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The African Cup of Nations is underway, but does it feel like we are missing a few people?

The 2012 African Cup of Nations kicked off on Saturday, with co-hosts and debutants Equatorial Guinea getting a last-gasp, dramatic 1-0 win over Libya. The likes of Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure and Demba Ba are chomping at the bit to showcase the quality of football in the African continent, but this year’s edition has a number of recognisable absentees. With Niger and Botswana making their bows in the tournament along with the co-hosts, the likes of Nigeria, Cameroon, South Africa and Egypt have missed out on participation. Despite the sizeable ability of some of the players and teams at the event, there is considerable African talent not competing this year, which could make up quite the team….

GK: Carlos Kameni (Cameroon / Malaga CF) – Once heralded as the shining light of African goalkeepers, Kameni has amassed 63 caps for The Indomitable Lions over his eleven-year international career. The talented shot-stopper had fallen out of favour this season at Espanyol, and secured a move to big-spending and ambitious Andalusian side Malaga during this transfer window. Kameni will look to recapture the form in La Liga that saw him linked with some of Europe’s biggest clubs earlier in his career, and have a new start at La Rosaleda.

Back up: Vincent Enyeama (Nigeria / Lille)

LB: Benoit Assou Ekotto (Cameroon / Tottenham) – The sprightly defender has made the left back jersey at White Hart Lane his own in recent seasons, and has increasingly become a more important part of the north London club’s side. Initially slightly unpredictable and nervy after his move from Lens back in 2006, the 27-year-old now has Harry Redknapp’s confidence and has installed a solidarity and consistency into his game. Internationally Assou-Ekotto has made 17 appearances for his country, but will have to wait another two years for the chance to potentially make his African Cup of Nations debut.

Back up – Taye Taiwo (Nigeria / QPR-AC Milan)

RB: Joseph Yobo (Nigeria / Fenerbahce) – Man-mountain defender Joseph Yobo is known for his no-nonsense approach and is currently on loan at Fenerbahce from Everton. The stopper is generally deployed as a central defender but has the versatility to play at full-back; his time at Goodison Park has seen him alternate between both. Captain of Nigeria with 86 caps, Yobo is one of the most experienced and well-respected defenders on the continent; at 31 years of age his chances of playing again in an African Cup of Nations in the future are fading away slightly.

Back up – Ahmed Elmohamady (Egypt / Sunderland)

CB: Sebastian Bassong (Cameroon / Tottenham) – Another Cameroon and Spurs defender, Bassong has failed to live up to his excellent Newcastle form down in London. Despite slipping down the pecking order at the Premier League side and being linked with a move away from the club, the 16-times capped centre half has the ability to compete at a top level if he keeps his head in the game and maintains concentration. Excellent in the air with a turn of pace, Bassong could have enticed potential suitors at the tournament had Cameroon qualified.

Back up – Aurelien Chedjou (Cameroon / Lille)

CB: Stephane Mbia (Cameroon / Marseille) – Admittedly Mbia plays predominantly as an all-action central midfielder, but the 25-year-old has on occasion featured in the backline and has the aptitude to make an excellent defender. The 36-times capped man progressed through the ranks at Rennes, and has made the step up to the Stade Velodrome, where he has looked accomplished and assured for Didier Deschamps’ side.

Back up – Nicolas N’Koulou (Cameroon / Marseille)

RW: Ahmed Musa (Nigeria / CSKA Moscow) – Flying 19-year-old winger Ahmed Musa has announced himself onto the club and international game in spectacular fashion over the last 12 months, staring for Dutch side VVV Venlo before sealing a €5million deal to CSKA a fortnight ago. With pace to burn and a trickery that has tortured countless full backs, Musa will continue his development in the Russian capital and has the potential to be a top-drawer player in the future.

Back up – Victor Obinna (Nigeria / Lokomotiv Moscow)

CM: Michael Essien (Ghana / Chelsea) – The Stamford Bridge battle-axe has not recovered from injury in time to step out with Ghana in the tournament, but has returned to fitness and will start to feature again at Chelsea in January. Persistent knee problems have robbed the Premier League of one of its most dynamic and athletic midfielders over the last two seasons more often than not, but the 52-times capped bruiser will look to get back to the form that made him one of the best players in his position before injuries took their toll.

Back up – Jon Obi Mikel (Nigeria / Chelsea)

CM: Alex Song (Cameroon / Arsenal) – Arguably the most improved player at the Emirates Stadium this season, Song has become an integral member of the north London club’s squad since the summer departure of Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona. Excellent in possession, the 24-year-old gets through a shedload of work in 90 minutes, and is at times charged with stopping opposition sides’ midfield advances single-handedly due to the attacking instincts of his team-mates. Already an excellent player, Song has the ability to be as good as Gunners legend Patrick Vieria should he continue his current path of development.

Back up – McDonald Mariga (Kenya / Inter Milan)

LM: Ryad Boudebouz (Algeria / Sochaux) – Similar to Mbia, attacking midfielder Boudebouz is playing slightly out of position in my dream team, and would be tasked with coming off his wing into a more central role (tactical genius). The Algeria international is slowly but surely gaining the recognition he deserves after emerging as a major talent in Ligue 1. Creative, decisive and energetic, it is only a matter of time before the Stade Auguste Bonal outfit lose their star player to a bigger club; he deserves it and is ready for a step up.

Back up – Steven Pienaar (South Africa / Tottenham)

ST – Emmanuel Adebayor (Togo / Tottenham) – So often the solitary threat in an average Togo side, Adebayor is anything but mediocre and has a record of success at every club he has played at. The sometimes temperamental forward has been key in Spurs’ rise to third in the Premier League, as he continues to showcase the ability of being both a target man and an attacker more than comfortable with the ball at his feet. Quick, strong, lethal in front of goal – Adebayor is comfortably his nation’s top ever goalscorer with 18 international goals, despite only being 27.

Back up – Mohamed Zidan (Egypt / Borussia Dortmund)

ST – Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon / Anzhi Makhachkala) – An African idol of a generation, Eto’o remains one of the most accomplished strikers in world football despite opting to swap Serie A giants Inter for Russian oil tycoons Anzhi, and would quite comfortably slot into some of the best teams in the world, nevermind my African dream team. Deceptively strong, Eto’o has been a handful for international defenders across Spain and Italy for a decade; the majority of the competition’s centre halves will have sighed with relief that the 109-times capped Cameroonian is not participating in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

Back up – Obafemi Martins (Nigeria / Rubin Kazan)

Published – Soccerlens

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African Cup of Nations 2012 preview: An open tournament expected with some big names missing

With the likes of Cameroon, Nigeria and South Africa failing to qualify for this year’s African Cup of Nations, the stage is set for some of the smaller nations to fight for glory. With the tournament to kick into full swing on Saturday with co-hosts Equatorial Guinea taking on Libya, ninetyminutesonline reviews all competitors and their chances of success.
Group A

Equatorial Guinea

Co-host nation Equatorial Guinea have never played in the finals of the competition, and will be spurred on by a favourable draw and home support. With Senegal almost sure to win Group A, Gilson Paulo’s men have a fighting chance of claiming second place again beatable opposition.
Friendly draws against South Africa and Cameroon at the tail-end of 2011 will boost the nation’s spirits; veteran striker Rodolfo Bodipo will be the side’s main attacking threat.

Libya

The Libyan side have done exceptionally well to qualify for the tournament given the political upheaval in the country over the last 12 months, but will go in as underdogs.

The entirety of Marcos Paqueta’s squad ply their trade in their homeland, apart from defensive midfielder Djamal Mahamat, who plays with Portuguese side Braga.

Senegal

Amara Traore’s men are the favourites to win Group A and go into the competition as one of the frontrunners to lift the trophy. The Teranga Lions have won their last five games, and enter the tournament with momentum.

Senegal have a number of players that play for leading European clubs, but Newcastle strike partnership Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse and Lille hitman Moussa Sow will pose a significant threat to all opponents.

Zambia

Zambia will most likely be in a straight shootout with Equatorial Guinea to finish in second place behind Senegal, but have only won one of their last five games leading up to the tournament.

Golden Arrows frontman Collins Mbesuma will lead the line for Herve Renard’s side; the striker has previously played in Europe for Portsmouth, Buraspor and Maritimo.
Group B

Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast’s squad is filled with talent from leading European clubs, and Francois Zahoui has been handed the task of winning the tournament; nothing less will satisfy. Unbeaten in nine games, the Elephants go into the event expecting glory.

The Ivory Coast squad is littered with Premier League stars such as Yaya and Kolo Toure, Didier Drogba, Gervinho, Cheik Tiote and Salomon Kalou, who should have too much quality for the other teams in the group.

Sudan

Sudan have qualified for the African Cup of Nations for only the second time in 35 years, and will be discredited as underdogs in Group B.

The team is captained by 34-year-old midfielder Haitham Mustafa, who has made 120 appearances for his country.

Angola

Having played in the 2006 World Cup, Angola have been an African nation on the rise over the last ten years, and will be fancied to progress through this pool. Unbeaten in six games, Lito Vidigal’s men are famed in Africa for their attacking brand of football.

Angola have a number of players contracted to Portuguese sides, but the best known of their group is Manucho, who at one time represented Manchester United.

Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso will be Angola’s main rivals for second place in the pool, with the up-an-coming side progressing over recent years.

A youthful squad filled with players that play predominantly in Europe, Auxerre attacker Alain Traore scored important goals in qualification and is the side’s stand out performer.
Group C

Gabon

Co-hosts Gabon have a tricky task in progressing to the knockout rounds of the competition, and will need to beat either Morocco or Tunisia to make the grade. The team will be buoyed on by enthusiastic home support, and put in a gutsy performance against Brazil in a friendly back in November.

Former Rangers striker Daniel Cousin is the nation’s best-known player, and will look to get the goals to help the hosts get through a difficult group.

Niger

Niger are another country making their first appearance at the tournament, and will be expected to be dealt an early exit.

Moussa Maazou is a key player for the emerging nation; the striker has played for CSKA Moscow, Monaco and Bordeaux and will be asked to find goals for his country.

Tunisia

The 2004 winners will be expected to be in a battle with northern African neighbours Morocco for top spot in Group C, but enter the tournament on the back of inconsistent form.

Most of Sami Trabelsi’s squad are home based, but Hannover defender Karim Haggui adds experience of playing in the Bundesliga and Ligue 1, and will be critical in orchestrating the side’s defence.

Morocco

Morocco are an unpredictable side, and although they have sufficient quality in their squad to do well, must play as a team to succeed. Eric Geret’s men have had an inconsistent build up to the competition, but with a number of excellent players in their team must be considered as one of the favourites for the tournament.

Premier League players Adel Taarabt and Marouane Chamakh will look to fire Morocco to victory, while Udinese defender Mehdi Benatia will be a key figure at the back.

 

Group D

Ghana

Ghana will fancy their chances in a relatively straight forward Group D, and with only two defeats in their last 13 games should be full of confidence.

Goran Stevanovic has a wealth of talent to pick from, with Marseille brothers Andre and Jordan Ayew the pick of the bunch. Look out for Udinese midfielder Kwadwo Asamoah also, who should form an exciting central midfield partnership with Inter’s Sulley Muntari.

Botswana

Botswana are another country to make their African Cup of Nations bow this year, and it would be a surprise to see the minnows make it out of their group.

With the majority of the squad young and inexperienced, striker Diphetogo Selolwane will harbor the responsibility of getting goals; the 33-year-old has played in South Africa, Denmark and United States during his career.

Guinea

Guinea will look to make the quarter finals of the tournament just like they did in 2004, 2006 and 2008, but enter the competition without a win in their last four fixtures.

27-year-old striker Ismael Bangoura will be charged with getting the side’s goals, and will call upon his experience of playing for Rennes and Dinamo Kiev.

Mali

Mali have only won two of their last seven games, but given the fact that they have a number of key players with experience of playing in Europe, coach Alain Giresse will want his team to make the quarter finals at least.

Barcelona midfielder Seydou Keita is the standout player in the Mali squad, while the bulk of the remainder of the squad play in France.

So there you have it; the 2012 African Cup of Nations is set to be an enthralling event, with a number of exciting match ups. Look out for Ivory Coast, Morocco and Senegal, but my pick to lift the trophy is Ghana.

Published – http://soccerlens.com/african-cup-of-nations-2012/86614/

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