African Cup of Nations 2012 preview - Group D
Ghana, Botswana, Mali, Guinea
2010 runners-up Ghana progressed through the qualification stages with relative comfort, dropping just two points and conceding a solitary goal in the process.
Key to the recent re-emergence of the Black Stars over the last half a decade is a more patient approach and greater focus defensive responsibilities.
In addition, Ghana also boast an array of attacking talent including Marseille’s Andre and Jordan Ayew, as well as Kwadwo Asamoah and the charismatic Asamoah Gyan (pictured), who recently recovered from injury.
Coach Goran ‘Plavi’ Stefanovic’s side are considered genuine contenders for the African Nations title, following a strong 2010 campaign despite missing several key players. Crucial to their success is likely to be the fitness of Sunderland’s Gyan, who forms the spearhead of the attack.
Botswana have already exceeded expectations by qualifying top a group that also contained previous winners Tunisia, as well as Togo.
The Zebras lost just once, in their final preliminary fixture, en route to the 2012 tournament. And in 2011, excepting a disappointing 0-1 to Lesotho, Stanley Tshoshane’s side have been in relatively good form in friendly fixtures also.
In attack, Botswana will have to find goal-scoring options alternative to Jerome Ramatlhakwane, who scored five of their seven goals in qualification. This task will not be made easier following an arm fracture to winger Joel Mogorosi just days before the tournament commencement.
The Zebras will also be without captain Diphetogo ‘Dipsy’ Selolwane for the opening fixture against Ghana due to suspension.
Since impressive performances in 2002 and 2004, in which Mali finished fourth-placed, the Eagles have failed to make a significant impact at more recent editions of the African Nations competition.
Coach Alain Giresse’s side head into the tournament with notable absentees, not least Sevilla striker Frederic Kanoute. Giresse’s preparations were further hampered by the sacking of his assistant just weeks prior to the start of the tournament by Mali Football Federation.
Despite qualifying as group winners, Mali’s form throughout was relatively inconsistent. However, fans may seek solace in the reinstatement of Barcelona’s Seydou Keita to the national side, following a lengthy self-imposed period of exile.
Following Kanoute’s international retirement, Mali are likely to be reliant on Sochaux’s Garra Dembele and Bordeaux’s Cheick Diabaté as their goal-scoring outlets.
Guinea coach Michael Dussuyer has set his side the target of progression from the group ahead of their opening fixture against Mali.
Dussuyer’s Eagles impressed in qualification, during which they finished ahead of former heavyweights Nigeria; their 2-2 draw in the final fixture in Abuja brought Nigeria’s campaign to a premature end.
The final squad list for the tournament prompted much speculation – the absence of Genoa’s Kevin Constant a particular topic of debate in the Guinean media.
Meanwhile, veteran playmaker Pascal Feindouno is set to feature as he approaches the twilight of his career.
Aside from the impressive qualification campaign, Guinea will be eager to overlook heavy defeats to Senegal in friendlies at the beginning and end of 2011.
Goran Stefanovic will be expectant of more than just qualification from Group D for his Ghana side.
The battle for second-place is likely to be contested between Guinea and Mali, who meet in their opening fixtures. Botswana, making their debut, are capable of causing problems.
By Kofi Gyamera-Mensa
See our Group A, B and C previews: