2013 Africa Cup of Nations Finals – Tuesday 22 January 2013
Group C: Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
Zambia (1) 1 – 1 (0) Ethiopia
The 2012 AFCON Champions Zambia were involved in a game that is best described as ‘incident packed’. From the kick-off it was a game that featured some, what only can be described as ‘robust’ challenges and Zambia’s Stoppila Sunzu received a yellow card within the opening fifteen minutes for a crude tackle on Saladain Said. The Ethiopia nearly put his side ahead on eighteen minutes, but his lob over Zambian goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene incredibly bounced over the crossbar, thanks to a dry and rock hard pitch. The Champions were living dangerously and on twenty four minutes, they conceded a penalty when Chisamba Lungu fouled Saladin Said. The Ethiopian took the resultant penalty, but his weak effort was easily parried away by Mweene. From the ensuing attack, Zambia nearly scored themselves, but Jemal Tassew saved smartly. However, the hero turned villain when just after the half hour mark he was sent-off for an awful challenge on Chisamba Lungu. The keeper injured himself in the process and left the field on a stretcher as the referee brandished the red card. Zambia made their numerical advantage count with the first-half ticking away, as Collins Mbesuma muscled between two Ethiopian defenders to plant his half volley past substitute keeper Zerihun Tadele. As the Zambians celebrated, objects were thrown at the players from the crowd. Into the second-half, Ethiopia remained resolute and on sixty four minutes levelled the score. Addis Hintsa provided a pin-point pass for Saladain Said and he fed Adane Girma who slotted past Mweene at his near post. Zambia searched hard for a winner, but couldn’t find one and so Ethiopia finished with a point that they richly deserved.
Nigeria (1) 1 – 1 (0) Burkina Faso
Another game in the 2013 AFCON and another draw. Nigeria one of the ‘big guns’ in African football failed to deliver in a game they were expected to win. The Super Eagles dominated the opening exchanges and therefore it was no surprise when they took the lead after twenty three minutes. From a through ball, Ideye Brown’s clever back-heel flick fell to Emmanuel Emenike and he reacted quickest to fire home to give Nigeria a 1-0 lead. There seemed to be no urgency from the Nigerians to seek a second goal and the remainder of the half was a pretty uninspiring passage of play. In the second period Burkina Faso stuck manfully to their task, but there was a distinct lack of quality in some of the play from both sides, with wayward passes and equally wayward attempts on goal. As with the earlier game in Group C, some of the tackles and challenges were crude and on seventy three minutes, Nigeria were reduced to ten men when Celtic’s Efe Ambrose was dismissed for a second yellow card. Despite being a man down, Nigeria continued to create chances, with Ikechukwu Uche particularly wasteful. The Super Eagles were made to pay for their profligacy in front of goal when in time added-on, substitute Alain Traoré levelled for Burkina Faso. Jonathan Pitroipa received the ball out wide and cut the ball back into the box, inexplicably the two Nigerians defenders dithered and failed to clear it, allowing Traoré to slot home; cue wild celebrations on the Burkina Faso bench. Not a great game by any stretch of the imagination, but one which delivered with some last gasp drama.
Group D: Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Rustenburg
Ivory Coast v Togo
Ivory Coast (The Elephants) are the top ranked CAF side going into the competition and also the bookies favourites. However, they have in the past struggled with this weight of expectation and their one and only AFCON title was in 1992. In qualifying for the 2013 tournament, The Elephants overcame Senegal 6-2 on aggregate. The 2nd leg in Dakar had to be abandoned shortly after the Ivory Coast went 2-0 ahead in the seventy first minute, as violence erupted on the terraces. In their last warm-up game, The Elephants overcame Egypt 4-2. Ivory Coast will no doubt make it through the Group stage, but can they hold their nerve to take the crown?
Togo’s (Les Eperviers – The Sparrow Hawks) last experience of the AFCON was surrounded with tragedy as on the eve of the tournament in 2010, their team bus was attacked and three people were killed. Togo withdrew, but were then banned by CAF from the next two tournaments. However, FIFA halved the penalty which meant The Sparrow Hawks could enter qualification for the 2013 competition. They overcame Kenya on away goals after finishing 2-2 on aggregate and sealed their place in South Africa with a 3-2 aggregate victory over Gabon.
Tunisia v Algeria
The first round of Group games concludes with a clash of North African teams and will see Tunisia (The Eagles of Carthage) up against Algeria (Les Fennecs – The Fennec Foxes). Tunisia came through qualification against Sierra Leone on away goals after finishing 2-2 on aggregate. In their warm-up games, they lost 4-2 to Ghana and drew with Gabon 1-1.
Algeria were more convincing in qualification, and saw off Gambia 6-2 on aggregate, followed by victory over North African neighbours Libya 3-0 on aggregate. In their last warm-up game, Algeria took on 2013 hosts South Africa and played out a 0-0 draw.0
The bookies see very little between these teams, whereas the CAF rankings have Algeria at number two and Tunisia at ten. A ‘local derby’, so a draw with honours even and local bragging rights not settled.
Prediction: (1) Ivory Coast, (2) Algeria, (3) Togo, (4) Tunisia.