Skip to content

Preview: 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, Group A

Jan 16, 2013, 7:30 AM EST

2013_Africa_Cup_of_Nations

Group A, the only quartet without a traditional continental power, kicks off play at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations on Saturday in South Africa. Whereas Ghana, Nigeria, and Cote d’Ivoire take headlining slots in the competition’s other groups, a struggling host nation gets the preferred spot in the tournament’s first group. As a result, we’re left with a quartet where the highest ranked team has no history, the group’s former champions may be its weakest teams, and the team that has reason to think it can do some damage is could still tumble out after three games.

Welcome to the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations. Over the next three days, we’ll be giving you snapshots of the four, four-team groups. Today, we begin with Group A, a packet that starts the tournament at 11 a.m. Eastern on Saturday.

GROUP A: South Africa, Angola, Morocco, Cape Verde

SOUTH AFRICA

World rank: 85; CAF rank: 22; Best finish: 1996 Champions

Many will remember the Bafana Bafana from their role as hosts for the 2010 World Cup. There, they became the first hosts to fail to advance out of their group. Things didn’t improve competitively after the finals, with the team failing to qualify for the 2012 Cup of Nations in Gabon-Equatorial Guinea.

South Africa were absolved from a potential repeat embarrassment when, in response to domestic unrest in Libya, hosting duties were switched to the continent’s southern tip. Now it’s a matter of taking advantage of that fortune.

History: South Africa was banned from participation for political reasons until 1994, when they failed to qualify. As hosts in 1996, they won the competition in their first appearance and went on to qualify for seven successive finals (finishing second in 1998, third in 2000). They’ve missed the last two tournaments.

Players: South Africa’s biggest star is Everton winger Steven Pienaar, but with the 30-year-old three months into an international retirement, the hosts are left with a team with few recognizable names. Some will remember midfielder Siphiwe Tshabalala, the team’s most capped player (78), for his goal to open the 2010 World Cup, but with the possible exceptions of former Fulham midfielder Kagisho Dikgacoi (now with second-division Crystal Palace), forward Bernard Parker (who spent a short time with FC Twente), and defender Bongani Khumalo (who spent one season bouncing around England), only South African league experts will be familiar with this roster.

How they’ll play: Head coach Gordon Igesund has played both one and two-striker formations in pre-tournament friendlies, each featuring 28-year-old Mamelodi Sundowns striker Katlego Mphela as the main threat. His 23 international goals (in 49 games) are almost twice as many as the next most-prolific player on the roster (Parker, 12).

Expect athletic but direct play that will rely on opportunism more than creativity.

Outlook: As hosts, they should expect to get out of this group, but a knockout round spot is not a given. If this tournament was being played anywhere else, the Bafana Bafana would be unlikely to come out of this group.

ANGOLA

World rank: 78; CAF rank: 19; Best finish: Two quarterfinal appearances

Despite only qualifying for one World Cup (2006), Angola is making their fifth straight appearance in their continent’s championship. In 2012, only the goal difference tiebreaker kept the Antelopes from making their third straight quarterfinal appearance. That setback hasn’t kept the Angolans from setting ambitious goals for this tournament. Uruguayan coach Gustavo Ferrin, having guided his team to South Africa on a seven-match unbeaten run, is starting a top three finish.

History: Angola didn’t qualify for the finals until 1996 but have since back seven of 10 tournaments. They’ve never advanced beyond the round of eight.

Players: Most of Ferrin’s squad plays in the Angolan domestic league. Former Manchester United prospect Manucho Goncalves (Real Valladolid) is the most notable exception, his size and athleticism making him one of the more difficult marks in the tournament. Mateus (Nacional, Portugal) has been a regular in the team since their run to the knockout round at Germany 2006, Djalma (Kasımpaşa, Turkey) will provide the creative spark, while veteran Gilberto (AEL Limassol, Cyprus) will serve as the midfield linchpin.

It’s an experienced group that has seen relative success in this competition. You can see why Ferrin wants them to be ambitious.

How they’ll play: In the past, Angola’s usually featured Goncalves as the focal point of a two-attacker setup, with the team’s four-man midfield featuring a creator and destroyer. The team Ferrin’s selected hints he’ll set up the same way; however, this will be the 53-year-old’s first major senior competition. It remains to be seen how he’ll manage it.

The Antelopes don’t play the most intense brand of soccer, but the technical quality is there. And they’re capable of getting out on the counter.

Outlook: Angola has the talent and pedigree to get out of this group, but drawn with the host nation, their path to the final eight is not without pitfalls. There are no easy games in this packet, and while the Angolans should be favored to advance, a second straight near miss wouldn’t be a shock.

source: Getty ImagesMOROCCO

World rank:  74; CAF rank: 17; Best finish: 1976 Champions

The 2015 hosts are appearing in their eighth finals in nine tournaments, yet the northwest African nation’s results have been mostly disappointing. While they lost to the hosts in the final of Tunisia 2004, the Lions of the Atlas have only moved out of group one other time since 1998. This year, head coach Rachid Taoussi is without most of the countries most prominent stars, with Marouane Chamakh (West Ham), Adel Tarrabt (Queens Park Rangers), and Houssine Kharja (Qatar’s Al-Araby) not in the team that travelled to South Africa. Despite the upheaval, Taoussi predicts the Lions and South Africa will advance from the group.

History: In addition to their 1976 title, Morocco has finished second (2004) and third (1980). Add in their fourth place finishes in 1996 and 1998 and the Lions have made the final four five times. It’s the most accomplished history in the group.

Players: Chamakh, Tarrabt, Kharja and excluded Anzhi Makhachkala midfielder Mbark Boussoufa have combined for 186 caps and 38 goals. The 23-man team Taoussi’s taking to South Africa count a total of 208 appearances and 12 goals.

This isn’t merely a matter of taking a young team. Only six players in Taoussi’s 23-man squad are under 24 years of age.

The most important of them is 22-year-old Montpellier midfielder Younès Belhanda (right). A key figure in MHSC’s 2011-12 Ligue 1 title run, Belhanda is among the most talented players in this tournament. Morocco will need a lot of luck to advance if Belhanda doesn’t perform like this group’s best player.

How they’ll play: In their latest pre-tournament friendly against Namibia, Taossi started Fiorentina’s Mounir El Hamdaoui as a striker flanked in attack by Galatasaray’s Nordin Amrabat, and Liverpool’s Oussama Assaidi; however, it remains to be seen how the team sets up when Balhanda returns from injury. In all likelihood, Belhanda will have to do some heavy lifting to power the attack in front of sitters Karim El Ahmadi (Aston Villa) and Adil Hermach (Al-Hilal).

Outlook: Taoussi’s over confident. This team’s unlikely to break Morocco’s recent trend of disappointment.

CAPE VERDE

World rank: 70; CAF rank: 15; Best finish: Never previously qualified

In the always unpredictable world of African soccer, Cape Verde’s qualification was the most difficult to foresee. This year’s only finals debutants, the Blue Sharks qualified at the expense of Cameroon, a four-time champion that was trying to avoid the indignity of missing a second straight Cup. With their 3-2 aggregate win in the final playoff round, the island nation of around 500,000 people qualified for South Africa, leaving the Indomitable Lions at home.

Players: Defender Nando is the team captain and most experienced player (38 appearances) on a young and Verdean team that have had little time together. The more intriguing attacker is 23-year-old Lille forward Ryan Mendes, who has scored three goals in nine international appearances. Olhanesne’s 21-year-old attacker Djaniny had a goal against Cameroon, one of two he’s scored in four international appearances.

How they’ll play: In their latest friendly, coach Lúcio Antunes started with one up top against Nigeria, though with players like Mendes and Djaniny starting on the bench, it’s unclear that’s how Antunes plans to play come Saturday’s opener against South Africa. As with most things Cape Verde soccer, how they’ll approach their first major tournament is an unknown.

Outlook: Having quickly acquired a reputation for a well-organized in defense, Cape Verde shouldn’t be an easy match for any team. However, they get some bad luck having to face the host nation in their Cup of Nations debut. While many expect the Sharks to give South Africa a difficult time on Saturday, it is their first major tournament match, and they’ll be on the road.

Had that match come later in the tournament, the Verdeans may be better prepared (having shaken off their first tournament jitters). In game one, they may miss out on valuable points they’d need to advance.

SCHEDULE

Saturday, Jan. 19, 11 a.m. ET – South Africa vs. Cape Verde
Saturday, Jan. 19, 2 p.m. ET – Angola vs. Morocco
Wednesday, Jan. 23, 10 a.m. ET – South Africa vs. Angola
Wednesday, Jan. 23, 1 p.m. ET – Morocco vs. Cape Verde
Sunday, Jan. 27, 12 p.m. ET – Morocco vs. South Africa
Sunday, Jan. 27, 12 p.m. ET – Cape Verde vs. Angola

Wild guess order of finish:

1. South Africa (7 pts.)
2. Angola (5 pts.)
3. Cape Verde (4 pts.)
4. Morocco (0 pts.)

Latest Posts
  1. Arsene Wenger hails his team’s attitude, Sanogo and the path forward

    Nov 26, 2014, 10:30 PM EST

    FBL-EUR-C1-ARSENAL-ANDERLECHT-TRAINING Getty Images

    Wenger was in good spirits following his side’s victory that put an end to his two-match losing skid.

  2. Ross Barkley Divegate: Why Martinez defends him and what it means

    Nov 26, 2014, 9:50 PM EST

    Everton v West Ham United - Premier League Getty Images

    Yes, Barkley dove and yes, (news flash) Martinez is overly protective of his players.

  3. Cesc Fabregas claims he’s playing the best football of his life

    Nov 26, 2014, 8:32 PM EST

    Let's talk about Cesc... Getty Images

    “I feel that right now I am playing some of the best football of my career,” Fabregas said.

  4. Emile Heskey offers himself to Leicester City to help scoring woes

    Nov 26, 2014, 7:38 PM EST

    FBL-ENG-PR-DISCRIMINATION-HESKEY-SIN

    “It goes without saying, I’d love to come,” Heskey told BBC Radio Leicester.

  5. Franck Ribery lashes out at “politics” behind the Ballon d’Or

    Nov 26, 2014, 6:44 PM EST

    gareth_bale_franck_ribery AP

    Poor Franck. All fired up and not even on the 23-man shortlist.

  6. Despite their struggles, Liverpool’s season intact as spirit shines through

    Nov 26, 2014, 6:00 PM EST

    Can Liverpool build off this draw in Sofia? Their manager Brendan Rodgers has cause for optimism.

  7. Champions League roundup: Arsenal, Atletico Madrid through, tense elsewhere

    Nov 26, 2014, 5:21 PM EST

    All the action from the penultimate games in Groups A-D, as two teams booked their spot in the last 16.

  8. Paul Mitchell named Tottenham’s new head of recruitment

    Nov 26, 2014, 5:19 PM EST

    Paul Mitchell

    The raid on Southampton continues, as their recruiting guru heads to Spurs.

  9. Arsenal 2-0 Dortmund: Sanogo and Sanchez send the Gunners through to the Knockout Stage

    Nov 26, 2014, 4:43 PM EST

    Arsenal FC v Borussia Dortmund - UEFA Champions League Getty Images

    It was an upbeat display from the Gunners, who move on to the Champions League knockout stage.

  10. Ludogorets 2-2 Liverpool: Late equalizer spells more misery for Reds, but there’s hope

    Nov 26, 2014, 4:42 PM EST

    Reds cough up late goal, but can still advance to the last 16 of the UCL with a win over Basel in their final group game.

  11. VIDEO: Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo scores 71st Champions League goal

    Nov 26, 2014, 4:10 PM EST

    FBL-EUR-C1-BASEL-REAL FBL-EUR-C1-BASEL-REAL

    Watch Ronaldo go level with Raul as he puts some pressure on Messi.

  12. At The Half – Arsenal 1-0 Dortmund: Sanogo’s strike the difference

    Nov 26, 2014, 3:41 PM EST

    Arsenal FC v Borussia Dortmund - UEFA Champions League

    Good start for the Arsenal, scoring early through Yaya Sanogo.

  13. Pochettino wants more rest between European and Premier League matches

    Nov 26, 2014, 3:10 PM EST

    Tottenham Hotspur FC Training and Press Conference Getty Images

    As Tottenham continue to struggle, Mauricio Pochettino believes his team needs more rest between competitions.

  14. Zenit St. Petersburg 1-0 Benfica: Danny strike eliminates Portuguese champs

    Nov 26, 2014, 2:27 PM EST

    FBL-EUR-C1-ZENIT-BENFICA Getty Images

    The Zenit skipper earned three points for the home side as Benfica’s Champions League dreams ended in St. Petersburg.

  15. LIVE – Champions League: Arsenal host Dortmund, Liverpool face Ludogorets

    Nov 26, 2014, 1:58 PM EST

    Britain Soccer Champions League AP

    Follow all the action from the UCL’s eight games on Wednesday, right here.

  16. Liverpool legend says Simon Mignolet is ‘worse than Dracula’

    Nov 26, 2014, 1:13 PM EST

    Norwich City v Liverpool - Premier League Getty Images

    Former Reds’ goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar had some choice words for the struggling Simon Mignolet as Liverpool’s tumultuous season continues.

  17. Arjen Robben: Bayern were ‘brutally punished’ by City

    Nov 26, 2014, 12:29 PM EST

    Manchester City FC v FC Bayern Muenchen - UEFA Champions League Getty Images

    The Bayern star was outshone by Sergio Aguero’s hat trick in Munich’s 3-2 loss to Manchester City.

  18. Victor Moses out up to eight weeks with injury

    Nov 26, 2014, 11:30 AM EST

    Stoke City v West Ham United - Premier League Getty Images

    Stoke City will be without their on-loan winger as the Nigerian international is sidelined with a thigh injury.

Featured video

PST Extra: Top 4 showdowns on Sunday