The AFCON2017 draw has now taken place, making all concerned salivate at the narratives set to ignite come January. Here, Salim Masoud Said outlines the major talking points.
Group C is the Group of Death
FIFA rankings, as we all know, are pointless, so we won’t indulge in the futile exercise of consulting them when measuring the difficulty of each group. Group C is undoubtedly the most mouth-watering when you consider the qualitative fusion of the narratives, which we all love, the role model ex-pat trio of coaches Michel Dussuyer, of Ivory Coast, Herve Renard, now of Morocco, and finally the great Claude Le Roy make Group C particularly fascinating, and the question marks lingering in the backdrop of each teams.
Ivory Coast will arrive at the tournament for the first edition since 2002 with no member of the first wave of their golden generation, after some of them limped to a continental gong and retired with the ecstasy of triumph. Florent Ibenge’s DR Congo, roared on by Stade des Martyrs, have been playing some of the most fluid attacking football on the continent, but the question is whether they can transfer it on a neutral stage and in such a competitive football.
Morocco’s under-performance, in the last decade in particularly, makes miracle man Herve Renard’s attempt to resuscitate them to glory a fascinating one. Togo themselves have a miracle man of their own in Claude Le Roy, and though they are the lowest seeds they have enough quality and tournament wiliness to defy expectations.
History between the sides in Group C adds to the narrative
The longevity of the Group C team coaches in African football and the multiple crossing of paths, especially in the last 3 years, adds to the intrigue in this group. Renard’s entry into African football was when he was in the slipstream of Claude Le Roy’s 2008 AFCON campaign as an assistant coach.
The previously mentioned Ivory Coast golden generation will owe an eternal gratitude to Renard, and so will the entire current crop. Success, by all accounts, has diminished the enormous pressure they were playing under prior to the lack of it. The task for Renard is now to implant a similar winning mindset into Morocco. The Atlas Lions are scheduled to face Ivory Coast three times in the next year after they were also placed in the same group for World Cup 2018 qualifying.
DR Congo and Ivory Coast themselves have had plenty of encounters lately, 3 times in the last 2 years, including at the 2015 AFCON semi-final, with Les Elephants coming out victorious on two occasions through their long-standing home record was ended by DR Congo.
Claude Le Roy with DR Congo was a fruitful one as hoisted them back to the summit of African football. He didn’t quite have the resources his successor Florent Ibenge has had. Ibenge been able to lure European-born players, adding more refined quality into the Leopards’ ranks. And, in accordance with the other big match-ups in the group, there has been recent history with Le Roy and his former employers. Letting a 2-goal lead slip when he was coach of Congo in the Congo derby in the AFCON 2015 greatly pained a man that values a disciplined defence above all.
Ghana will need to awaken early in this AFCON edition
Ghana have sleepwalked to the bare minimum of the semi-finals in recent years, in spite of the ordinary coaches at the helm. When you look at the been-there experience still in their ranks they could potentially do the same again.
It’s difficult to envisage that though when you consider the tricky path they have to take. First up are bogey side Uganda, who they have failed to beat in their last 3 meetings in the last 3 years, then a plucky Mali side, and finally a resurgent Egypt side with the history not to be overawed despite their relatively long absence. If the Black Stars navigate their way out of that group, which they can be given the benefit of the doubt on given their recent progressions, there’s Group C opponents waiting in the quarter-finals. They’ll need their A game.
Algeria will be very happy with their draw
Les Fennecs of Algeria’s biggest worry would have been facing West African opposition. They have typically struggled with their physicality, pace on the wings and, most crucial of all, the quality in attack to capitalise from their porous defence. Luckily for Algeria they avoided all West African opponents bar Senegal, and also have Tunisia and Zimbabwe for company.
Senegal characteristically qualified impressively, winning all their games, Algeria won’t be quaking in their boots. The Teranga Lions’ unintimidating history in the competition and their 2-0 loss to the North Africans at AFCON 2015 makes them a favoured opposition had they hand-picked a West African team to face. The teams which could be awaiting them in the quarter final will also give them a great deal of belief. If the Algerian players acclimatise to the conditions, particularly the probable poor quality of the pitches which will infringe their technical game, they could have a comfortable path to the semi-finals.