African Cup Of Nations Debate: Underdogs Eye AFCON Crown

With the African Cup of Nations tournament only days away, takes a look at the underdogs of the competition, who will be hoping to create a few upsets.
All over Africa talks are on about who will eventually be crowned the African football kings. Defending champions Egypt, Ghana, Ivory Coast and the hosts Angola are tipped as favourites.

Aside from the usual suspects vying for the title in Angola, there will be a select few who may have what it takes to upset a favourite on their day, and these teams create further excitement in a tournament that will already have the entire continent glued to their television sets and radios on match days.

Malawi, who are making a return to the African Cup finals after a 26-year absence, will definitely be one team capable of pulling a few surprises. They are in Group A, which is a tricky one to progress from, as it features the host Angola, Mali and the 2010 World Cup bound Algeria.

Able to play well away from home at times, the Flames of Malawi will be hoping that Angola 2010 gives them the opportunity to make a mark on the African stage. The Kinnah Phiri coached side might not be a star studied side like Ivory Coast or Ghana but they have a big match temperament and with nothing to lose they will be underestimated at their opponents’ peril.

Zambia is another team capable of getting tongues wagging at this year’s tournament; led by the South African PSL record goal scorer, Collins Mbesuma, and the talented Chris Katongo up front, opposition defenders will have a nightmare trying to keep this partnership at bay.

Anything is possible in this continental showpiece and Zambia is one of the teams with their hands itching for the crown.

Mozambique find themselves in Group C at the African Cup of Nations in Angola together with Nigeria, Benin and defending champions Egypt, but the former Portuguese colony could be another surprise package. Coached by the experienced Viktor Bondarenko, Mozambique have a talented new generation of players that includes Mamelodi Sundowns’ Elias Pelembe, who has an eye for goal.

Above all the youngster’s pace and skill will remind many of Ronaldinho’s early days at Camp Nou. Up front they will be banking on their experienced senior citizen Tico-Tico, who has a wealth of experience, to pass onto the African side a typically South American playing style.

Mali are at the tournament this year with one thing in mind, go as far as possible and aim for the title. The Malians have a strong group of players on paper, but they have disappointed in the last few tournaments, while missing out on qualifying for the World Cup. With stars like Fredi Kanoute, Souleymane Diamoutene, Mohamed Sissoko and Seydou Keita at their disposal, they will aim for the final with a generation of players hungry to impress on the continental stage.

Tunisia, whose clubs often do well in the African championships, are possibly the team with the most potential out of the underdog category. The North African side have a point prove in this year’s tournament. After Cameroon hauled them out 3-2 in the quarter-finals of the 2008 competition, the Eagles of Carthage have a chance to avenge that defeat as early as the group stages this time.

They last tasted success in the African Nations Cup back in 2004, for the first time in their history, when they hosted and won the tournament. Ever since, lady luck seems to have deserted them but this time the Faouzi Benzarti coached outfit will be out in full force.

The Tunisian side has great promise, and they narrowly missed out on a place in South Africa at the World Cup later this year. Thus they are even more desperate to win the title along with the respect of their fans and the continent in Angola. Benzarti has picked a young group of hungry players, mostly from the domestic league which means that there will be no shortage of motivation for them.

This year’s tournament will be a tense one as everyone who failed to make it for the trip to South Africa in June will be out vent out their frustrations. While those who qualified for World cup will be out to prove that they are the continent’s crème de le crème.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to talk about minnows and favourites on the African continent, as teams are constantly improving and the gap between the best and the chasing pack continues to diminish. Perhaps this is the year of the underdogs, and the neutral supporter will have a tournament to savour in Angola.

Clyde Tlou & Peter Pedroncelli,