Goal.com takes a look at Group A involving South Africa, Cape Verde, Angola and Morocco.
|Favourites: South Africa & Morocco
The host nation will be looking to really get themselves going and have been handed a relatively good start against the team expected to be minnows in the group. The Rainbow Nation qualified automatically for the tournament as hosts and will be hoping to win their second Cup of Nations trophy. Bafana Bafana won the trophy at the first time of asking as hosts in the 1996 edition, which they hosted, the first and only time Bafana Bafana have hosted the tournament. This sparked a run of three consecutive semi-final appearances, but the Rainbow Nation has failed to reach those heights since. Bafana Bafana’s story in the tournament tells a surprising tale of decline, after winning in their first participation, they were losing finalists in 1998 and finished third place in 2000. They only managed a quarter-final place in 2002. They failed to make it past the group stages in 2004, placing third in their group. They failed to get a point or a goal in 2006 placing bottom of their group, a problem they suffered again two years later but this time with two points amassed. Bafana Bafana have not been at another tournament since, missing the 27th and 28th editions of the tournament in Angola and Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. Bafana Bafana will be hoping that this will be a new beginning and another performance like the one in 1996 will leave the south Africans in a very good mood.
The Atlas Lions have failed to make it past the first hurdle the past three times they have appeared at the continental showpiece, with the last time they achieved a feat being at the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations where they were losing finalists. The winners of the 1976 edition of the tournament have fallen on hard times in recent tournaments and have struggled to really make an impact. The presence of what is easily the best squad they have had in years, powered by an influx of former French youth internationals though, will mean that the north Africans will be in with a good chance of breaking that recent trend. South Africa are the only members of their group which they have met in previous editions of the tournament losing to them twice and managing a draw the last time the two sides met in the competition in 2004.
Palancas Negras will be looking to consolidate their reputation as one of the most surprise filled teams in the tournament. Since the Sable Antelopes as their nickname translates into made it to the World Cup in 2006, they have been a force to be reckoned with and the likes of Flavio and Fabrice Akwa have handed over to Manucho and co. This will be just the seventh time Palancas Negras grace the continental showpiece, but they will be looking for what will be only their third appearance in the latter stages of the competition with a quarter-final place still their best result in the competition so far.
|Minnows: Cape Verde
The debutants will no doubt be considered as the minnows in the group, but on the back of a solid qualification campaign where they got past Madagascar and continental giants Cameroon. They are the only debutants in the tournament and will be looking to mark their debut with a bang. The fact that they scored 10 goals in their four qualification matches and found the net in all of their games with seven different goal scorers seems to suggest that they are a well rounded team and one that could cause havoc for any country that overlooks them.
|Players to watch
Mehdi Benatia (Morocco): The Udinese stopper is a target for some of the best teams in Europe at the moment and has been gaining rave reviews for his performances with the Bianconeri since joining the Italian side with his solid displays in the centre of defence responsible for the Zebbrette’s good performances over the years. He has also shown an ability to chip in at the other end of the pitch too with the occasional goal.
Manucho (Angola): The former Manchester United man will be looking to put his name on the score sheet in a fourth consecutive Cup of Nations after having scored in each of the last three editions of the tournament. With a total of eight goals in the history of the tournament, Manucho is a danger for any team in the tournament and will be in double figures if his form stays true as the least number of goals he has ever scored in a tournament is two.
Younes Belhanda (Morocco): Another Moroccan sensation in Europe. Belhanda’s performances in the past couple of years for Montpellier have been raising a little more than eyebrows across Europe adding him to what is fast becoming a golden age of Moroccan footballers in Europe. The midfielder’s drive and creativity in front of goal as well as his ability to finish off moves makes him a valuable asset for the Atlas Lions and he will be hoping to transfer his title winning performances for Montpellier into the continental football fiesta.
Ryan Mendes (Cape Verde): The former Le Havre forward is Cape Verde’s rising football star and will be heavily involved if the Blue Sharks are to shock the continent in South Africa. The youngster thrives in the ‘hole’ in behind the striker and chips in with his fair share of goals as well as assists. The youngster scored three goals in qualification and will be looking to be on top of his form during the tournament, something the whole of Cape Verde will be looking for as he makes things happen for the side when he is on top of his form.
Siphiwe Tshabalala (South Africa): With 70 national team caps and two Africa Cup of Nations tournaments to his name, South Africa will be looking to Siphiwe Tshabalala for inspiration and the Kaizer Chiefs midfielder will be looking to do just that. Tshabalala’s skill and experience will go a long way to making Bafana Bafana a success in this tournament and if he can produce the sort of performances he produced on home soil in the 2010 World Cup then their opponents should also get ready.