With the groups for the Afcon now known, teams can identify their chief challenges in the tournament’s opening round. Goal Ghana’s Ed Dove considers the top five adversaries standing between the Black Stars and a place in the Quarter Finals.
With last night’s draw in Durban revealing the lineups for the opening group stage of the African Cup of Nations, fans across the continent learnt their opposition for the tournament’s opening round. Pitted in group B alongside DR Congo, Niger, and Mali, the Black Stars face a challenge to secure a place in the Quarter Finals. This article considers the top five players Ghana will face in the battle of Group B.
Niger boss Gernot Rohr was all optimism and confidence after learning his side’s fate for the group stage. Whilst there are many in Niger who won’t share the German’s sanguinity, those who follow Mena will be under no illusion that any possible progression in the competition must depend – to some extent at least – on the twinkle toes of frontman Moussa Maazou.
The nomadic frontman is still only 24, but already with his eighth club, now is the time to deliver on his immense potential. Once the subject of a €4.8m transfer from Lokeren, in Belgium, to CSKA Moscow, Maazou’s three years in Russia didn’t quite work out. Now back in Africa, with Etoile du Sahel of Tunisia, the striker has the chance to reinvent himself heading into the central years of his career. A prolific Afcon for Double M wouldn’t half go down well in Niamey.
Being placed in Pot Four for the draw, featuring among the four lowest ranked teams in the tournament, DR Congo were the side everyone wanted to avoid. Part of the reason for this apprehension, and a key figure in the gentle renewal of these fallen giants of African football, is dynamic frontman, Dieumerci Mbokani.
Another who has traipsed through an assortment of footballing outposts in his career to date, Mbokani has featured everywhere from Monaco to Mazembe; a spell in the Bundesliga with Wolfsburg didn’t impress many, but back in Belgium with Anderlecht since 2011, the powerful forward has been proving just what he is capable of. Another move, to a bigger club and league beckons for a man who is oft-quoted as being ‘too good’ for the Belgian pro-league – Black Stars fans had better hope he’s not ‘too good’ for Group B!
Of four nations stacked with firepower, one of the most devastating frontmen may well belong to Mali. Any chance of success in the competition for Les Aigleswill depend heavily on the faults and fortunes of Cheick Diabaté. After years of being on the fringes at Bordeaux, frustrating seasons including loans down in Ajaccio and up in Nancy, the 6’4 hitman is finally being considered a serious force at the Stade Chaban Delmas.
Few in Mali can forget his impact either: One of the country’s most memorable moments in recent history was Diabaté’s 85th minute equaliser against hosts Gabon in Libreville in 2012’s Afcon Quarterfinal. The goal took the tie to extra time, and eventually penalties, where the towering forward was one of the scorers in the eagles’ shootout victory. Despite a muted defeat to Cote d’Ivoire in the Semi, Diabaté was on hand once again in the third place play-off – bagging two to overcome the Black Stars. It’s a result all Ghanaians will be hoping to avoid this time around!
With superstars like Seydou Keita, Mahamadou Diarra, and Freddie Kanouté coming to the end of their Mali careers, Les Aigles are beginning to turn to a new generation of players to carry the mantle and perhaps succeed where their illustrious predecessors failed. One such player is Modibo Maiga, now in his fifth year with the national side, and ready to finally become a major player.
A versatile frontman who is capable of playing up top or alongside a middle man, Maiga can be a valuable weapon for any team. Productive displays in Morocco, for Raja Casablanca, and in France, initially with Le Mans, and then with Sochaux, led him to East London, and the Premier League with West Ham. Yet to truly break into the starting eleven, Maiga demonstrated his class with a calm finish against Southampton this weekend. Black Stars should keep a close eye on this effective frontman.
Few players have been as pivotal to TP Mazembe’s recent domestic and continental success as Trésor Mputu – the diminutive frontman has wowed publics and defied defences Africa-wide as Les Corbeaux have, at times, conquered all before them. With World Cup qualification a distant dream, and 2013 being the first Afcon appearance in seven years for the Leopards, Mputu finally has the chance to represent his nation on the continental stage.
Once named ‘The next Samuel Eto’o’ by current Congo boss Claude Le Roy, Mputu has long been considered ready to make the move to a European team – an impressive display against Ghana in their Group B clash, and that move may come sooner rather than later. Black Stars will need to keep a tight lid on this lethal leopard.
Ghana’s top 5 adversaries in the Afcon Group Stage