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African Cup of Nation 2017: Everything You Need to Know (Part I)

Samba: The official mascot of the Gabon 2017 African Cup of Nations
Samba: The official mascot of the Gabon 2017 African Cup of Nations

It’s a new year, a new beginning. And one tournament synonymous with the beginning of every odd-number year is Africa’s premier cup competition, the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) which holds a special place in my heart. It is a tournament I anticipate even more than the FIFA World Cup. Maybe it’s because I am African and I am inclined to have a bias towards our own World Cup.

It is a sacred tournament here in Mother Africa (one I hope to someday win as manager of Nigeria’s Super Eagles if destiny allows. I won’t mind leading South Africa to glory though). Maybe it’s because Africa rarely finds its place at the World Cup, always getting eliminated at the Quarter Finals. So whenever the AFCON shows up, it’s one of the rare moments in African football you get to see a true champion.

Maybe it’s one of the reasons why the memories I have of the AFCON are more vivid than that of any other tournament. In fact on my personal computer, I am building a compilation of AFCON videos from 2000-2015, of which I would include this year’s games by February 5. Watch this space for it.

In my 15years of following this holy grail, there have been heartbreaks for both myself and players involved.  One was the classic case of Victor Ikpeba’s missed penalty in the final of the 2000 edition. Another was Osaze’s heart-wrenching miss against Tunisia in 2004. I still haven’t forgotten Junior Agogo’s heartbreaker in 2008, Gyan Asamoah’s babyjet dance in 2010 , Joseph Yobo’s glorious moment of 2013 as well as our qualification failures of 2012, 2015 and now 2017.

And most of all these memories are about Nigeria alone. Imagine the compilation of memories from each nation; Benni McCarthy’s breakout in 1998 for Bafana Bafana as they finished second to Egypt. Samuel Eto’o Fils and El Hadji Diouf in 2002 where Senegal showed a glimpse of what the world would see at the World Cup later that year. Francileudo dos Santos, Zied Jaziri, Marouane Chamakh and Mustapha Hadj in the first all north African final of the century in 2004.

Then there was Didier Drogba, Arouna Kone and Mohammed Abou Trika in 2006 where Egypt and Ivory Coast met twice. It was Abou Trika again in 2008 when his goal broke Cameroonian hearts. Fast-forward to the 2010 edition which featured Ghana’s youthful squad of 2009 FIFA U-20 World Cup. Talk about the goal-scoring exploits of Mohammed Gedo, the opening 4-4 draw between Angola and Mali.

Then we had that crazy quarter final between Algeria and Ivory Coast in which headed goals were traded. Then there was the semi-finals in which Algeria had three players sent off against Egypt, with the wily Hassan Shehata going on to complete a hat-trick of titles and the legendary Ahmed Hassan signing off on a high before the Pharaohs missed the next three tournaments.

I think nobody will forget the tears Kalusha Bwalya shed on seeing Christopher Katongo hoist the trophy in 2012 to bring peace upon the Zambian players who died in 1993 or Burkina Faso’s fairytale run to the final in South Africa in 2013, while Andre Ayew’s inconsolable tears are still fresh after Ghana lost a game they dominated in the 2015 showpiece.

Who can forget the goals that have lit the tournaments over time? From Yousef Msakni’s volley against Algeria in 2013, Christian Atsu’s piledriver in 2015, Gedo’s curler against Algeria in 2010, Salomon Kalou’s solo goal against Nigeria in 2008, Jay Jay Okocha’s free kick against Cameroon in 2004, Marouane Chamakh’s header in the final of the same tournament to Salif Diao’s heartbreaker against Nigeria in 2002, they all rank amongst the best the tournament has seen.

However, the reality is, those goals and events have always being dates with destiny; a date 16 teams will be sharing when the tournament kicks off in Librevelle on January 14. In anticipation of the start of the tourney, we profile these 16 nations, and look at how far they could go and why they are the team to hoist the coveted trophy on February 5.

 

 

GROUP A

GABON

Nick: The Panthers (Les Pantheaux), the Brazilians

Federation: FEGAFOOT (Federation Gabonnaise Football)

FIFA Ranking: 110 (December 2016)

 

The Coach: JOSE ANTONIO CAMACHO (ESP)

The 61-year old Spaniard was only appointed in December, leaving him with under a month to prepare for the tournament. The former Spain coach was in the dugout at the 2002 World Cup and was last in charge of the Chinese National Team in 2013 where he was fired for failing to guide the Shaolin to the final qualifying round of Asia for the World Cup.

He was in charge of Real Madrid in 2004 for a brief spell after the firing of Vicente del Bosque and has had measured success in the dugout, with a rather successful spell in charge of Benfica coming between 2002 and 2004 A left back in his playing days, Camacho played for Real Madrid all through his professional career and is not afraid to face challenges, the only difference? This would be his biggest challenge yet.

Star Man:

All teams have a go-to man, whom they go to in times of trouble. Gabon have the biggest of them all, the current best player in Africa, PIERRE-EMERICK AUBAMEYANG. Already among the best 16 footballers of 2016, the Borussia Dortmund forward is one of the most fearsome attackers in world football. He was crowned the Bundesliga Player of the Season last season and became the first Dortmund player to score 16BuLi goals after the first stanza of the league.

African Prince: Reigning African Player of the year, Aubameyang
African Prince: Reigning African Player of the year, Aubameyang

The forward not only boasts pace but also technique and a unique finishing ability, making up for what he lacks in passing (a quality which should be said he has improved upon since he burst on to the scene in 2012). His club exploits haven’t particularly matched his national team expectations as his performances in the yellows of Gabon are a shadow of his exploits in the yellows in Dortmund. He will however be itching to put that right when it all begins on January 14 leading Gabon to nations cup glory.

The Team:

Most Caps: Didier Ovono (80caps)

Top Scorer: Pierre Emerick Aubameyang (20goals)

Previous Appearances: (1994, 1996, 2000, 2010, 2012, 2015)

Best Outing: Quarter Finals – 1996 & 2012

The Panthers will be itching to set the records straight when they kick off hostilities in Librevelle in a fortnight. The last time they co-hosted the mundial, they swept through the group stage with maximum points. Players like Malick Evouna, Didier Ndong, Andre Biyogho Poko, Bruno Ecuelle Manga and the talented Mario Lemina must again live up to expectations in front of a massive home crowd, to banish memories of the Quarter Final defeat to Mali in 2012.

They flattered to deceive in Equatorial Guinea and missed out on qualification (goals scored) in 2010. Their opponents don’t seem too hard to handle. They defeated an established Cameroon side in 2010, took Burkina Faso to the cleaners in 2015 and have no record against Guinea Bissau at the competition. However, with the fixtures coming in a reverse order, they hope they would be through and have an allowance for a breather ahead of Group A’s blockbuster against Cameroon

The fixtures:

14.01.2017:   GABON VS. GUINÉE BISSAU

Time:             17H00/5pm

Venue:           Stade de l’Amitié, Librevelle

 

18.01.2017:   GABON VS. BURKINA FASO

Time:             17H00/5pm

Venue:           Stade de l’Amitié, Librevelle

 

22.01.2017:   CAMEROUN VS. GABON

Time:            20H00/8pm

Venue:         Stade de l’Amitié, Librevelle

 

My Prediction: The record of host nations in this competition should help the Gabonese a lot. Only twice in this century have the hosts failed to reach the Semi Finals (Angola in 2010 and when they co-hosted with Equatorial Guinea in 2012). However, given the pretty straightforward group they have been handed, a negotiable quarter final with group B runners-up plus the backing of the home fans, I’d stick my neck out for a first SEMI-FINAL appearance for the Panthers.

 

BURKINA FASO

Nickname: The Stallions

Federation: FBF (Federation Burkinabe de Football)

FIFA Ranking:  50 (December 2016)

The Coach: PAULO DUARTE (POR)

Since Jose Mourinho’s rise to prominence, something that was not quite popular has become the norm. Portuguese managers are now being accepted everywhere in the universe, from the shores of Iberia to the savannah of Africa. One such classic case is Paulo Duarte, the Uniao Leiria colossus who has become Burkina Faso coach again. The Portuguese first left his homeland in 2008 to lead the Stallions and qualified for the 2010 edition in Angola as they exited in the group stage, garnering only one point.

Things failed to improve two years later in 2012 as they lost all games which led to his sack. However, after a stint in charge of Gabon and Tunisian outfit CS Sfaxien, the Burkinabes hired him again, after parting ways with Paul Put. Now, Paulo is tasked with filling the shoes of the man who gave Burkina Faso their best ever Nations Cup finish in 2013. And the world will be watching with keen interest to see how Duarte would change Burkina Faso’s fortunes, following a dismal tournament in Equatorial Guinea.

Star Man: Who else than the man who made it happen in 2013, JONATHAN PITROIPA, who won the Player of the Tournament award for his outstanding performances during the tourney. Burkina Faso will need him to hit those heights again if they are to repeat the feat of getting into the final. The Al-Nasr forward has had mixed success since that tournament, leaving Rennes for the money and allure of the Far East where he has featured for both Al Jazira and his current club.

How about another final berth?: Jonathan Pitriopa in action
How about another final berth?: Jonathan Pitroipa in action

The winger however must wake up now and forget the obscure tourney he had in 2015 given the nature of their group. His ability to combine with the Traore brothers would be important and necessary to conjure something out of nothing. With his silky skills, he could single-handedly lead the Burkinabes to yet another great AFCON outing.

 

The Team:

Most Caps: Charles Kabore (70caps)

Top Scorer: Moumouni Dagano (31goals)

Previous appearances: (1978*, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015) *as Upper Volta

Best record: Finalists (2013)

After a dismal 2015 tournament, the Stallions must erase and put the agony of the harsh reality behind them and create something special again. In doing that, they would need the supporting cast to come together again and make things happen if they don’t want to be on the first flight to Ouaggadogou after the group phase. The Traore brothers, Charles Kabore, Bakary Kone, Aristide Bance and Prejuce Nakoulma must provide good support for Pitroipa as only a combined effort will help them etch their names in Burkinabe folklore again.

The fixtures:

14.01.2017:   BURKINA FASO VS. CAMEROUN

Time:             20H00

Venue:         Stade de l’Amitié, Librevelle

 

18.01.2017:   GABON VS. BURKINA FASO

Time:            17H00

Venue:         Stade de l’Amitié, Librevelle

 

22.01.2017:   GUINÉE BISSAU VS. BURKINA FASO

Time:            20H00

Venue:         Stade de Franceville, Franceville

 

My Prediction: The stallions have shown they can be an efficient and devastating team as seen in their World Cup Qualifying group. However, they are still prone to the odd struggle as indicated in their battle to reach Gabon. They needed a last gasp win in their last game to rubber stamp an appearance in the tournament. Now, they must avoid such attitude if they still have any dreams of achieving anything. Asides that, we will most-likely see another GROUP STAGE exit for Paulo Duarte’s men, especially if they fail to get past Cameroon and Guinea Bissau.

To go to the second part and continue reading, click here.

Rotimi "Papi" Daramola
Rotimi Daramola aka Papi is the owner of ForTheGoal. A freelance sports writer who focuses on football, Rotimi is also a freelance writer, a copywriter and a football analyst who regularly appears on radio to talk football. You can follow him on twitter @rotdav to keep up with his writings and also find out about how you can secure his writing services.

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