2013 Cup of Nations Review: Group B

As part of SFG’s Afcon 2013 post-mortem, the SFG writers take the first cursory glance at the fortunes of each team at Afcon 2013, deconstructing the performance of each team in the format of Sergio Leones’ seminal work The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. After looking at Group A yesterday, we move on to Group B:

Ghana

The Good

There’s very little to be positive about for Black Stars fans. The fact they’ve reached the Cup of Nations semi-final for the fourth consecutive time tells us that there is consistency, but is it consistent success or consistent failure or somewhere inbetween? In the 2008 and 2010 editions (reaching the final in the latter) there was progress, but there has been little progress since then.

The Bad

The stagnation of their development. Ghana have played drab football in this year’s and last year’s edition, their performances far from convincing as they’ve had to rely on goals from set-pieces and penalties to overcome opponents; 5 of their 8 goals were scored from set-pieces and penalties in this edition.

The form of captain Asamoah Gyan, and the lack of competitors for his single-striker position, has been one of the key problems. Minus a good performance against minnows Niger, serious questions remain about the sharpness of Al Ain striker. He has a scoring record in the UAE league that is superhuman enough for Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to look warily over the fence, but he hasn’t replicated that form at international level.

It’d be unfair to blame Gyan alone, for the approach play behind him hasn’t been good enough. Apart from Wakaso Mubarak with his set-piece delivery, few others made an impact. Christian Atsu was largely anonymous despite his pre-tournament billing, Albert Adomah didn’t offer the penetration that Andre Ayew would have offered and the midfield pivot of Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu and Mohammed Rabiu offered no poise on the ball.

The Ugly

They should have at least reached the final giving their easy path. Ghana, behind the Ivory Coast, were the most complete team coming into the tournament. They were thoroughly outplayed against Burkina Faso and had referee Slim Jedidi not had a bad day at the office, they wouldn’t even have had the penalty shoot-out exit to save face.

-Salim Masoud Said
Mali

The Good

Finishing third for the second consecutive year in a row. Meticulously unglamorous their methodology may have been, but it is a mightily impressive achievement and something that would have provided solace for the people of Mali in these tumultuous times. Like last year, their players used the situation in Mali as a catalyst and seemed far beyond driven to do well.

Seydou Keita, as ever, had the tournament bravura to make this Mali eclipse the sums of its parts, but he couldn’t have done it without a midfield and defence that is grindingly attritional; being even more difficult to break down with the addition of Momo Sissoko. Although the experienced Cedric Kante, one of Afcon 2012’s outstanding performers, didn’t make the squad, the intransigent Molla Wague grasped the baton and showed no signs of dropping it.

This is very much a young Mali team and with a few glittering attacking talents, French-born talent filtering through and the Malian clubs vibrant in the African club competitions, there is no reason why they can’t continue their impressive run in the coming years.

The Bad

Their 4-1 semi-final capitulation to Nigeria. Les Aigles had reached the semi-final stage through being hard to beat but were 3-0 down by half-time. Adama Coulibaly’s presence was missed in defence but it was largely down to the more adventurous approach Patrice Carteron opted for, with the protection and hard-running of Samba Sow dropped to the bench.

The Ugly

For many, their imposing, heavy-fouling approach to football was an eyesore, but Mali won’t care.

-Salim Masoud Said
Niger

The Good

A point! That is at least progress from last year. They generally defended very well against two strong sides in Mali and DR Congo, and could easily have drawn both games but for the late lapse that let in Seydou Keita. Ultimately, that proved the difference between the two sides so Niger can at least say they proved key in deciding what was a tough group for them.

The Bad

Captain and leader Moussa Maazou’s struggles summed up Niger’s issues going forward, and they ended the Cup of Nations with no goals scored. The first game against Mali summed it up – while they will be pleased with their performance, they failed to take the chances they had, and could easily have won the game. Maazou in particular struggled, though to be fair he was being played wide right, which didn’t seem to suit him, with Gernot Rohr favouring Modibo Sidibe in the lone front man role. A lack of creativity became more apparent as the tournament progressed.

The Ugly

The total feeling of mediocrity when watching the team. They just weren’t very interesting to watch. They never looked like doing anything genuinely exciting. They might have got their first Cup of Nations point but is it really progress?

-James Bennett
DR Congo

The Good

The Leopards fight-back from 2 goals down against Ghana was undoubtedly their highlight of the tournament, a vindication of their pre-tournament ‘dark horses’ billing, and one of the best games in the tournament. In the end, they failed to progress from group B, but to bow out unbeaten was something of an achievement. Dieumerci Mbokani was comfortably their player of the tournament, dropping deep to link-up play with those loitering around him and making the runs that no other striker in the tournament had the intelligence to make.

The Bad

Failure to build on their comeback versus Ghana in their drab 0-0 draw versus Niger in their second game proved to be fatal. A mixture of DR Congo’s inability to keep the ball well as a team, particularly through their core, and their expired 4-4-2 system meant they struggled to play games on their own terms. Despite fashioning quality chances in the first half, wastefulness in front of goal meant they didn’t win a must-win game. In fact, they were fortunate to draw the game; unfancied Niger dominated the game, utilising the ball better and creating more clear-cut chances. A must-win game against a rigid Mali outfit was always going to be an uphill task for DR Congo, and so it proved to be. Les Aigles first used their physicality to wear them down and then kept the ball better to preserve the score.

The Ugly

Unlike the majority of teams at this year’s Cup of Nations, DR Congo possessed a fantastic striker in the form Dieumerci Mbokani. Frustratingly, though, they lacked the orthodox wingers to provide the service for the Anderlecht striker. Le Roy’s decision to start Lomana LuaLua, a striker, on the left wing in each of the group games and then haul him off at half-time was baffling – if it was apparent that it wasn’t working then why did he persist?

-Salim Masoud Said
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