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. MLS Snapshot: Colorado Rapids 1-1 FC Dallas

    Apr 25, 2015, 12:21 AM EDT

    Colorado Rapids vs Columbus Crew Colorado Rapids vs Columbus Crew

    FC Dallas took the lead into halftime, but a second half red card to Blas Perez let Colorado sneak back for a point.

  2. Tony Pulis: I’m more than just an escape artist

    Apr 24, 2015, 11:10 PM EDT

    Crystal Palace v West Bromwich Albion - Premier League Getty Images

    Tony Pulis is known for turning around struggling clubs, but the West Brom manager says he is more than just a last resort.

  3. MLS Snapshot: Chicago Fire 1-0 New York City FC

    Apr 24, 2015, 10:20 PM EDT

    Toronto FC v Chicago Fire Getty Images

    David Accam’s first MLS goal was enough for Chicago to down a NYCFC side that played more than 60 minutes a man down.

  4. Americans Abroad preview: Howard and Guzan face Manchester opposition

    Apr 24, 2015, 9:38 PM EDT

    Everton v Burnley - Premier League Getty Images

    Tim Howard takes on his former club Manchester United, while Brad Guzan looks to keep Manchester City off the scoresheet.

  5. Tottenham looking to sell Adebayor at season’s end

    Apr 24, 2015, 8:50 PM EDT

    FBL-ENG-FA CUP-TOTTENHAM-LEICESTER Getty Images

    Finding a club to pay his $150,000 per week wages is the only problem for Spurs.

  6. Premier League Preview: West Bromwich Albion vs. Liverpool

    Apr 24, 2015, 7:46 PM EDT

    Aston Villa v Liverpool - FA Cup Semi-Final Aston Villa v Liverpool - FA Cup Semi-Final

    The Baggies must defend The Hawthorns as Liverpool is barely clinging on to top-four dreams.

  7. Hull City players face pay cuts up to 50-percent if relegated

    Apr 24, 2015, 6:30 PM EDT

    Swansea City v Hull City - Premier League Getty Images

    Clinging onto safety in the Premier League, Hull City players now have some added incentive to avoid the drop.

  8. Van Gaal: Ryan Giggs will be the next manager at Manchester United

    Apr 24, 2015, 5:37 PM EDT

    Manchester United Training and Press Conference Manchester United Training and Press Conference

    Still in his first season as manager at Old Trafford, LVG has already endorsed his top assistant to be the next in line.

  9. Premier League Preview: Manchester City vs. Aston Villa

    Apr 24, 2015, 4:42 PM EDT

    Can Tim Sherwood and Aston Villa continue their climb up the table at the Etihad?

  10. SportsWorld: Jose Fonte talks playing with Ronaldo, shares thoughts on MLS

    Apr 24, 2015, 3:42 PM EDT

    Tottenham Hotspur v Southampton - Premier League Getty Images

    PST’s Joe Prince-Wright sat down with the Southampton defender to see how the Saints’ skipper has evolved into one of the best center-backs in the Premier League.

  11. VIDEO: PST Extra asks if Liverpool, Manchester City should get new managers

    Apr 24, 2015, 2:50 PM EDT

    Liverpool v Manchester City Getty Images

    In the latest PST Extra we take a quick look at why whispers about managers losing their jobs at Liverpool, Man City are getting louder.

  12. Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks: Time for the underdogs to shine

    Apr 24, 2015, 2:06 PM EDT

    Chelsea v Burnley - Premier League Getty Images

    PST’s Lead Writer and Editor predicts the scores in the PL this weekend.

  13. Could Tottenham share their stadium with an NFL team? Here’s how it will work

    Apr 24, 2015, 1:25 PM EDT

    SPURSSTADIUM1

    Spurs are reportedly in talks with the NFL about housing a franchise in their new stadium.

  14. VIDEO: PST Extra picks Premier League’s Best XI from 2014-15 season. Agree?

    Apr 24, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT

    Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Getty Images

    What do you think of these 11 players getting Team of the Year honors?

  15. WATCH: NBC Sports’ Premier League TV schedule – Week 34

    Apr 24, 2015, 11:19 AM EDT

    PremierLeagueNBC

    Where and how to watch every PL game during Week 34.

  16. Jose Mourinho: “Arsene Wenger is not my rival” ahead of Arsenal vs. Chelsea

    Apr 24, 2015, 10:15 AM EDT

    WengerMourinho Getty Images

    Mourinho stirs the pot before huge clash with Arsenal on Sunday.

  17. Premier League Preview: Southampton vs. Tottenham Hotspur

    Apr 24, 2015, 9:25 AM EDT

    Tottenham Hotspur v Southampton - Premier League Getty Images

    Can Saints get revenge on Pochettino as he returns to St Mary’s? Watch live, Saturday, 7:45 a.m ET.

  18. Injury update on Chelsea’s Diego Costa. Is he fit for London derby vs. Arsenal?

    Apr 24, 2015, 8:10 AM EDT

    Chelsea v Liverpool - Capital One Cup Semi-Final: Second Leg Getty Images

    Jose Mourinho has delivered an update on Costa’s progress ahead of Sunday’s big game.

  19. Pochettino: Avoiding Europa League could help Spurs make Champions League next year

    Apr 23, 2015, 11:17 PM EDT

    Mauricio Pochettino, Tottenham Hotspur FC Getty Images

    Mauricio Pochettino feels that any team not having to contend with Europa League has a better chance of qualifying for Champions League.

Featured video

Should Chelsea be more entertaining?