For reigning champions, Egypt are surprisingly lowly-rated to defend their title in 2010. A recent poll on myafricanfootball.com had 83% of voters anwering “NO” in response to the query, “Can Egypt win for the third time in a row?” This could simply reflect the desire of the sub-Saharan majority to see a sub-Saharan team come away with the cup; but many have also doubted Egypt’s chances following Mohamed Abu Treika’s exclusion from the squad due to injury. Many will be looking to Dortmund striker Mohamed Zidan, one of only two Egypt players who play their club football in Europe [a testament to the economic strength of the Egyptian league, NOT the weakness of the Egyptian squad], to make up for Abu Treika’s absence.
However, the lesser-known Zamalek winger Shikabala may be the surprise star for the Pharaohs this year. At 23, Shikabala has had a rocky start to his career, suffering a one-year ban from the Egypt national team due to “inappropriate behavior” as well as a six-month suspension from club football due to an illegal transfer to Zamalek from PAOK. He’s been in great form lately, however, showing good pace, technique, and a great left-footed shot; he’s also adept at free-kicks. Look to Shikabala to be Egypt’s secret midfield weapon, who may thrive in the absence of Abu Treika.
Bristly Egyptian strikers are becoming a cliché, but Mohamed Nagy Gado, aka “Geddo,” may step up as a worthy replacement for excluded star-forwards Mido and Zaki, partnering Zidan up front. Geddo, 26, plays for Egyptian team Al-Ittihad, has been in great form all season, scored a cracker against Mali last week in a pre-CAN friendly:
Geddo also apparently found out about being named for the squad while surfing the internet.
Having been dumped out of the World Cup by arch-rivals Algeria, Egypt will have an added incentive to make amends with some silverware in Angola, and are surely not to be counted out.
Expectations are very, very low for Nigeria’s current team. A recent commenter on worldcupblog.org states, simply: “In my estimation, the current team is the worst Nigerian national soccer team I have had the privilege of seeing in my life.” The Super Eagles should be in high spirits after having secured World Cup qualification, although questions may be asked as to why it required a last-minute Obafemi Martins winner against Kenya as well as a simultaneous surprise victory for Mozambique in Tunisia.
Dan Ngerem, president of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria, addressed such questions by declaring Nigeria’s qualification a divine miracle: “This is the hand of God, it wasn’t based on our performance. If you look at the whole show from the beginning to the end of the qualification, I can tell you that nobody ever thought the Super Eagles could pick the sole ticket in our group. But God’s way is different from man.” Indeed, and punters who are inclined to take the divine into consideration may do well in backing Nigeria’s chances (which can be got at fairly long odds for such a legendary team).
Manager Shaibu Amodu has been openly criticized in the media, with many Nigerians hoping the NFF will bring in someone new before the World Cup. The prolongation of Amodu’s reign will surely depend on Nigeria’s performance in Angola.
The Super Eagles lack a real shining star around which their team may be organized, but nevertheless the squad has impressive depth. Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Obafemi Martins, and Peter Odemwingie, if they link up well, could prove to be one of the most prolific strikeforces at the cup.
On the defensive end, Olympique Marseille left-back Taye Taiwo is a superb talent, tricky with a tackle, and with a lethal left foot capable of strikes like this one:
In midfield, Nigerian fans will be looking to Jon Obi Mikel to prove his dedication to the Super Eagles, which is often questioned with seemingly half-hearted performances. At Chelsea Mikel has had periods of excellent form, punctuated by frequent disappointing displays. Mikel seems to typify this Nigeria team, as a semi-star, capable of great skill, but often failing to convince. It will be up to Amodu to prove his worth by bringing out the best in this somewhat formidable collection of players.
Nigerian fans can hope the Super Eagles’ appearance at CAN 2010 resembles Greece’s Euro victory in 2004—that is, as a well-organized and competent team that grinds out the results, rather than relying on the flair and brilliance of a few isolated superstars. Also, watch for the Hand of God to make the necessary intervention, like in the case of Nigeria’s WC group-mates Argentina. Nigeria are going into this CAN as a dark horse, and the Super Eagles could use this to their advantage, becoming Angola’s sleeper champs.
The Mambas of Mozambique come to Angola ranked 98th in the FIFA world rankings, ahead of only Benin and Malawi at the CAN. However, it was the Mambas’ surprise victory against Tunisia that ensured their group-mates Nigeria’s World Cup qualification. Struggling Nigeria will be unlikely to do Mozambique any favors, but such a victory will do good for the southerners’ confidence. Mart Nooij has done superbly well so far as coach, surpassing all expectations, and is held in high favor with the team. Nooij will be looking to continue his success with a strong showing in Angola.
Totemic juju-figure (just kidding) and slinky striker Manuel “Tico-Tico” Bucan will captain the Mambas, hoping to inspire his team to a repeat of their surprise success in Tunisia.
Many will be watching young defensive midfielder Simão, who currently plays for Panathinaikos, hoping to see sparks of talent that justify his inclusion in Tuttosport’s list of the top 40 young footballers of the world. With several clubs looking to emulate Barcelona’s 4-3-3 formation, many scouts should be watching to see if Simão could be the next Touré Yaya. Right-winger Elias “Dominguês” Pelembe, a slight fellow with great ball control, is also worth watching.
Grouped with Nigeria and Egypt, Mozambique’s chances of advancing from the group stage are slim. However, if Mozambique continue their good form, they might be able to capitalize on a slip by either of the two faltering giants, and become the surprise success in Angola.
Allez les Ecureuils! The Squirrels of Benin come to Angola to make their third CAN appearance, after an impressive World Cup qualification run in which they narrowly missed out to Ghana, coming in second in their group ahead of Mali.
The Squirrels will be captained by FC Metz striker Razak Omotoyossi, who has an impressive international record so far, scoring 14 goals in 28 games. At 24, Omotoyossi may still hope to prove himself as a world-class player, and the Squirrels will certainly rely on his goals if they hope to progress beyond the group stages. Omotoyossi has been bullish regarding Benin’s chances of causing an upset in Group C: “We consider ourselves strong contenders for the quarter-finals […] All the guys know we are in with a chance and will strive to give their best.”
Young striker Mohamed Aoudou scored twice in his only two appearances for the Squirrels during qualifying matches, and looks likely to continue his good form in Angola. Keep an eye also on Reda Johnson, a 21-year-old central defender who has been in stellar form playing for Plymouth Argyle in the English Championship. Apparently he’s good with a tackle, and adept at passing, which is more than can be said for many top-flight defenders.
No one expects Benin to beat out Nigeria, Egypt or high-flying Mozambique for a quarter-final spot, but a convincing display in Angola may establish the Squirrels as a rising African footballing force, no longer to be cursorily written off.