Guinea, along with Mali and Senegal, were one of the few teams to go through the qualification process unbeaten.
The detractors will say they were in a relatively easy group, and they would be right. After all, they were lucky enough to kick off their campaign by facing a disorganised Marc Wilmots-coached Ivory Coast in Abidjan, impressively overcoming them 3-2. They also had Central African Republic and Rwanda for company but both of those teams didn’t provide the stiffest of tests.
There are real grounds, then, to take Guinea’s qualification with a pinch of salt. At the same time, their level of performance has been high and you could make an argument for them as a team that could surprise.
Their midfield is exciting with the trio of Naby Keita, Mady Camara and Amadou Diawara one of the most viewable and most balanced at the tournament. In Naby Keita they have perhaps the most creative midfielder at the tournament.
To add to that, there’s Bordeaux’s Francois Kamano, who is coming of age after a good season, and the experience and quality of Ibrahima Traore to call upon.
And then under Paul Put they have a coach that has defied the odds with Burkina Faso in 2019. He famously inspired his Burkina Faso team in 2013 by creating a video of the triumphs of Greece at Euro 2004, Chelsea in the 2012 CL and Zambia at AFCON 2012. He would be well within his rights to show his Guinea side the same video.
Guinea are a ball-playing team who are happy to patiently pass the ball to create openings in their 4-2-3-1 system. Having Naby Keita in the team means those openings are a matter of when rather than if. A strong midfield pivot of Amadou Diawara and Mady Camara, plus Keita as an attacking midfielder that roams and explodes into life, has seen Guinea dominate possession for the majority of their qualifying games. Francois Kamano will start on the left wing while Ibrahima Traore be on the opposite side, both will be a threat as they cut in on their preferred sides.
The slick midfield – Put on your seatbelts! Very few midfields will be as well-balanced and exciting as this Guinea one.
The Achilles Heel
Proven goalscorer – This is the biggest issue keeping Paul Put awake at night and a point he has been keen to stress publicly. There are goals coming from attackers like Keita, Ibrahima Traore and Kamano, but they can’t do it all on their own from their positions. Keita will create, that’s a given. Put’s hopes seem sit on Kamano’s finishing improving as he considers him to have the potential to do far more.
Fresh from with the glow of winning the Champions League with Liverpool, there were doubts Naby Keita would make it after being out of action for a while but it appears he just about has. If they can get him fully fit in time then they will have one of the most creative midfielders at the tournament able to create openings in the blink of an eye.
The Hipster’s Choice
Yaya Toure only spent a season at Olympiacos before a club from the big leagues came in to swoop for him. The same fate might fall to Mady Camara if his performances during qualification, and for Olympiacos this season, are anything to go by. Tough in the tackle yet also capable of escaping midfielders pressuring him, the midfielder is definitely the bodyguard of Guinea’s midfield but he also has a great ability on the ball which will see driving runs from deep in midfield.
It seems like a tribute to his Burkina Faso 2013 side that Paul Put left them and went to coach Jordan, USM Alger, Kenya and Xinjiang Tianshan Leopard. The Belgian hasn’t hit those 2013 heights ever since and will be keen to prove that he wasn’t just a one-hit wonder.
The profile of their coach, the players at their disposal and the quality of their group opponents makes it easy to see Guinea making it out of this group. The lack of a proven goalscorer may hurt them but not until the knockout stages.