Algeria lead favourites ahead of Afcon

2015-01-14 12:31

The 30th edition of the Africa Cup of Nations kicks off on Saturday in Equatorial Guinea, where the tournament is being hosted at short notice after Morocco’s withdrawal.

Algeria, Ivory Coast and Ghana are regarded as the favourites to win the unpredictable tournament. But it is Algeria where most betting men are putting their money.

“Algeria pushed Germany more than any other team at the World Cup in Brazil last year,” said former Peruvian national player Augusto Palacios, who now coaches in Joburg.

“They are a religious team and so are very disciplined. They are also very organised and structured. Most of their players are in the local league. For me, Algeria are the team to beat at the Afcon tournament.”

Algeria, under French coach Christian Gourcuff, steamed through the Afcon qualifiers with five wins in six games after an excellent World Cup.

One of the team’s stars, Porto winger Yacine Brahimi, was recently voted the BBC’s 2014 African footballer of the year. Brahimi scored his first international goal in the group stage against South Korea in the World Cup last year. He has scored six goals in 15 appearances for the Portuguese club.

Algeria are part of the Group C “group of death” which includes the “physical” Senegal, “well-organised” Ghana and South Africa, who are looking confident after not having lost in 11 games, said Palacios.

The Elephants of Ivory Coast are another team to watch. They have a collection of excellent players, including brothers Yaya Touré and Kolo Touré, Cheick Tioté and Wilfried Bony.

The team under coach Hervé Renard will take on Guinea, Mali and Cameroon in group D.

Midfielder Yaya Touré, who was pivotal for English Premier League champions Manchester City, will captain the Elephants after the retirement from international football of striker Didier Drogba.

“Ivory Coast have a history of underperforming in major tournaments and Touré will have to play as well as he does for Manchester City if the team is to reach the finals of the tournament,” Palacios said.

The Black Stars of Ghana, who are also in Group C, are another team to watch but have a tough challenge against Algeria, Senegal and South Africa.

Coach Avram Grant has been forced to leave two of his stars, defender Jeffrey Schlupp and striker Majeed Waris, out of his final squad of 23 due to injury.

Two other top players, Sulley Muntari and Kevin-Prince Boateng, have been left out after being suspended indefinitely for gross misconduct during the World Cup last year.

Nigerian football legend Austin “Jay Jay” Okocha also picks Algeria, Ivory and Ghana as his favourites.

Nigeria won the 2013 edition of the tournament but did not qualify for Equatorial Guinea.

“Algeria are likely to advance to the quarter-finals. I would say the team has the chance to win the African Cup,” Okocha told French football website Le Buteur.

“We saw how well they performed at the last World Cup – advancing to the last 16 was a respectable achievement. Algeria also had a very good run in the Afcon qualifying, which shows continuity.”

The tournament kicks off in Bata with Equatorial Guinea and Congo playing the opening match. The final will be played in the same venue on February 8.

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