Skip to content

Preview: 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, Group D

Jan 21, 2013, 5:58 PM EST

2013_Africa_Cup_of_Nations

The final group to kickoff at South Africa 2013 has the continent’s two top-rated teams, though there’s a clear favorite to finish first in group F. As always, Cote d’Ivoire was the pick going into Africa’s confederation championship, but with Algeria and Tunisia in their group, the perpetual picks have two capable North African hurdles ahead of a knockout round appearance.

Togo rounds out a quartet that’s been curiously labeled a group of death, one that begins play on Tuesday.

GROUP D: Cote d’Ivoire, Tunisia, Algeria, Togo

COTE D’IVOIRE

World rank: 14; CAF rank: 1; Best finish: Champions in 1992.

They’re the favorite on name value alone, but oh, what a set of names. Les Elephants have the two best players in Africa, talent that makes them obvious favorites. Their results, however, have never matched their reputation, and although Sabri Lamouchi’s team is again touted by the casual fan to take home Africa’s championship, their often excessively casual play has left them title-less over the last two decades.

History: Egypt has seven titles. Ghana and Cameroon have four titles. Even Congo DR has won twice. How has Cote d’Ivoire only won one title in 28 previous editions of this tournament?

It’s not that they haven’t had success in the absolute sense. The Ivorians have finished in the top three seven times, but with three semifinal appearances in the last four tournaments, the Elephants have become Africa’s nearly men, each tournament representing their next chance to not break through.

Players: Sorry Robin van Persie, but Yaya Touré was the English Premier League’s best player last season. While this year he hasn’t replicated the dominant form he showed in 2011-12, he is still Africa’s best player. If he plays for Cote d’Ivoire like he did for Manchester City, Cote d’Ivoire will win this competition.

Then there’s Drogba. He’s 34, been in China for seven months, but Didier Drogba (Shanghai Shenhua) may still be one of the most dangerous players in the world. If he plays like he did in March through May (in Champions League), Cote d’Ivoire will win this competition. (Yes, there are a lot of ways the Ivorians win this competition.)

Then there’s Gervinho (Arsenal), Cheick Tioté (Newcastle), Siaka Tiéné (Paris Saint-Germain), Emmanuel Eboué (Galatasaray), Didier Zokora (Trabzonspor, Turkey), along with a host of other players that would help the Ivorians survive in most of the big European leagues. On paper, they are the best team in this tournament.

How they’ll play: This is a broken record. It comes up in almost every snapshot, and it speaks to the lack of cohesion in these teams. It also explains why, beyond Africa, talented teams like Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria, and these Ivorians have had limited success in international competitions …

But the midfield will by the key for the Ivorians. Cote d’Ivoire has a great attack, solid defending, and excellent players in the middle, but the way that midfield plays is not enough to get the most out of Drogba, Gervinho, and Max Gradel (Saint Etienne) – the likely starters in Lamouchi’s 4-3-3.

That’s why this year might be different. Whereas in the past the big African teams have relied on the likes of John Obi Mikel, Michael Essien, and (lately) Alex Song to transcend their club roles and become more progressive players for their national teams, Yaya Touré — after years of being asked to do the same — has actually played and executed in more advanced positions for City. Now, instead of a team speculating a talented player can flip a switch for three weeks, Cote d’Ivoire has a basis to think this can actually work.

Outlook: This group won’t give the Ivorians any problem. If things go right, you’ll see steady improvement throughout there first two games (and cruise through the third), giving Les Elephants momentum and confidence they can carry into the final eight.

TUNISIA

World rank: 53; CAF rank: 10; Best finish: Champions in 2004.

Hindsight has painted Tunisia’s 2012 run as surprising, the Eagles of Carthage pushing Ghana in the round of eight before losing in extra time. The evaluation shows how overlooked the North Africans have become. Consistent qualifiers and a decent bet to make it our of most groups, the Tunisians have become too predictable to be interesting. As a result, they tend to get overlooked.

History: Tunisia has qualified for 11-straight tournaments, getting out of their group eight times. In that time they’ve made three semifinals, two finals, and won the tournament at home in 2004.

Players: Aymen Abdennour (Toulouse) is the base of the team, the 23-year-old central defender key to the Tunisian back line. Veteran Wissem Ben Yahia (Mersin İdmanyurdu, Turkey) will shield the defense, with Oussama Darragi (Sion) and 22-year-old Youssef Msakni (Kuwait SC) creating in support of the team’s only consistent scoring threat: Issam Jemâa (Kuwait SC).

How they’ll play: A 4-3-3 will allow Msakni, Jemaa and Saber Khelifa (Evian, France) to exhibit a skillful attack that instinctively plays on the counter but is capable of more. The team’s pressing can be problematic for a continental style that’s used to getting time on the ball while approaching the attacking half. That stylistic difference makes Tunisia a difficult matchup for most teams, a difference that’s capable of getting results that transcend their base talent level.

Outlook: This might be the year Tunisia doesn’t advance, which would be no fault of their own. With both Cote d’Ivoire and Algeria in their group, they’ll need to pull one mild upset to get through. It could happen in game one, a match with Algeria that both sides concede would decide the second team out of this group.

ALGERIA

World rank: 22; CAF rank: 2; Best finish: Champions in 1990.

After winning a fall 2009 playoff in Khartoum to advance to the World Cup past African champions Egypt, Algeria went into meltdown mode. They made the final four of Angola 2010 before imploding in the semis against the Pharoahs. At the World Cup, they were best known as the other team on the field during Landon Donovan’s goal.

After failing to qualify for Equatorial Guinea-Gabon in 2012, the Desert Foxes are back, with former Cote d’Ivoire head coach Vahid Halilhodžić trying to bring his heavy-handed stability to a team that was distracted by internal tensions.

History: Like Tunisia, Algeria has a consistent record of qualification, making 15 of the last 18 Cup of Nations. And like Tunisia, the only time they’ve taken home the trophy was when they hosted. That was one of only two times the Foxes have made the final.

Players: The Foxes have undergone a refactoring after their 2009 successes. Gone are players like Nadir Belhadj, Karim Matmour, Kader Ghezzal, Mourad Meghni, and Anthar Yahi – the core of Algeria’s previous team. Halilhodžić’s current team has nobody whose been capped more the 25 times (thanks in part to his omissions of Madjid Bougherra and Rafik Halliche).

Valencia attacker Sofiane Feghouli is the most dangerous man on the current team. He’ll be a problem for every left back he’s match up against this tournament. Veteran Marseille midfelder Foued Kadir will be tasked with finding him, while forward Islam Slimani (Belouizdad, Algeria) will need to take advantage of the chances Feghouli creates. Also expect contributions off the bench from Ryad Boudebouz (Sochaux, France).

At the back, Carl Medjani (Ajaccio, France), Djamel Mesbah (Milan), and Liassine Cadamuro (Real Sociedad) feature in one of the tournament’s better back lines, one that will be protected by Getafe’s Mehdi Lacen.

How they’ll play: Whereas before Algeria would shift between a 3-5-2 and 4-4-2, now the Halilhodžić has the team going between 4-4-2 and 4-3-3, with more of the latter thanks to players like Feghouli, Boudebouz and El Arbi Soudani (Vitoria Guimaraes, Portugal). Like other North African teams, they’ve tended to excessive rely on counter attacking in recent years. If you play off the Algerians, you’ll rarely hurt.

Outlook: Most are picking them to get out of this group, but it’s a tossup between them and Tunisia. The order of games might end up deciding who goes through, with Cote d’Ivoire’s (lack of) third game incentives potentially giving one team an advantage.

TOGO

World rank: 110; CAF rank: 31; Best finish: Six group stage exits.

Their place in this group has led to many’s conclusion this is the group of death, but Togo’s reputation is based on the presence of one world class player. Beyond a potentially unstoppable striker, they aren’t much, and given that striker almost skipped the tournament, Didier Six is right to bemoan preparations disrupted by a compensation row.

History: Togo’s only qualified for seven tournaments (participating in six) and has never advanced beyond the group stage. With only one World Cup appearance (where they finished 30th), the Sparrow Hawks have no history of success at major tournaments.

Players: The one other player that has the talent to match the Ivorian duo is Emmanuel Adebayor (Tottenham). But until last week, it was unclear Togoan No. 9 was going to come to the tournament. At first it was reservations spurring from a 2010 Angolan rebel assault that kept the team out of that year’s championship. Then, it because a question over internal federation issues. Abedayor has been a consistently inconsistent presence for a team that depends on his talents.

Beyond Adebayor, it’s a pretty non-descript squad. Nine players are based in France, with Reims’ 34-year-old goalkeeper Kossi Agassa providing some needed experience. Defender Daré Nibombé (Boussu Dour, Belgium) is the team’s most-capped player with 67 appearances, while veteran Moustapha Salfiou is still a probable starter despite not having a club.

How they’ll play: Another 4-3-3 one that will both leave Emmanuel Adebayor isolated as well as stretch the defense enough to create room for his speed to exploit. His chances will be rare as Togo sees very little control of their matches.

Outlook: Some team has to finish last.

SCHEDULE

Tuesday, Jan. 22, 10:00 a.m. Eastern – Cote d’Ivoire versus Togo
Tuesday, Jan. 22, 1:00 p.m. Eastern – Tunisia versus Algeria
Saturday, Jan. 26, 10:00 a.m. Eastern – Cote d’Ivoire versus Tunisia
Saturday, Jan, 26, 1:00 p.m. Eastern – Algeria versus Togo
Wednesday, Jan. 30, 12:00 p.m. Eastern – Algeria versus Cote d’Ivoire
Wednesday, Jan. 30, 12:00 p.m. Eastern – Togo versus Tunisia

Wild guess order of finish:

1. Cote d’Ivoire (7 pts.)
2. Algeria (5 pts.)
3. Tunisia (4 pts.)
4. Togo (0 pts.)

Latest Posts
  1. Tim Cahill hints at Premier League return, says “people will be quietly impressed” with his future plans

    Dec 22, 2014, 10:36 PM EST

    Australia v Jordan - FIFA World Cup Qualifier Getty Images

    The Red Bulls midfielder has big plans for himself as a club player and with Australia, but what to make of his future-aimed comments?

  2. VIDEO: Premier League Team of the Week – Stars of Matchweek 17

    Dec 22, 2014, 9:38 PM EST

    Sunderland v Manchester City - Premier League Getty Images

    Find out which club came away with team of the week honors in Round 17 of the Premier League.

  3. Older brother helps younger brother win Ecuadorian title (by cleaning him out with a brutal tackle)

    Dec 22, 2014, 9:09 PM EST

    FBL-SUDAMERICANA-LIBERTAD-BARCELONA Getty Images

    It’s hard to imagine what Alex Bolanos was thinking, other than, “Hey look, my brother. Let me unload some pain on him.”

  4. VIDEO: Premier League player of the week — Round 17

    Dec 22, 2014, 8:06 PM EST

    Southampton v Queens Park Rangers - Premier League Getty Images

    A hat trick hero takes his bow as this week’s top player.

  5. Monday’s transfer rumor roundup: Canada youngster to West Ham, 3-team fight for Coentrao

    Dec 22, 2014, 7:37 PM EST

    doneil_henry AP

    The gossip is heating up ahead of the transfer window reopening in 10 days time. Here’s your latest dose of rumors…

  6. Freddy Adu leaves Serbian club FK Jagodina, is a free agent once again

    Dec 22, 2014, 6:39 PM EST

    Philadelphia Union v Toronto FC Getty Images

    Freddy Adu has been released. Again. He is free to sign with any club in the world. Again.

  7. Italian Super Cup: Napoli topple Juventus in PKs to lift second trophy of 2014

    Dec 22, 2014, 5:56 PM EST

    Juventus FC v SSC Napoli - 2014 Italian Super Cup Getty Images

    90 and 120 minutes weren’t enough to crown an Italian Super Cup champion, but nine rounds of penalties did the trick.

  8. Premier League Playback: When will Arsenal, Liverpool snap out of their funk?

    Dec 22, 2014, 5:34 PM EST

    PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an in-depth look at Week 17 in the PL.

  9. Stoke City 0-2 Chelsea: Terry, Fabregas score as Blues regain Premier League’s top spot

    Dec 22, 2014, 5:12 PM EST

    Stoke City v Chelsea - Premier League Getty Images

    Another professional performance from Jose Mourinho’s men has Chelsea back atop the Premier League.

  10. 2014’s Top Ten moments in Premier League – Numbers 5-1

    Dec 22, 2014, 3:28 PM EST

    Will Liverpool's late collapse prove pivotal? AP

    Want to know PST’s top moments of 2014 in the PL? Of course you do. Well, here they are.

  11. Watch Live: Stoke City vs. Chelsea (Lineups and Live Stream)

    Dec 22, 2014, 2:26 PM EST

    Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Getty Images

    Watch the Potters take on the leaders at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

  12. UEFA rankings: Real Madrid finish 2014 on top, but who else excelled?

    Dec 22, 2014, 1:47 PM EST

    Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale

    Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. are the top dogs in European soccer after a stellar 2014. But who else is in the top 20?

  13. 2014’s Top Ten moments in Premier League – Numbers 10-6

    Dec 22, 2014, 1:00 PM EST

    Britain Soccer Premier League AP

    Head butts, highlights and heroism from a memorable year of Premier League.

  14. NBC Sports to air first-ever “Premier League Breakaway” show on New Year’s Day

    Dec 22, 2014, 12:10 PM EST

    nbcsports1 (1)

    All the details here, as 30 PL games in seven days will be capped off in style to see in the New Year.

  15. Premier League preview: Stoke City vs. Chelsea

    Dec 22, 2014, 11:58 AM EST

    U.S. international, left, has become a regular for the Potters and is loving life in the Premier League. He had a big hand as Stoke famously beat Chelsea to ignite their season. Getty Images

    Can Cameron’s Stoke City beat Chelsea for the second-straight season? Watch live on NBCSN, 3 p.m. ET.

  16. Jonas Gutierrez plays first game for Newcastle since beating testicular cancer

    Dec 22, 2014, 11:04 AM EST

    Gutierrez Getty Images

    After surgery and chemotherapy, Jonas made his return for Newcastle on Monday.

  17. Brendan Rodgers: Liverpool can still finish in the top four

    Dec 22, 2014, 10:11 AM EST

    Crystal Palace v Liverpool - Premier League Getty Images

    Rodgers confident his side can go on a run and re-write the PL history books.

  18. DeAndre Yedlin granted work permit, heading to Tottenham Hotspur

    Dec 22, 2014, 8:30 AM EST

    Source: Tottenham Hotspur Source: Tottenham Hotspur

    No need for a Latvian passport, as Yedlin is granted UK work permit.

  19. Geoff Cameron: Eden Hazard is “best I’ve played against” in Premier League

    Dec 22, 2014, 7:55 AM EST

    Eden Hazard, Geoff Cameron Eden Hazard, Geoff Cameron

    Geoff on how to stop Chelsea, marking Hazard and the busy festive period in the Premier League.

  20. Antoine Griezmann bursts into the spotlight as Atletico downs Bilbao

    Dec 21, 2014, 11:59 PM EST

    Antoine+Griezmann+Getafe+CF+v+Club+Atletico+wVX6J_Xdokul

    Antoine Griezmann breaks out with three goals in Atletico’s 4-1 result over Athletic Bilbao.

Featured video

JPW's top five PL moments of 2014