1. Who will win the 2012 Cup of Nations and why?
Tom: Ivory Coast – you get the impression, leading up to this years Africa Cup of Nations, that the senior players in the Ivorian squad realize this may be their final shot at clinching the Nations Cup title. Kolo Toure, Didier Zokora, Abdul Keita and particularly Didier Drogba may manage to stumble onto next years Nations Cup, but their powers will most certainly be in decline by that point.
A glance at all their current playing units show that they have the most complete squad at the tournament, the only obvious weakness is their goalkeeper, Boubacar Barry. They’ll likely lineup in a variation of a 4-3-3; the top three being Drogba flanked by Kalou and Gervinho on either wing, it’ll be interesting to see if Didier Konan Ya is given the nod in midfield, next to Yaya Toure and Cheick Tiote. Eboue will start at right back, Siaka Tiene on the left and Kolo Toure will most likely be partnered by Sol Bamba or Didier Zokora.
If they stay focused, on and off the pitch, then this year will be Les Elephants Africa Cup of Nations title.
Salim: I think this Ivory Coast ‘golden generation’ will finally win it. The only weakness is the goalkeeper , Boubacar Barry, but in terms of cohesiveness, quality, form coming into the tournament and squad depth they have the best squad at this year’s Cup of Nations – which is reflected in the FIFA rankings. Their passage into the final could be very comfortable and I think they’ll make the final at the bare minimum.
I also like the look of Morocco. No one has tipped Morocco but it wouldn’t surprise me if they went on to win the whole thing, they have certain attributes of potential winners. In Eric Gerets they have a manager who has won league titles in four different countries and was French Ligue 1 Manager of the Year in 2009. They seem well-balanced personnel-wise in all areas of the field, the squad is a fine mixture of youth and experience – some of the more experienced members were also part of the playing staff when Morocco were runners-up in 2004.
James: Senegal, Ghana or Ivory Coast. I really cannot decide at the moment. Their attacking forces are crazy and with a creative midfield, these sides will dominate the tournament. If I REALLY had to choose, it would probably be Ghana, by the smallest of margins.
Sagar: Ivory Coast, Ghana or Senegal. With several African heavyweights such as Nigeria, Algeria and Egypt (just to name a few) not qualifying, there couldn’t be a better time for both the ‘Les’ Elephants and Black Stars to take advantage. Ivory Coast have an aging squad and time could be running out for them to win their first trophy in 20 years. Not surprisingly, they’ve sent a strong squad with plenty of experience to the finals and in the Toure brothers and Drogba, they have a core which can most definitely win the tournament.
On the flip side, Ghana has seen plenty of youth come into their squad and will certainly give contenders a run for their money with Gyan, Ayew and Badu in their ranks; no Michael Essien due to his recent battle with injury. Having impressed at the World Cup 18 months ago, expectations are high.
Count Senegal out at your peril. In an impressive qualifying campaign, they went undefeated in a group which contained Cameroon. Several of the players ply their trade in Ligue 1, so the experience is there. They also have plenty of artillery up front with Ba, Sow and Cisse.
Amro: Senegal – Their strikeforce is deadly and they will steamroll their way to victory!
Joe: Senegal’s stunning set of strikers gives them a great chance but in this year’s weakened field it’s hard to look past Ivory Coast and Ghana. Les Elephants wear the sandals of experience but with that experience comes age; some key players are now the wrong side of 30 and their abilities perhaps on the decline. The nation with greatest aspirations of taking advantage and upsetting the Ivorian’s is Ghana. The Black Stars boast a relatively young yet fantastically balanced squad and despite Essien’s absence through injury and KP Boateng’s retirement, they’ll be feeling stronger than the side that lost out at the final stage 2 years ago. If they can keep important players fit throughout the competition, they’re my pick to push on and win.
Kevin: For me it’s either Ghana or Ivory Coast . Looking through the Ghana squad you can see that there is a great mix of experience and youth. Looking at the centre of the midfield I see Derek Boateng and Anthony Annan controlling games and the defence looks solid. The only problem I can see is where the goals will come from. Asamoah Gyan can hit the back of the net but if I look at the other strikers for Ghana I don’t see goals in them.
Ivory Coast have the best squad in the tournament. Defenders, Midfielders and Strikers – they have it all. Didier Drogba, even at the age of 33, can still give defenders more than a handful. This combined with Gervinho and Kalou on the wings make Ivory Coast’s attack potent. In midfield they have the best midfielder in the tournament in Yaya Toure coupled with one of the standout player s of the Premier League in 2010-2011 in Cheick Tiote. The opposition will have a hard time going through this pair. The defence looks solid but having only played 10 games this season will Kolo Touré be up to match speed come kick off ?
2. Who will be the underachievers and why?
Tom: Ghana – there is no other side in the tournament that I’d like to see win more than the Black Stars. But I’ve watched them over the past few months and I’ve become increasingly concerned by their lack of tactical evolution. They are still a side that is based around a reactionary system and this seems to be becoming less effective, particularly against sides that counter this by dropping deep themselves. They haven’t figured out how to get the best out of Kwadwo Asamoah yet and the injury to Asamoah Gyan, just before the tournament, is a worry.
They have a difficult group; Mali, Guinea and Botswana and would likely face another Quarter final test in the shape of Morocco or Tunisia, that is if they even get out of Group D!
But I really hope I’m proved wrong.
Salim: I think it’s harder to predict this in this year’s edition due to failure of most of the ‘bigger’ teams to qualify which only leaves about 4-5 teams who could be considered serious underachievers if they fail to make certain stages. I think, as much as I love them, I’ll have to go for Ghana because of their problems: a young, inexperienced goalkeeper, problems at centre-back (an injury-prone John Mensah in defence and Isaac Vorsah is banned for the first few games), left-back seems an issue, lack of creativity from midfield with the international retirement of Kevin Prince-Boateng, overreliance on Asamoah Gyan, who’s had fitness problems, to score the goals and inadequate back-up for him.
Sagar: Tunisia. With Morocco, Niger and Gabon making up the numbers, Group C is one of the more open groups at the finals. Many will expect them to do the job here and progress along with fellow North Africans Morocco, but Tunisia – winners of the 2004 edition – failed to move on to the knockout stages last time and it wouldn’t come as a surprise if they did so again this year. In 2010, Gabon stood in their way. This time, it’s….Gabon, again. And with the added incentive of performing well on home soil, Tunisia may end up going home early.
Amro: Ivory Coast – The almost there team, they have a wonderful squad but it just never quite happens for them.
Joe: Morocco, they’re in a fairly tough group and being stuck with Marouane Chamakh up top doesn’t exactly inspire great confidence. Despite being 4th favourites for the title they may struggle to get past the group stages.
Kevin: Tunisia. I think that they will finish second in their group and will come up against the Winners of Group D.
3. Who will be the player of the tournament?
Tom: I’ll go for a slightly left-field choice; Younes Belhanda of Morocco. He’s been in excellent form for Montpellier this season and Morocco’s creative hub in midfield looks really interesting.
Salim: Yaya Toure, a combination of power and craft should make him a vital cog if Ivory Coast have any success. I expect fireworks from Younes Belhanda, too, he plays a more disciplined role for Morocco in comparison with Montpellier but can be a dazzling player to watch on his day.
James: If Adebayor were playing, he would be my player of the tournament. So I’d go for Alain Traore (Burkina Faso).
Sagar: Andre Ayew is able enough to play down the middle or the wing, and he will be crucial to Ghana’s chances of lifting the trophy. It’s easy to forget that he’s only 22, and if he has a good tournament, there’s a good chance several clubs will come knocking on Marseille’s door in the summer.
Amro: Baby Jet AKA Asamoah Gyan.
Joe: Dede Ayew.
Kevin: Andre Ayew
4. Top goalscorer?
Tom: Drogba, he should fill his boots in the group stage.
Salim: Papiss Cisse. He should be capable of destroying the teams in Group A and the quarter-final should be kind-ish, if there are no shocks, so there’ll be more opportunity for him to add to his tally there. Much of the talk pre-tournament has been about Demba Ba – may be because we’re in England – but Cisse regularly started ahead of him during qualification.
James: Asamoah Gyan.
Sagar: Scoring for fun in the Premier League, Demba Ba will hope for similar service from his compatriots. Senegal’s attacking capabilities really shouldn’t be underestimated, but if they’re to have any hope of going far in the tournament, he will have to find the net successfully and regularly.
Amro: Issam Jemaa of Tunisia (depending on how far they go).
Joe: Nicely horse placenta’d up, Gyan will be looking to continue the impressive form he’s shown for Al Ain this season and with the supply he has, it seems there’s a pretty good chance of him doing so.
Kevin: Demba Ba. He has looked quality for Newcastle this season and I expect him to continue that form throughout this tournament.
5. Four players to watch out for?
Tom: Emmanuel Mayuka (Striker, Zambia), Alain Traore (Midfielder, Burkina Faso), Younes Belhanda (Midfielder, Morocco), Samuel Inkoom (Defender, Ghana)
Salim: Kwadwo Asamoah (Ghana), Younes Belhanda (Morocco), Wilfried Bony (Ivory Coast), Ludovic Sane (Senegal).
James: Ramatlhakwane (Botswana), Alain Traore (Burkina Faso), Jemaa (Tunisia), Sunzu (Zambia).
Kwadho Asamoah (Ghana)
Having followed Udinese for the past couple of years, there’s an element of bias with the first two as both players are on the books for the Serie A outfit. Good on the ball and a decent tackler, Asamoah slots into the Ghanaian midfield perfectly.
Mehdi Benatia (Morocco)
He has been a defensive stalwart for Udinese this season and Morocco will be counting on him to keep things tight at the back.
Samir Aboud (Libya)
Not so much for his potential, but more for the story he comes into the finals with. He has been a part of the national team for over a decade and is undoubtedly towards the end of his career. Due to the civil unrest in Libya, Samir and his teammates played their qualifying games away from home but despite this, he made sure they successfully qualified and now here they are. One to watch purely for inspirational reasons.
Yaya Toure (Ivory Coast)
Arguably the best complete midfielder in the world right now, Yaya had a great 2011 but will be hoping to have an even better 2012 by lifting the ACON trophy. Strong in midfield with pace to go with it; Toure is just one of several whose shoulders carry an entire nation’s hopes and expectations.
Adel Taarabt (Morocco) – Not been stellar in the EPL as some had hoped, but this is a special stage for him to shine.
Jerome Ramatlhakwane (Botswana) – Waiting for some goals from this fella, I reckon Botswana can go very far in this tournament.
Mamadou Niang (Senegal) – Unbelievable for Al Sadd in their journey to becoming Asian Champions League winners this year, expecting big things from him.
Yaya Toure (Ivory Coast )- Easy choice really, in beast mode for City. Safe bet to perform in this tournament.
Younes Belhanda (Moroccco) – A versatile playmaker, Belhanda has shown proficiency both out right and playing through the centre. His supply has helped propel Olivier Giroud 5 goals ahead of his nearest competitors at the top of the Ligue 1 scoring charts, he’ll be hoping to emulate that partnership when he teams up with Chamakh. He’ll be lucky.
Seydou Doumbia (Ivory Coast) – Recently named Russian player of the year, scoring an impressive 24 goals in 30 games whilst doing so, Doumbia’s not been given a great deal of opportunities in the national side. With an aging Drogba and easy group, Doumbia could well be given a chance to shine early on.
Samuel Inkoom (Ghana) – Primarily a right back, though often deployed higher up by Plavi, Inkoom is young, pacey and technically gifted. After a couple of impressive seasons at Basel he moved last summer to Dnipro, however, his desire to represent the Black Stars has led to a troubled relationship with new boss Juande Ramos. Despite quickly establishing himself in the first team, Inkoom’s made no secret of his desire to leave Ukraine and a potential link up with Dede on Ghana’s right side would provide him a great opportunity to showcase his ability towards the end of this transfer window.
Papiss Cisse (Senegal) – Having just made the move across from Freiburg to join Newcastle, this tournament provides a platform for Cisse to exhibit what he’s capable of when partnered up with Ba. Though given the other talents Senegal have in that department it’s not a partnership we may get to see a great deal of.
Derek Boateng (Ghana) – I really rate this guy. Looks composed when he is on the play and takes a quite a force to push him off it.
Adel Taraabt(Morocco) – Played poorly this season but being away from the slump at his club may improve his play.
Salomon Kalou(Ivory Coast) – He’s been out of favour at Chelsea this season but a good performance will put himself back in the view of the Chelsea management and perhaps a few other clubs.
Mohamed Diamé (Senegal) – Playing for a Wigan side that’s dead last in the table , he has been one of their better performers.
6. Who will be the dark horses (a team that is not an obvious candidate to win it but could go very far)?
Tom: Morocco – equipped with a solid defensive unit, lead by Udinese’s Mehdi Benatia, then a glance at the plethora of creative options Eric Gerets has at his disposal will concern most defense at the Africa Cup of Nations. If they can creative a effective system to accommodate Adel Taarabt, Younes Belhanda, Mbark Boussoufa and Houssine Kharja – and get Marouane Chamakh functioning like a professional footballer – then the Lions of the Atlas could scale new heights after years of mediocrity.
Salim: I’d say Morocco as not many people have been tipping them to win it but they are 4th favourites so I’m not sure if they can be classified as ‘dark horses’. If they can, then Morocco. If they can’t, then Botswana: they’re my kind of side – the gritty, determined underdog with a wily, old-fashioned, authoritarian coach. They’ve only lost twice in their last 25 matches. Ghana don’t destroy teams, even when at full strength, while Mali and Guinea are unpredictable. For Botswana to get out of the group stages would be an amazing achievement and I think they can if they play like the way they’ve been playing over the last year or so.
James: Burkina Faso. Since I’m a person who loves to support the underdogs, I will be rooting for Burkina Faso in this tournament. For some reason, I can see them reaching the semis but then suffering a heavy defeat.
Sagar: Placed in Group A, Zambia will be confident of progressing to the quarter-finals. However, all it takes is one bad game from their opponents and they would be within touching distance of the final. A long shot? Sure, I wouldn’t bet my….Dad’s house on them going far. But if anyone can, it’s Zambia. They’ve played in the tournament many times and certainly have the experience.
Amro: I feel Libya may well emulate the Iraq team at the Asian Cup 2007 and go on a run. The spirit in the team must be sky high right now!
Joe: Mali. Drawn alongside Ghana in group D, Mali will have their eyes on progressing through a 2nd place finish which would see them face the winners of group C in the quarter finals round. The prospect of facing a side tired from a tough group is certainly more enticing than facing the likes of Ivory Coast or Senegal and could provide the opportunity to go at least as far as the semi finals.
Kevin: Morocco. I like their style of play and they have the players to engineer a shock. Providing they win their group, it is very likely that they could reach the semi finals. There they will be a match for whoever they come up against.
What are your predictions? Let us know!