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The group D of the African Cup of Nations 2012 is considered as the “group of dead”. Before the last match day, tomorrow Wednesday, every team can theoretically still reach the next round. Ghana, one of the favorites of this year’s tournament, are on top of the table thanks to two commanding wins (vs Botswana 1-0, vs Mali 2-0) in which they scored thrice and didn’t concede any goal at all. Guinea are runner-ups even though they have as much points as Mali. The better goal difference (Guinea: +4; Mali: -1) is crucial though. Botswana are on the bottom of the table with 0 points and a goal difference of -6. They could still reach the next round though, if Ghana has a thrashing win against Guinea and Botswana has one as well against Mali what is pretty unlikely to happen though. Ghana is almost qualified for the next round but they better don’t lose because they have a tiny goal difference and Mali can easily score 3 or even 4 goals against Botswana and the “Black Stars”’ next opponent Guinea has the best goal difference anyway. A drawn would be enough for Ghana but then Mali could pass Guinea by. They can pass them by with a win or even drawn as well if Ghana wins. So, as you can see, every team has still (at least) theoretical chances to qualify for the quarters.
I think Ghana and Mali will come through. There’s no doubt that Mali will win against Botswana and Ghana won’t lose for sure against Guinea (in my opinion) so Guinea will be kicked out no matter if they drawn or win because Mali will pass them by anyway with a win.
Botswana was actually the first team to qualify for this year’s tournament which was and still is a huge surprise. It’s their first participation ever but that’s not their only problem; they have never even come close to a qualification to the CAF. Botswana played there first international in 1968 and they only began to try to qualify for the world cups and CAFs in the nineties. Only four Botswanan men are playing abroad – in South Africa. They only conceded 7 goals in 8 qualifying matches, beat Tunisia away and home, and only lost after qualification had been secured.
The highly successful and impressive qualifying was considered as one of the advantages for Botswana, especially for their minds to be motivated and so on. They were said to be defensively very strong but they have already conceded 7 goals in the current tournament. The main reasons for those disastrous results are a lack of experience and a very weak forward line (only 1 goal).
The 55-year-old Stanley Tshosane is the manager of Botswana. He’s from Botswana as well and is the manager of the “Zebras” since 2008. The former winger had been caretaker of the Botswanan national team in 2002 and 2008. He is said to act a bit like a teacher what can be proved with his quote before the African Cup of Nations:
It’s the same as in school: prepare well for exams and you’ll pass
Dipsy Selolwane is the Botswanan star. The 34-year-old midfielder and striker has even played in the MLS in the USA from 2002 to 2005 before he went back to Africa but not to Botswana, where he had been playing before he went to the states, but to South Africa. He has scored 17 times for his country so far and also scored the first goal ever for Botswana in a CAF. He converted a penalty to the temporary 1-1 before his team lost 1-6.
The “Black Stars” finished runner-ups of the African Cup of Nations 2010 after they had beaten by Egypt in the final. In the same year, they reached the quarters of the World Cup in South Africa where they were eliminated against Uruguay after penalty shoot-out. Thus they want to keep on making great results. Ghana won the CAF in 1963, 1965, 1978 and 1982. Their counter-attacking style is pretty simple: Asamoah Gyan (25, loaned from FC Sunderland to Al Ain FC in the UAE) is the roving target man, Kwadwo Asamoah (23, Udinese) is just off him and Andre Ayew (22, Olympique Marseille) is playing on the left wing. Those three players are very fast and perfect for a counter attacking system. In the midfield, Anthony Annan (25, loaned from Schalke 04 to Vitesse in the Netherlands) is playing in the defensive part and Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu (21, Udinese) is playing as shuttling midfielder. Both are responsible to win the ball and for the build up play. Ghana’s midfield is very strong even without Kevin-Prince Boateng and Michael Essien.
Goran Stevanovic, a 45-year-old Serbian former midfielder had been appointed as head coach of the Ghanaian national team in 2010 after the world cup because Milovan Rajevac had left for the Middle East. Stevanovic’s favorite system is a 4-2-3-1 which had already been used by his predecessor what shows that the Ghanaian football federation does chose their coaches wisely.
Asamoah Gyan is the Ghanaian key player. The 25-year-old striker was the main reason for Ghana’s success in 2010 with three goals at the world cup. He has been playing in Europe since 2003 when he was playing for 5 years in Udinese, scoring 11 goals in 39 matches. He went on loan to Modena for two years though (2004-2006) where he scored 15 goals in 53 appearances. In Rennes he made his breakthrough between 2008 and 2010, scoring 14 times in 47 matches. After the tournament in South Africa he signed at Sunderland where he netted 10 times in 34 matches. In summer 2011 though, he went on loan to Al Ain where he has already scored 12 goals in only 10 matches. He has made 56 matches for his country so far and scored in every second match.
Guinea failed to qualify for the last CAF in Angola. Before they had reached the quarters three times in a row. Guinea was unbeaten in the qualifying, a record they preserved thanks to a late equalizer away against Nigeria in their final game. Nigeria was eliminated because of that goal. Guinea lost in friendlies last year against Senegal though (0-3 and 1-4) and was also defeated by Venezuela (1-2). The most important players of the squad are the attacking duo Ismael Bangoura (27, Al Nasr, Dubai) and Pascal Feindouno (30, free agent) who have been harmonizing very well each other since many years. Their most important defensive player is Bobo Balde, a 36-year-old central back who is currently playing for Arles-Avignon in the second French league.
The main strengths of Guinea are the qualification against Nigeria, the good mixture of young, eager and old, experienced players while their main weaknesses are said to be their concentration and that no Guinean is playing for a big European club.
Michel Dussuyer, a former goalkeeper is already the coach of the Guinean squad for the second time. The 52-year-old first coached them between 2002 and 2004. In 2004 he participated in the CAF in Tunisia with his team. The French who spent his whole senior career in French clubs was assistant of Henri Michel in 2006 when the Ivory Coast was playing at the World Cup in Germany. After that he went to Cannes for one year before he signed in Benin where he was sacked in 2010 after a poor first round at the CAF in Angola. Some months after, he signed again in Guinea.
Pascal Feindouno is the Guinean key player. The 30-year-old winger and attacking midfielder has already been playing for many more or less big French clubs. Bordeaux, Lorient, St-Etienne and Monaco could already admire his skills. He didn’t only play in France but also signed in Qatar where he was loaned out twice before he went to Monaco on February 2011. In summer 2011 he joined the Swiss club FC Sion. He is a free agent since January 2012 though after the club was deducted 36 points for fielding ineligible players. Feindouno was actually among those players what isn’t his fault though. He has been called up 55 times for his country since 1999 and has scored 21 goals for them so far.
Mali was already eliminated in the first round of the African Cups of Nations 2008 and 2010 after they didn’t even qualify in 2006. In 2002 and 2004 they even reached the semis thanks to a solid midfield and Frederic Kanoute upfront. By now, Frederic Kanoute has retired from international appearances and so have Mahamadou Diarra and Momo Sissoko what means that the midfield has lost two great players as well. Still, the midfield isn’t that bad though because Seydou Keita has decided to play again for his country after he had left the national team in 2010. Mali’s qualifying was pretty awkward though. In an easy group, they only qualified on the last match day thanks to a drawn against Liberia. They progressed ahead of Cape Verde (island group in the Atlantic) because of a better head-to-head record…
The come back of Seydou Keita can be seen as a plus as well as many young players who are said to have a bright future such as Sidy Koné (19-year-old) who is playing as defensive midfielder for Olympique Lyon. Their main weakness is still the replacement of players who have been really important in the past (Diarra, Kanouté).
The 59-year-old French manager Alain Giresse is head coach of the Malian national team since 2010. Before he had been coaching Gabon, the co-host of this year’s CAF, for 4 years after he had managed Georgia and some French clubs (Toulouse FC and Paris Saint-Germain). The former French national player and attacking midfielder was French footballer of the year in 1982, 1983 and 1987 and won the Euros in 1984 on Michel Platini’s side.
Seydou Keita is the Malian key player and setting the tempo for his team. The 32-year-old is an intelligent passer who is considered as really precious by his club manager Pep Guardiola. This year’s CAF is already his fifth but this might never have happened. After the CAF 2010 retired from the national team to have more time for himself and Barca. Eventually, after many discussions with Alain Giresse, he decided to come back in September 2011.
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