CAN 2010 — Group D
“Tu play le damba tous les jours?” (Know yr Camfranglais!!!)
The Indomitable Lions come to Angola with their sights on the title, which would be their 5th. Not many have picked Cameroon as likely champions this year, simply because most punters seem so sure of a Côte d’Ivoire victory. It seems as though everyone feels it is simply inevitable that the Elephants will win, because Drogba is 31, because it may be the last hurrah of the current Ivorian Golden Age. From my point of view this prediction seems way over-confident, and if the Ivorians have consistently bottled big games in the past decade, why would they stop now? All these expectations could set the stage for a Cameroonian siege, and they are, in fact, my personal pick to go all the way in Angola.
My faith starts at the back, with Carlos Kameni, arguably the only world-class keeper at the CAN this year [why does Africa have such a difficult time producing great keepers?]. Apparently Kameni will be looking to move from Espanyol at the end of the season, and a solid showing at this CAN could be the perfect way to show the world his immense ability.
Moving forward from Kameni, we come to Alexandre Song, who has been in absolutely exquisite form all season at Arsenal, where he has cemented his position in the starting eleven, playing a Yaya-esque role in front of the central defenders. In Arsenal’s current formation Song utilizes his strength and technical ability to win the ball in midfield, protect it, slowing the game down in a Riquelmean fashion, then feeding the forward trio with an incisive pass. He’s got pace and is smart with a tackle as well, always popping up at the right place to cover in defense when either Vermaelen or Gallas storm forward. If coach Paul Le Guen (of PSG fame, who we can assume has payed some attention to Arsène Wenger’s formations) is able to provide Song with the space to play a similar role to the one he plays at Arsenal, he could be the standout performer of this year’s cup. This video showcases the quality of Song’s subtle midfield work in a few of this season’s early games for Arsenal (turn off the sound) (and also don’t let the subtitle bum you out too much):
My one worry is that, with two other talented defensive midfielders in Stephane Mbia and Landry N’Guemo, Song’s role won’t be as central. However, having both Song and either Mbia or N’Guemo to cover for the Cameroonian defense will be a great boost. Rigobert Song is about 60 years old, and he will apparently be paired with the relatively inexperienced (but extremely talented) Nicholas N’Koulou. If Rigobert and N’Koulou can stand strong, Alex Song will be free to dominate the midfield, winning and distributing ball after ball to Achille Emana and Jean Makoun, in turn feeding Samuel Eto’o, who we all know can finish. If the Lions’ performance reflects this strong spine at all, I can’t see any other team beating them out. The only danger would be a striker like Drogba running over old Rigo and N’Koulou, but with Alex Song and Mbia to bolster the defence, not to mention Kameni, it may not prove to be a problem.
Song was the big surprise of the last CAN, and I can see him shining brightly again in Angola. Eto’o playing well would be no surprise, but this year he’s set himself a particularly high bar, voicing his desire to surpass Mulamba Ndaye’s record of 9 goals in a single CAN tournament. The prospect of Eto’o and Drogba—without a doubt the two greatest African strikers of this generation—facing-off in a CAN final is mouth-watering.
This Cameroonian team is really bursting with talent, young upstarts and experienced vets, and if Le Guen is able to get the squad flowing smoothly, Cameroon will be on their way to victory not only in Angola, but in South Africa as well.
The early surprise package in qualifying rounds was Gabon, who won 3 out of 6 matches, finishing second behind Cameroon. The Azingo Nationale are almost completely without top-flight international success, having never qualified for a World Cup, and having only won one match in past Cups of Nations appearances. Regardless, Gabon have many exciting young players who will be looking repeat their impressive qualifying-round performances in Angola.
Reticent Azingo captain Daniel Cousin’s form at Hull City has been brilliant at times, but inconsistent—but then even a world-class striker would struggle to maintain form at Hull City. Look to Cousin to attempt to convince on an international stage, in the hopes of escaping relegation next season by moving to a different club.
23 year-old Ankaragücü striker Roguy Meye netted twice in qualifying rounds, and may be set to partner Cousin up front. Young striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, currently on loan from Milan at Lille, apparently played brilliantly against Morocco. Bruno Ecuélé Manga is Gabon’s best defender, and his superb form at Ligue 2 side SCO Angers has attracted attention from Premier Ligue sides.
Considering Gabon’s recent impressive form, as well as Tunisia’s lack thereof, the Azingo Nationale have a more than fair chance of progressing to the quarterfinals for only the second time in their country’s history. It’s worth keeping in mind that Gabon, along with Equitorial Guinea, will host the next Cup of Nations. A good showing this year would surely boost the team’s expectations for 2012.
“Well ,chipolopolo boyz !Leeds Utd is a classic proof for you after what they did to Man Utd yesterday .They humbled a big team 0-1 in an away fixture and were unlucky not to have scored more .So even a pack of hungry and determined wild dogs can bring down the mighty elephant .Same applies to you lads ,if you want to redeem ur past glory , now is the time but of course it will have to come at the expense of tunisia or cameroon .4get Gabon !”—chipolopolo surgeon
The Zambian Copper Bullets have never won the CAN, coming closest in 1994, directly following the tragic 1993 plane crash which killed the entire Zambian first team. A hastily assembled squad impressively made it to the final in 1994, but lost out to Nigeria. The Chipolopolo Boys will be looking to establish themselves as the intimidating footballing force they once were.
However, despite hopeful sentiment such as that quoted above, few Zambians really believe their team has what it takes to reach the final. Many consider the current lineup lacking in creative spark and youthful vigor.
Look for defenders Joseph Musonda and Chintu Kampamba to keep things tight at the back, hoping captain, and Bielefeld striker, Chris Katongo can lead an effective offensive display.
Katongo will most likely be partnered up front by exciting young prospect Jacob Mulenga, who currently plays in Holland for FC Utrecht. Mulenga is strong, fast, and tall, and will most likely play through the center, hoping to capitalize from the artful buildup of the Katongo brothers: Chris and midfielder Felix.
The focus is on Gabon to be the outsider success in Group D, but a loss to Zambia could see the Chipolopolo usurp that position. There could be added drama in the Zambia-Gabon match due to a falling-out between the two federations following the ’93 plane crash (involving possible negligence on the part of Gabonese air-traffic controllers, who allowed the faulty Zambian plane to take off from Libreville airport).
The Eagles of Carthage had a hugely disappointing qualifying campaign, and will be looking to Angola for some consolation. Due to the aforementioned Nigerianist divine intervention, Tunisia missed out on World Cup qualification for the first time in 12 years by one point, due to a surprise defeat at home to Mozambique. The Carthage Eagles won the CAN when they hosted it in 2004, and their bitter World Cup disappointment will be driving them to repeat that success in Angola.
Tunisia’s young playmaker Oussama Darragi will be sure to hog the spotlight if the Eagles are successful. For an example of what the 22-year-old is capable of, watch this video of Darragi’s spectacular last-minute equalizer against Nigeria in the qualifiers (skip forward to 2:30, and don’t miss the subsequently unimpressed Nigerian fans pelting the celebrating Tunisians with water-bottles):
Young Hannover central defender Karim Haggui should shore up the Tunisian defese, while Amine Chermiti, erstwhile leading goal scorer in the African Champions League, will be looking to link up with Darragi and supply his country with several consolatory goals.
Tunisia will be hungover from their World Cup failure, but, like Egypt, without the distraction of South Africa in the summer they’ll be ready to give everything in Angola.