Skip to content

Preview: 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, Group D

Jan 21, 2013, 5:58 PM EDT

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. Bundesliga Roundup: Battle for European places continues in Germany

    Apr 19, 2014, 4:15 PM EDT

    Dortmund's Robert Lewandowski of Poland, center, scores during the German first division Bundesliga soccer match between BvB Borussia Dortmund and Mainz 05 in Dortmund, Germany, Saturday, April 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein) AP

    A host of teams are battling it out to determine who will fill Germany’s European spots. Meanwhile, the rush to avoid the drop continues.

  2. Watch Live: Chicago Fire vs. New England Revolution (Lineups and Discuss)

    Apr 19, 2014, 3:38 PM EDT

    quincy_amarikwa_jack_mcinerney AP

    Chicago goes for its first win while New England looks to make it two-in-a-row, and it all starts at 4:00 p.m. ET on NBC/NBC Sports Live Extra:

  3. Premier League Roundup: Chelsea blow it, Swansea, Spurs and Palace win

    Apr 19, 2014, 3:20 PM EDT

    Borini and Sunderland stunned Chelsea, as the bottom club beat the title chasers. Getty Images

    All the recaps, analysis and video highlights from a sensational Saturday:

  4. VIDEO: Jose Mourinho’s sensational swipe at officials after Chelsea suffer shock defeat

    Apr 19, 2014, 2:56 PM EDT

    Britain Soccer Champions League AP

    Watch Chelsea’s manager implode in the post-match TV interview, as his unbeaten streak comes to an end:

  5. Serie A Roundup: Milan look set to sneak into Europe

    Apr 19, 2014, 2:52 PM EDT

    AC Milan forward Mario Balotelli, second from left, celebrates with his teammates after scoring during the Serie A soccer match between AC Milan and Livorno at the San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy, Saturday, April 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni) AP

    Lazio, Torino and Parma all dropped points, opening a path for AC Milan to push into Italy’s final Europa League spot.

  6. Chelsea 1-2 Sunderland: Blues’ title dreams in ruins, as Black Cats grab shock win

    Apr 19, 2014, 2:32 PM EDT

    Chelsea v Sunderland - Premier League Getty Images

    Chelsea lose at home in PL under Mourinho for first time in 77 matches, as Sunderland shock Blues:

  7. Watch – Chelsea and Sunderland level with title and survival on the line

    Apr 19, 2014, 1:26 PM EDT

    Eto'o is at the center of a huge controversy as Mourinho was recorded without his knowledge. AP

    Blues and Black Cats locked at 1-1 after nervy first half, watch live online right here:

  8. Magath insists Fulham will be able to avoid relegation

    Apr 19, 2014, 1:07 PM EDT

    Aston Villa v Fulham - Premier League Getty Images

    According to the Fulham manager, if his side win their two remaining home matches, the Whites will stay up.

  9. Cardiff City 1-1 Stoke City: Tale of two penalties in fiery draw

    Apr 19, 2014, 12:21 PM EDT

    Cardiff City v Stoke City - Premier League Getty Images

    Cardiff and Stoke both score PKs, as Bluebirds fail to take another step towards safety:

  10. Aston Villa 0-0 Southampton: Villa break four-game losing streak

    Apr 19, 2014, 12:14 PM EDT

    BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - APRIL 19: Jose Fonte (R) of Southampton tackles Gabriel Agbonlahor (L) of Aston Villa during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Southampton at Villa Park on April 19, 2014 in Birmingham, England. Getty Images

    Aston Villa may have clinched a vital point in the battle for safety, playing out a goalless draw with Southampton at Villa Park.

  11. Newcastle United 1-2 Swansea City: Bony’s brace seals crucial win for Swans

    Apr 19, 2014, 12:08 PM EDT

    Newcastle United v Swansea City - Premier League Getty Images

    Swansea secure vital win, as Newcastle slump to yet another defeat.

  12. West Ham United 0-1 Crystal Palace: Eagles assure second season in Premier League

    Apr 19, 2014, 11:58 AM EDT

    LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 19: Yannick Bolasie of Crystal Palace and George McCartney of West Ham compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Crystal Palace at Boleyn Ground on April 19, 2014 in London, England. Getty Images

    Tony Pulis has done it once more – with three points from West Ham, Crystal Palace are now assured of a second consecutive Premier League season.

  13. Watch Live: Chelsea vs. Sunderland (Lineups and Discuss)

    Apr 19, 2014, 11:49 AM EDT

    Britain Soccer Premier League AP

    Can Chelsea go top of the Premier League by beating struggling Sunderland? Watch live, right here:

  14. Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 Fulham: Whites’ hope fading fast

    Apr 19, 2014, 9:43 AM EDT

    Tottenham Hotspur's Paulinho, second right, celebrates his goal against Fulham with teammates during their English Premier League soccer match at White Hart Lane, London, Saturday, April 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Sang Tan) AP

    Fulham put up a good fight, but in the end failed to take advantage of Spurs weaknesses to come away from White Hart Lane with even a point.

  15. Watch Live: Aston Villa vs. Southampton (Lineups and Discuss)

    Apr 19, 2014, 9:27 AM EDT

    Aston Villa Getty Images

    Villa are back in the relegation battle once more, but three points against the Saints at Villa Park would do wonders for their confidence.

  16. Watch Live: Newcastle United vs. Swansea City (Lineups and Discuss)

    Apr 19, 2014, 9:22 AM EDT

    Swansea City v Newcastle United - Premier League Getty Images

    Swans still not safe, as struggling Newcastle stand in the way. Watch live, right here:

  17. Watch Live: West Ham United vs. Crystal Palace (Lineups and Discuss)

    Apr 19, 2014, 9:16 AM EDT

    Puncheon sealed his permanent move to Palace. Getty Images

    Both sides could clinch another season in the Premier League this weekend-but they’ll have to take all three points. Can either side do it?

  18. Watch Live: Cardiff City vs. Stoke City (Lineups and Discuss)

    Apr 19, 2014, 9:12 AM EDT

    Mats Moller Daehli AP

    Bluebirds continue their battle against the drop, as Potters come to town. Watch live, right here:

  19. WATCH: Premier League live on NBC Sports Live Extra – Week 35

    Apr 19, 2014, 7:39 AM EDT

    NBC Sports Live Extra

    Find out how to watch every single PL game live online of via the app:

Featured video

PST Extra: Race for the PL title