Orange Africa Cup of Nations – Sunday 05 February 2012

Gabon (1) – (1) Mali (AET: Mali won 5-4 on penalties) [Stade d’Angondjé]

Ghana (2) – (1) Tunisia (AET) [Stade de Franceville]

Yesterday I tipped the two “G’s” (Gabon and Ghana) to complete the Semi-Final line-up, but only came up with one out of two tonight.

In the case of Gabon, “G” stood for “Going, going, gone”, as there was no dream of progress for The Panthers and as a result both co-hosts exited at the Quarter-Final stage. However, it all looked so promising in Libreville, when after an even first-half, Gabon took the lead on 55 minutes with a goal best described as a comedy of errors. Gabon launched a free-kick into the Mali penalty area which was badly misjudged by Mali as they tried to clear. The ball fell to Gabon forward Aubameyang who cut the ball back into the box where it was  missed by the Mali defence. The ball ran to Eric Mouloungui who drove the it towards goal and which found its way in after a deflection from two Mali players who were more effective in getting in each others way, rather than blocking the goal-bound effort. Gabon went in search of a second and captain Daniel Cousin hit the post when it was easier to score. The clock ticked down and it looked like Gabon were edging their way to the Semi-Final. Then with six minutes remaining, a ball into the Gabon box was headed back towards the penalty spot by Modibo Maiga. Substitute Tidiane Diabate with his back to goal, controlled, turned and fired under the body of Didier Ovono in the Gabon goal. Mali were level mainly through great skill by Diabate, but the finger will be pointed at Ovono, in that he should have kept the shot out. Extra-time came and went and suddenly it was the drama and agony of penalties. Six successful penalties had the scores at 3-3 as Gabon’s star performer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang stepped-up. His kick was saved and the advantage shifted to Mali. Bakaye Traoré coolly put Mali 4-3 up, but Gabon stayed in the tie as Ecuele Manga casually chipped in his penalty to level the score at 4-4. It all came down to Seydou Keita who with calmness passed his spot-kick left footed into the net. It was a lesson in penalty taking and England fans will hope Fabio Capello was taking note! Despair for Gabon and elation for Mali. The Eagles were through and have the dubious pleasure of facing Ivory Coast in the Semi-Final. For now though it will be about enjoying the moment.

For Ghana is was a case of “G” for “Gift”, a gift that only came to fruition in extra-time. The prospect of extra-time didn’t look on the cards early on when The Black Stars made a lightening start and were 1-0 up against Tunisia within ten minutes. From a corner taken by Emmanuel Agyemang Badu, Ghana skipper John Mensah muscled out the Tunisian defence to head in. Ghana continued to press and a second goal seemed likely. With half-time looming and Ghana cruising, against the run of play, Tunisia scored three minutes before the break. A speculative cross into the box was headed home by Saber Khelifa who attacked the ball with more purpose than the Ghanaian defender. The second-half couldn’t separate the teams and so as with the earlier game it was extra-time. The “gift” arrived just over ten minutes into the first period of extra-time. Agyemang Badu looked like he had wasted a good attacking position, when he over hit a cross. However, Tunisian keeper Aymen Mathlouthi inexplicably tried to take the cross as it was sailing out of play. He failed to gather the ball and instead knocked it into the path of Andre Ayew who gratefully slotted home to give Ghana the lead 2-1. It was quite simply the keeping clanger of the tournament and Mathlouthi cost his team dearly. Into the second period of extra-time, Tunisia lost their composure as Aymen Abdennour was sent-off for elbowing an opponent and Oussama Darragi was lucky not to reduce Tunisia to nine men with an ugly challenge. It was a shame that the game finished in the manner that it did. However, Ghana made it through, although less comfortably than they would have hoped.

There is a break now until Wednesday when the Semi-Finals take place and they will be as follows:

Zambia v Ghana (Estadio de Bata)

Mali v Ivory Coast (Stade d’Angondjé)

Orange Africa Cup of Nations – Tuesday 31 January 2012

Group C

Gabon (1) – (0) Tunisia [Stade de Franceville]

Niger (0) – (1) Morocco [Stade d’Angondjé]

In terms of qualification for the Quarter-Finals, that was already done and dusted prior to kick-off. Gabon and Tunisia were playing to establish who would top the Group, whilst Niger and Morocco were in opposition to avoid the ‘cuillère en bois’

Incredibly going into this game, there had not been one fixture which had ended 0-0. After 45 minutes in both games without a goal, the indications were that perhaps this was about to change. The two games provided quite a contrast. In Franceville, Gabon and Tunisia provided a half of genuine pace and passion. Daniel Cousin and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had ‘put themselves about’ and were causing the Tunisian defence some real problems. Meanwhile in Libreville, Niger and Morocco produced a pretty awful first-half. Niger did hit the bar just before the break when Moussa Maazou was unlucky with his strike, otherwise there was little to excite the crowd.

Thankfully there was a little more for spectators to get excited about in the second period of each game. Co-hosts Gabon completed a clean sweep winning all three games and finished on 9 points after a 1-0 victory over Tunisia. The winning goal came on 62 minutes with a rapid fire attack from Gabon. Starting inside the Gabonese half the ball was swept to Cousin, his first-time ball found Aubameyang, who took it on before shooting from just outside the Tunisian box. The ball found its way into the net but Rami Jeridi in goal for Tunisia was at fault, as the shot ricocheted and spun off his body. Gabon deserved their lead and also continued to press in the remainder of the game. There was still enough passion in this game as ninety minutes approached for a little fracas between the players. At the whistle went, both teams could celebrate, as they were both through and the challenge of the Quarter Finals awaited. In the game at Libreville, thankfully Morocco sparked into life in the second-half. Younes Belhanda was the catalyst for a better tempo as he was involved in all the positive work by Morocco. The goal came on 79 minutes, when Marouane Chamakh, who did appear offside, laid the ball through for Belhanda to finish. Morocco finished with a win, but didn’t live up to their pre-tournament promise, whilst Niger left empty handed.

Final Positions:

(1) Gabon: 9 pts, (2) Tunisia: 6 pts, (3) Morocco: 3 pts, (4) Niger: 0 pts.

Orange Africa Cup of Nations – Monday 23 January 2012

Group C:

Gabon (2) – (0) Niger

Fellow Tournament co-hosts Gabon got there campaign up and running at Stade d’Angondjé in Libreville with a comfortable 2 – 0 win over a nervous looking Niger team. Gabon were always in command of this game, but it was not until the half-hour mark that the breakthrough was made. Niger had chances to clear their lines before the ball broke to Stephane Nguema, who from the right, put over a deep cross that Niger keeper Kassaly Daouda always looked like he was struggling to reach. With the ball heading seemingly out of play, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang headed in unchallenged from a very tight angle. Will half-time approaching Gabon struck again. The danger on this occasion came from the left wing as Moussouno’s cross was headed on target by the dangerous Aubameyang. Niger keeper Daouda brilliantly saved this close range effort, but the rebound was easily put way by Stephane Nguema to send Gabon in at half-time with a deserved 2 – 0 lead. The second-half saw Gabon continue to dominate the game and create chances, but Niger held out. Both co-hosts start with a win to keep the home fans happy.


Morocco (1) – (2) Tunisia

This North African ‘derby’ saw Tunisia emerge winners, although Morocco will feel they should have at least got a draw. In a fairly open first forty five minutes, Tunisia were thankful that their keeper Mathlouthi was in such good form. Morocco created the better chances and it was somewhat against the run of play that Tunisia went ahead. On 33 minutes, a floated free-kick from Khaled Korbi found its way into the net, with the Moroccan keeper seemingly distracted and therefore late diving as Tunisian forward Saber Khelifa tried to flick-on the free-kick. Morocco continued to create chances, but were unable to beat Mathlouthi in the Tunisian goal. For the second-half Morocco coach Eric Gerets’ brought on Adel Taraabt for Oussama Assaidi to seek an early equaliser. The change saw Morocco continue to create chances but Mathlouthi continue to keep the Moroccans at bay. With Tunisia happy to play on the break they scored a second goal on 75 minutes. Substitute Youssef Msakni received the ball outside the Moroccan penalty area and in a twisting run past three defenders slotted home to double the Tunisian lead. With just four minutes remaining Morocco gave themselves a glimmer of hope when Houcine Kharjah scored. It came from a corner which was not fully cleared, with the ball eventually being knocked back into the box by Ahmed Kantari for the Moroccan captain Kharjah to stab home. With five minutes of time added on, Morocco searched desperately for an equaliser, but it never came. Marouane Chamakh has had a difficult season to date at The Emirates and it continued here tonight. It’s a cliché, but you have to take your chances, and tonight Morocco were wasteful.

Group C resumes on Friday 27 January, with Niger v Tunisia and Gabon v Morocco.

2012 (Orange) Africa Cup of Nations [ACN] – Introduction

On Saturday 21 January 2012 the Africa Cup of Nations begins with the opening game between Equatorial Guinea and Libya in the 28th tournament to be held and will close with the Final on Sunday 12th February 2012 at the Stade de l’Amitié in Gabon. This 2012 competition is being co-hosted in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

The tournament features 16 team split into four groups and they are as follows:

 Group A: Equatorial Guinea, Libya, Senegal, Zambia.

Group B: Ivory Coast, Sudan, Burkina Faso, Angola.

Group C: Gabon, Niger, Morocco, Tunisia.

Group D: Ghana, Botswana, Mali, Guinea.

Two go through from each group, with a knock-out phase to follow. To some looking at the list of participants, there will be ‘raised eyebrows’ at some of the teams that didn’t qualify. Of the top ten international sides in the Confederation of African Football (CAF) rankings, six failed to qualify. These include Algeria (who could only finish third in the Qualifying Group won by Morocco), the winners of the last three ACN tournaments, Egypt, 2010 World Cup host South Africa as well as Nigeria and Cameroon, who both finished runners-up in their respective Qualifying Groups. However, fourteen of the sixteen teams in the 2012 tournament are from the top twenty two in the CAF rankings. Only Sudan (ranked thirtieth) and Equitorial Guinea (forty first) sit outside this group. This will be the first Finals appearance for Botswana, Equatorial Guinea and Niger.

Over the years with a greater influx of African players into the European game, the profile and interest of the ACN tournament has spread amongst the media and football fans alike. In the 2012 tournament, 65% of the players ply their trade away from their home nations, with French clubs providing 62 players. Sudan is the only team this year with all 23 squad members playing in their own domestic competition. The following players from British clubs will be representing their respective countries:

Ghana: John Pantsil (Leicester City)

Ivory Coast: Kolo Touré (Manchester City), Sol Bamba (Leicester City), Yaya Touré (Manchester City), Cheick Tioté (Newcastle United), Didier Drogba (Chelsea), Salomon Kalou (Chelsea), Gervinho (Arsenal).

Morocco: Badr El Kaddouri (Celtic), Adel Taarabt (QPR), Marouane Chamakh (Arsenal).

Senegal: Armand Traoré (QPR), Mohamed Diamé (Wigan Athletic), Guirane N’Daw (Birmingham City), Demba Ba  (Newcastle United), Papiss Demba Cisse (Newcastle United).

In terms of the bookies, favourites to win the competition are Ivory Coast, with Ghana, Senegal, Morocco and Tunisia prominent in the betting. As for outsiders, co-hosts Equatorial Guinea are considered a long-shot.