way battle between co-hosts Gabon, Morocco and Tunisia.
By Kofi Gyamera-Mensa
Group D preview coming soon - See our Group A, B and D previews: