Friday, January 8, 2010

Angola 2010: Who is who?

Soccer has advanced, and so have nations. There is a widely held view that there are no longer any underdogs in soccer. This makes it such a task to predict which two teams will make it to the final of this year's African Nations Cup - Angola 2010. And even more difficult is to say which one will ultimately emerge as the lucky winner. Did I say luck? Well, in a tie that involves giants like Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Ghana, Morroco, Tunisia and Nigeria, you name them, it is only fit to say that who ever emerges winner is lucky.
But if one must make a single choice, the best bet is certainly one that does not overlook some historical perspective of the various teams. Of course, the teams remain the same by name, but the individual players change with time. Having said that, Egypt, the defendng champions, with a terrific record in the continental tournament, having won it twice more than any other nation, remains a force to be reckoned with. The North Africans' impressive consistency some times tends to be eclypsed by their repeated failure to feature at the world level. Their recent experience in the hands of regional rival, Algeria, is still fresh in the minds of fans, and this makes a rather intimidating group C mate, Nigeria, a possible tormentor for the Phaoraohs, especially in light of the fact that a key figure in the North African side, star midfielder Mohamed Aboutrika, is unavailable thanks to injuries. And as if to add up to their problems, the Egyptian squad comprises of ageing players who will be sharing the pitch with more younger and formidable players from Nigeria and the other group C teams and most likely outside the group stage. There is an adage in this part of Africa that says ''old cows never waste grass''. That leaves Egypt still a formidable contender for the continental trophy.
Ghana is also a formidable match for Egypt, considering its record. But the conspicuous absence of key experienced player leaves the Black Stars handicapped, very much to the advantage of Ivory Coast, whose last minutes' message has been promising, despite its not-so-good historical record in the torunament. With key players like the striking Chelsea striker, Didier Drogba making headlines in Europe, the Elephants are the second likely to take the trophy back home. Between Egypt and Ivory Coast, well ... its difficult to say, but the Egyptians are more likely to repeat history and clinch the prestigious trophy for the third time in a rowe.
Third and fourth places
Watch out for Tunisia, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, and even Mali, in the knock out stage. It is pointless to stress that Cameroon's miraculous recovery from an ealier poor performance in the embryonic stage of the qualifiers serves as a warning for whoever might be thinking an easy way out of this game. In a group described as favourable for the Indomitable Lions, the Tunisians will only need miracle to pass through.
And the Nigerians' imediate past experience, with the ever compelling pressure from its ever fanatic, eagle-yed fans, will serve as a motivation to see the Supper Eagles through the group stage, and most likely to the third place, facing Cameroon in possible fourth place.

Top goal scorers
The top goal scorers are likely to come from promising teams, since these teams have to buy time, as it were, and create more opportunity for the ambitious goal scorers by prolonging their stay to ensure more goals. But packed with formidable players with terrific records in their club level, it is only fear to say that Angola 2010 CAN is capable of producing any one of the following players as leading goal scorer: Ivory Coast's Didier Drogba, Togo's Emmanuel Adebayor, Mali's Fredi Kanoute, Ghana's Michael Essien, Burkina Faso' Moumouni Dagano, with a record performance during the qualifiers, Nigeria's Yakubu Aiyegbeni and Obafemi Martins, Cameroon's Samoel Eto'o, the man with the biggest record of goal scoring throughout the history of the tornament - 16 goals in five tournaments between 2000 and 2008. Therefore, among these, Eto'os stardom makes him an unbeatable scorer in this tournament.
People's choice
Having made quite a mark in the tournament the last time they featured, the mighty Lions of Teranga will surely be missed in Angola, much more so by their ever unforgiving fans here in Senegal. Already the absence of the Teranga Lions is being moaned by the business community here, who are fast runing into loses as their usually highly demanding jerseys aren't selling well. Major markets in Dakar and other major cities in Senegal are presently innundated with vests bearing the names of former heroic lions like the controversial but lovable El-Haj Diof, Henry Camara, and the list goes on and on and on. After all, what is there to celebrate about the fallen lions?
But Senegalese are no good pretenders, you know. Sport, especially football, makes a personate appeal to them. The absence of the Teranga Lions at Angola 2010 does not mean a total disregard for the tournament. In fact, many Senegalese can't wait to see the kick off. And most of those I come across openly discussing the tournament seem to be laying their hopes on Ivory Coast. While majority of these are guided by their shared colonial relation - Ivory Coast being a former French colony like Senegal, there are those who hold a genuine feeling of Elephants' ability to represent the West Africa Region. But there is a substential category of Senegalese who simply don't share that absurd colonial mentality.
They believe that the Supper Eagles of Nigeria have the best record compared to the Ivorians, and that the Nigerians stand a better chance to bring the trophy to the West Side. ''Look at their performance in the campaign during the qualifiers, it was mervelous,'' an avid Senegalese Supper Eagles suppoter remarked.
There are a few other Senegalese who also look forward to Cameroon for a reasonable representation at the CAN 2010.
Generally, however, from the look of things here, we are likely to see the beggest victory party with a victorious Ivory Coast. Only that my own assumption put the defending champions, the North Africans, Egypt, as the favourite. But honestly, I will want to see the Supper Eagles fly high if not for their notoriety for letting their supporters down.My actual favourite, the Supper Eagles

Although we can't possibly totally rule out surprises in this tournament, like in previous ones, with Gabon and Burkina Faso standing the chance of inflicting heartbreaks in Angola, it can only be safe to restrict these teams to the group stage. There is also Malawi, appearing for the second time on the tournament. Their famous home win over African champions, Egypt, is something that should ring a bell.
Although faced with Group B giants in the form of Ivory Coast and Ghana, A little familier Togo is capable of proving for the second time its inclination for surprises, just like it did when it stunned the world by qualifying for the 2006 World Cup finals.
Angola's dismal performance in failing to make it to South Africa 2010 is explicable in their poor show in friendlies in the run up to the CAN 2010. Two wins and seven draws out of ten matches doesn't tell well for a team sharing the same group with giants like Algeria, Mali and Nigeria. But with home support advantage, coupled with the miracule that sometimes characterises occasions like this, Angola might turn out to be the Senegal of 1998, which came from almost nowhere to stunne then European Champions, France; only this time the edge could be from home support.

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