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AFCON 2015 (no longer a preview)


TOP SCORERS IN QUALIFYING
Goals | Player
6 Jonathan Pitroipa (Burkina Faso)
5 Seydouba Soumah (Guinea)
4 Vincent Aboubakar (Cameroon), Salomon Kalou (Ivory Coast), Tokelo Rantie (South Africa)
3 Yacine Brahimi (Algeria), Clinton Njie (Cameroon), Malikc Evouma (Gabon), Mohamed Salah (Egypt), E Agyemang-Badu (Ghana), Asamoah Gyan (Ghana), Jeremy Bokila (DR Congo)

PAST TOURNAMENTS
Year Winners Hosts
1957 Egypt; Sudan
1959 Egypt; Egypt
1962 Ethiopia; Ethiopia
1963 Ghana; Ghana
1965 Ghana; Tunisia
1968 Congo-Kinshasa*; Ethiopia
1970 Sudan; Sudan
1972 Congo; Cameroon
1974 Zaire*; Egypt
1976 Morocco; Ethiopia
1978 Ghana; Ghana
1980 Nigeria; Nigeria
1982 Ghana; Libya
1984 Cameroon; Ivory Coast
1986 Egypt; Egypt
1988 Cameroon; Morocco
1990 Algeria; Algeria
1992 Ivory Coast; Senegal
1994 Nigeria; Tunisia
1996 South Africa; South Africa
1998 Egypt; Burkina Faso
2000 Cameroon; Ghana & Nigeria
2002 Cameroon; Mali
2004 Tunisia; Tunisia
2006 Egypt; Egypt
2008 Egypt; Ghana
2010 Egypt; Angola
2012 Zambia; Equatorial Guinea & Gabon
2013 Nigeria; South Africa
(* Congo-Kinshasa and Zaire now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo)


Group A

Congo
CongoThe “Red Devils” return to the Nations Cup finals after a 14-year absence, offering veteran coach Claude Le Roy a chance to extend his record for the most number of tournament appearances to eight. Congo had a schizophrenic qualifying campaign, advancing through two rounds of preliminaries only after their opponents, Rwanda, had been caught fielding a player with a double identity. Although they inflicted Nigeria’s first home defeat in a competitive international in 33 years, home defeats by South Africa and Nigeria saw them finish second in Group A.

COACH
Claude Le Roy has been working on the continent for almost 30 years and in that time coached at a record seven tournaments – the last in South Africa two years ago. The 66-year-old Frenchman has had a record 31 matches at the finals and the last tournament, in 2013, marked the first time one of his teams had failed to reach the quarter-finals. Won it with Cameroon in 1988.

KEY PLAYERS
Giant centre-back Christopher Samba ended his international career before the start of qualifying, robbing the Congolese of key experience. But they did persuade former France junior international Thievy Bifouma (above) to play and he made an immediate impact with two goals in their famous away win over Nigeria. Key midfielder is Delvin Ndinga, of Greek champions Olympiakos.

LIKELY STARTING XI (4-4-2): Christopher Mafoumbi; Igor Nganga, Marvin Baudry, Boris Moubio, Francis Nganga; Ladislas Douniama, Delvin Ndinga, Prince Oniangue, Francis Litsingi; Ferebory Dore, Thievy Bifouma


Equatorial Guinea
Eq GuineaExpelled from the preliminaries having finally been tripped up after years of shipping in mercenaries to play for their national team, they are back in the field as the new hosts. And CAF conveniently overlooked the fact they had to forfeit their win over Mauritania in the first round of the preliminaries for fielding Thierry Fidjeu, who was capped by Cameroon at junior level. The team still has Colombians and Brazilians who they duplicitously claim have some blood link with the island but in fact are paid handsomely to travel to Africa for international duty in brazen cases of cheating that FIFA turns a blind eye to.

COACH
Former Spanish international defender Andoni Goikoetxea was appointed national team coach in March 2013. Dubbed the “Butcher of Bilbao” after infamous tackles on Diego Maradona and Bernd Schuster in his playing days, the 58-year-old took over from Gilson Paulo of Brazil, who was in charge for Equatorial Guinea’s only previous Nations Cup appearance, in 2012. This is his first job outside Spain.

KEY PLAYERS
Equatorial Guinea continue to find players in Spain, with Carlos Akapo and Ruben Belima among the latest. Emilio Nsue is their best-known player along with Javier Balboa (above). It will be interesting to see if they are brazen enough to field their two naturalised Colombians – Jimmy Bermudez and Carlos Bejarano.

LIKELY STARTING XI (4-4-2): Felipe Ovono; Carlos Akapo, Daniel Vazquez, Diosdado Mbele, Sipo; Emilio Nsue, Ben Konate, Juvenal Edjogo, Ruben Belima; Randy, (lol, the magazine didn't bother to finish this one)

Group B

DR Congo
DR CongoSlipped into the finals as the best third-place finisher in qualifying. Behind Cameroon and Ivory Coast in a tough Group D, they did manage a thrilling 4-3 away win in Abidjan over the Ivorians in October. The country has been through a boon at club level, with two semi-finalists in the 2014 CAF Champions League, but remain inconsistent at national level. One of Africa’s biggest countries with vast resources and massive human potential, it remains mired in conflict and corruption, with the inevitable impact on the national team.

COACH
Jean Florent Ibenge Ikwenge was appointed in August 2014, just three weeks before the start of qualifying. The 52-year-old had previously been the assistant to Claude Le Roy, but his role with the national side was overshadowed by his work with Kinshasa side AS Vita Cub, who he steered to the African Champions League Final in November. Ibenge is Congolese born but grew up in France and played in Belgium, France and Germany.

KEY PLAYERS
Captain Youssouf Mulumbu (above) now has Premier League company in the form of Yannick Bolasie. It means the decision of Dieumerci Mbokani to no longer play for the team has not had as big a negative impact as expected. The English-based pair will be the key performers, along with centre-back Chancel Mbemba who is in outstanding form this season in Belgium with Anderlecht.

LIKELY STARTING XI (4-4-2): Robert Kidiaba; Issama Mpeko, Cedric Mongongu, Chancel Mbemba, Jean Kasusula; Cedric Mabwati, Youssouf Mulumbu, Distel Zola, Yannick Bolasie; Neeskens Kebano, Jeremy Bokila

Tunisia
TunisiaUnbeaten in the qualifiers and topped a group that included Senegal and Egypt. They have shown a marked improvement in confidence from the side that only made the World Cup qualifying play-offs in late 2013 because of a sanction for Cape Verde – who they now meet again in the Nations Cup finals. Tunisia have bounced back well since a coaching change to make their 16th finals’ appearance. Their only success was in 2004, when they were hosts.

COACH
George Leekens (left) has twice been national coach of his native Belgium and also spent one year in charge of Algeria. He led Belgium to the 1998 World Cup and was coach again from 2010 to 2012, but surprisingly quit for a job at Club Brugge which was then a better proposition than the national-team job. His club coaching career in Belgium has been extensive and he also worked at Trabzonspor in Turkey, Roda JC in Holland and Al Hilal in Saudi Arabia.

KEY PLAYERS
Leekens has a relatively young and inexperienced squad but says there is huge potential: “They could all certainly compete at the sub-top in Europe. As far as mentality and character goes, they are one of the best groups I’ve ever trained.” They will have two midfielders in front of the back four and then two ahead of them in Wahbi Khazri and Yassine Chikhaoui, who are both potential match winners.

LIKELY STARTING XI (4-5-1): Aymen Mathlouthi; Hamza Mathlouthi, Aymen Abdennour, Syman Ben Youssef, Ali Maaloul; Fakhreddine Ben Youssef, Stephane Nater, Yassine Chikhaoui, Hocine Ragued, Wahbi Khazri; Saber Khalifa

Group C

Algeria
AlgeriaAfrica’s top-rated team moved up to 18th in the FIFA rankings on the back of a first appearance in the knockout stage of the World Cup. They then kept up their winning ways despite a change of coach in midyear, with Vahid Halilhodzic departing and Frenchman Christian Gourcuff taking over. The team has stayed intact and grown markedly in confidence. It is also bristling with
talent, with Yacine Brahimi emerging as a key figure. Algeria would have been a strong favourite were the finals still in Morocco but they do not have a good record in tournaments south of the Sahara.

COACH
Christian Gourcuff had long been earmarked to take over after the World Cup but only officially began on August 1. He has a contract until the end of the next World Cup, which means he will also be in charge for the Nations Cups in 2015 and 2017 – one of which Algeria hope to host. He coached Lorient in Ligue 1 for more than a decade.

KEY PLAYERS
Yacine Brahimi won this year’s BBC African Footballer of the Year award. His midfield link play with Sofiane Feghouli will be a key element, with Mehdi Lacen restored to the defensive midfield role after little playing time during the World Cup. Islam Slimani (above) of Porto leads the attack. Rafik Halliche has taken over as defensive linchpin from Majid Bougherra, who is now more of an inspirational squad member.

LIKELY STARTING XI (4-2-2-2): Rais Mbolhi; Aissa Mandi, Rafik Halliche, Carl Medjani, Faouzi Ghoulam; Mehdi Lacen, Nabil Bentaleb; Yacine Brahimi, Sofiane Feghouli; Islam Slimani, El Arbi Soudani

Ghana
GhanaGhana have plunged from a position of strong self-belief and rampant expectation to having to pick up the pieces after a tough World Cup – at which they did themselves no favours with an undignified strike over money – and a stuttering start to Nations
Cup qualifying. It was no surprise that coach Kwesi Appiah lost his job, with assistant Maxwell Konadu in charge for the rest of the qualifiers. Avram Grant has since been appointed and he will have little time to get to know his players before being thrust into a tough opening group.

COACH
Avram Grant came within a penalty kick of leading Chelsea to Champions League glory in 2008 and the possibility of a much larger international profile. Since his time in England he has taken Partizan Belgrade to the 2012 Serbian title during a brief tenure. Earlier in his career he had much success with Maccabi Tel Aviv. Six months ago he was a pundit for Israeli television at the World Cup.

KEY PLAYERS
Kevin-Prince Boateng, Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari were axed after World Cup histrionics but Ghana patched up problems with the Ayew brothers, Andre and Jordan, who were key figures in the qualifiers along with stalwart Asamoah Gyan (above). Goalkeeping is a problem area but they have settled on Brimah Razak, who plays in Spain’s lower leagues. The versatile Kwadwo Asamoah is out after surgery in early December.

LIKELY STARTING XI (4-4-2): Brimah Razak; Harrison Afful, John Boye, Jonathan Mensah, Baba Abdul Rahman; Christian Atsu, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Rabiu Mohammed, Andre Ayew; Jordan Ayew, Asamoah Gyan

Group D

Guinea
GuineaQualifcation came against massive odds as the ravages of the Ebola virus in the country saw Guinea banned from hosting any qualifers. They staged games in a virtually empty stadium in Casablanca and won one and drew two of their “home” matches, but they did suffer intense prejudice and twice a day they had to have their temperature checked in Morocco by health authorities. “Some measures we’ve felt have been discriminatory,” said coach Michel Dussuyer. Guinea’s best Nations Cup was in 1976 when they were runners-up to Morocco.

COACH
It is a second spell in charge of Guinea for 55-year-old Frenchman Dussuyer (left) and a fifth time at the Nations Cup. He led them to the quarter-finals in 2004 and was assistant to fellow countryman Henri Michel when Ivory Coast were runners-up two years later. In 2010 he qualified Benin for the tournament, then went back to Guinea, taking them to the 2012 finals. Dussuyer has also coached French club Cannes in between his African assignments.

KEY PLAYERS
The squad is mostly made up of European-based players. Ibrahima Traore brings Bundesliga experience and Ibrahima Conte is from Belgian champions Anderlecht. Boubacar Fofana, who plays in Portugal, is an underrated defensive midfielder. Florentin Pogba is elder brother of France midfielder Paul Pogba.

LIKELY STARTING XI (4-5-1): Naby Yattara; Baissama Sankoh, Mohamed Diarra, Florentin Pogba, Issaiaga Sylla; Ibrahima Conte, Thierno Bah, Boubacar Fofana, Naby Keita, Ibrahima Traore; Idrissa Sylla

Ivory Coast
Ivory CoastIvory Coast eased themselves over the qualifying line in a series of displays that asked more questions than it answered. It left new coach Herve Renard recalling two old stalwarts, Kolo Toure and Didier Zokora, and bidding to entice Didier Drogba back too. The Frenchman replaced Sabri Lamouchi after the World Cup but has a delicate task of replacing an ageing generation. For the last five tournaments the Elephants have been strong favourites but will go into this tournament with no such status.

COACH
Renard, 46, returned to take charge of Zambia for a second spell just before the 2012 Nations Cup and led them to their first continental title. He had left after the 2010 tournament to become coach of Angola, but was fired after just six months and moved on to USM Alger in Algeria. His second spell with Zambia ended after failure to qualify for the 2014 World Cup but he was hired by Sochaux, who he almost saved from Ligue 1 relegation in May. He was appointed Ivorian coach after the World Cup.

KEY PLAYERS
Kolo Toure, Yaya Toure and Siaka Tiene will play in a sixth successive finals, with Gervinho (above) and Salomon Kalou going to a fifth in a row. That means considerable experience but there are also gaping holes that make the Ivorians much less of a force. Boubacar Barry has lost his place in goal after over a decade and centre-backs Ousmane Viera and Kolo Toure do not inspire.

LIKELY STARTING XI (4-2-3-1): Mande Sayouba; Serge Aurier, Ousmane Viera, Kolo Toure; Siaka Tiene; Serey Die, Cheikh Tiote; Salomon Kalou, Yaya Toure, Gervinho; Wilfried Bony

SOURCE: World Soccer Magazine (January)

Apologies for not posting this before AFCON got started. I guess now you can look and see if World Soccer's analysis was remotely close to what happened in the group stages. ;-P There are write ups for all of the other teams (like Gabon, Senegal, South Africa, and Cameroon) but I omitted them since this post is pretty long. If you would like to see them, let me know and I'll do another post.
Tags: africa cup of nations, confederation of african football, didier drogba, internationals, introductions, nt: algeria, nt: côte d'ivoire, nt: ghana, yaya touré
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