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CAN ’10: ••FINAL•• Ghana-Egypt!

Posted in Uncategorized by Steven Villereal on January 31, 2010

‘Tis finally the day—we pick a winner of the 2010 African Cup of Nations and bid farewell to this tournament, knowing not what sporting/editorials challenges await us in the future!

Ghana have ground out three 1-0 wins in a row, the last two via goals by Asamoah Gyan working as a lone striker. Egypt meanwhile have scored 14 goals in the tournament so far to Ghana’s 4.

Ghana: Kingson; Addy, Inkoom, Sarpei, Vorsah; Agyemang-Badu, Ayew, Opoku, Asamoah, Annan; Gyan.
Egypt: Al Hadari; Al Muhammadi, Said, Gomaa, Moawad; Fathi, Abd Rabou, Hassan, Ghali; Zidan, Motaeb.

Special edition ❤ = football hair from Zidan

One minor factor worth considering is that Egypt hasn’t yet played in Luanda on the spongy/tenuous/patchy pitch of the Estadio 11 de Novembro. Ghana have played their last THREE matches (all 1-0) in Luanda and perhaps Egypt’s more ambitious and flowing passing game won’t translate as well to the unpredictable grass “here”.

We’re underway but very little happening!!! It’s apparently 37ºC there today.

23 min: Alright! A shot on goal as 21 y/o Kwadwo Asamoah takes a left-footed pop from 30+ yards…it’s swerving downwards but Al Hadari smothers it out.

25 min: Ghana look, hate to fall back on this word, ORGANIZED! Not exactly ambitious, but compact and intent. The passing quality on both sides has been lacking…lots of punted balls to nowhere.

27 min: My announcer informing me here that FIFA bureaucratic godhead Sepp Blatter cancelled a pre-match on-field appearance due to the heat, issues of sweating like an extremely well-fed pig on camera.

40 mins:

Can the YOUTHFUL Black Star side come of age?

0-0 at HALFTIME!!! The match has yet to take off here, with both sides feeling each other out. Egypt have had 57% of the possession but no shots on goal (Ghana had two potshots, but no serious chances).

GRASS: The state of the pitch is sadly defining this game I think. With Egypt having played all of their matches so far in Benguela (the most stable & carpet-like pitch in Angola so far), but the Estadio 11 de Novembro’s grass is harder to run on/stop on/is riddled with bobble-inducing divots which make it difficult to play fast & accurate passes on the ground. Halftime prognostications have to note that Ghana have not only played their last 3 matches (where they scored one goal earlyish, then cagily defended the match out)  in this stadium, but that they’ve been staying in the capital for nearly 2 weeks, whereas Egypt are newly arrived.

70 min: Current CAN ’10 top scorer Mohamed Gedo is on in place of Moteab.

85 min 1-0 EGYPT!: Well well, it’s substitute Gedo popping up in the penalty after a give & go with Zidan, and he sidefoots around the keeper! Gedo’s 5th goal of the tournament and he will finish as CAN top scorer—4 of his goals were coming off the bench, as just now.

90+ min: Time is a’wasting…but that is too passive a construction. Rather it’s being actively wasted by the Egyptians.

FULLTIME! EGYPT 1-0 GHANA! Hassan Shehata has lead the Pharoahs to an unprecedented 3rd straight African Cup.

Dancing on the crossbar with Al Hadari & Zidan

Egyptian keeper & head cheerleader Al Hadari really does have an inner gay male aerobics instructor, and he is channelling it as the Pharoahs celebrate this title. It’s kind of amazing that Egypt were so underestimated in this tournament, coming in as defending champs. Like Ghana they had some major names missing through injury (MF Aboutrika and striker Amir Zaki), and any gaps were most spectacularly plugged by Mohamed “Gedo” Nagy who finishes with 5 goals.

PARABENS TO EGYPT…and we also say thank you!/goodbye! to Angola as we conclude CAN 2010! There is a funky and futuristic (blue lights + body glittered dancers flying through the air on wires) Closing Ceremony on the pitch right now!

Pitch conditions caused no conditions for dancers

Luckily the massive divots of dislodged grass are not posing any problems for the dancers here, many of whom have recently returned to earth after floating through the air suspended on wires.

HOLD ON some chaps with jet blaster packs are also flying into the stadium and set to land, bearing gifts!

Trophy-bearing jetpackers of the future...

Closing ceremony coverage continues as we congratulate the Egyptians! It’s a shame they won’t be at the World Cup in June. Perhaps a swap deal can be negotiated where they play instead of South Africa?

The hole in Sepp Blatter's head

The sun has set and Sepp Blatter has deemed it cool enough to waddle out onto the pitch! His head is still a bit sweaty though, and some of the metallic confetti which rained down upon the stadium has affixed to hit pate VISUALLY LITERALIZING a massive hole in his head. Medals are being distributed…and we are signing off!

We bid you fairwell from the Estadio 11 de Novembro!!! And as Nate noted below, just because you’ve come to know us through our CAN ’10 coverage doesn’t mean that we won’t continue to bring you SOCCER-RELATED CULTURAL INSIGHT & COMMENTARY in the coming months. Thanks for reading where applicable!

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CAN ’10: gearing up for the final…

Posted in Uncategorized by 00000000 on January 31, 2010

Egypt coach Hassan Shehata, no less impressively mustachioed as a young buck

Alright Bandeiristas, it’s the Copa Final tomorrow! EGYPT vs GHANA, Estadio 11 de Novembro, 5:00 PM Luanda time!

Egypt are the surprise favorites to come away with the cup, which would be their third in a row, and their seventh overall. Bookies have the Pharaohs at evens to win it, while the Black Stars can be got for 10/3 or so. The Ghanaians could be worth a punt, but considering Egypt’s form in the last few games, their 100% record in the competition so far, and the fact that they’ve scored 14 goals compared to Ghana’s humble 4, I’d say forget it.

Hassan Shehata’s somewhat outlandish 3-5-2 formation (*viz Paul Wilson here) has proved spectacularly successful so far, leaving many African football commentators lamenting the fact the Egypt, as the most convincing looking side in this competition, will be missing out on the World Cup this summer, which really, simply, should be won by an African team.

Egypt’s attack force has been prolific. Young Gedo has proved a hit at the Copa, sitting pretty at the top of the goals table w/ four, 35-year-old winger Hassan has had an evergreen outing in Angola, scoring three and generally looking dangerous and industrious, while Zidan has been been unsurprisingly impressive, scoring a beauty against Algeria. I expect most of the 90 minutes to resemble the crashing of wave after Egyptian wave against a sturdy Ghanaian fortress. Biblical stuff, to be sure! LADUMA!

Asamoah Gyan's game-face

Not that I wouldn’t love to see this young Ghana team win, however. And actually, I wouldn’t be too surprised if they do win tomorrow— but it will take a seriously impressive defensive performance. Without their, ahem, TALISMANIC midfielder Michael Essien, Ghana’s U-20 championship-winning youth forces have had to step up and assert their defensive muscle. They’ve done a convincing job of it so far, keeping clean sheets in 3 of the 4 games they’ve played. If they maintain their solidity and organization, and if Asamoah Gyan and Andre Ayew remain industrious on the break, there’s no reason the Black Stars couldn’t grip the cup in Luanda tomorrow.

Anyways, I or Steve will be here with some sort of live commentary, so check back then.

BUT, post-Copa we’ll continue à bring vous cette hard-hitting Afrocentrique TOLI-TOLI (pardon my Camfranglais). So keeeeep it locked on the RSS or whathaveyou . . .

¡LA*DU*MA!

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CAN ’10: Semifinals! الجزائر-مصر

Posted in Uncategorized by Steven Villereal on January 28, 2010

In less than an hour we’ll know who will face youthful Ghana in the CAN ’10 final! [POST-AFTERNOON COFFEE CORRECTION: the game will begin in less than an hour, we’ll know the other finalist at the END of that game—right? blargh] Obviously it’ll either be the Pharoahs (looking to be the first nation to lift 3 consecutive cups, and also to redeem their name after failing to qualify for this summer’s WC) versus Les Fennecs of Algeria (looking to humilate the hated Egyptians!). Pharoah’s striker Mohamed Zidan puts it all in perspective for us:

“This is a matter of life and death. For us it’s a chance to show the world that we deserve to be at the World Cup. If we win this we can watch the World Cup in peace. We’re the champions and we’re a better team than them. Everybody will see who is the better team.”

Simple as that! Here’s to hoping the enmity embodies itself as an attractive sporting contest today!

November vibes in Sudan—Equally good ones today?

A different take on the Algerian flag

As always, I’m cribbing off Jonathan Wilson who reminds us that “Egypt are on a record run of 17 games without defeat in the Cup of Nations —the last team to beat them, six years ago tomorrow, was Algeria”. Put that friendly and conversational stat in your bong and fire it up! Here are some team sheets of dubious accuracy:

Algeria: 16-Fawzi Chaouchi; 2-Madjid Bougherra, 3-Nadir Belhadj, 4-Anthar Yahia, 5-Rafik Halliche; 6-Yazid Mansouri, 19-Hassan Yebda, 15-Karim Ziani, 20-Mourad Meghni; 13-Karim Matmour, 9-Abdelkader Ghezzal.

Egypt: 1-Essam Al Hadari; 2-Mahmoud Fathallah, 3-Ahmed Al Muhammadi, 6-Hani Said, 20-Wael Gomaa; 7-Ahmed Fathi, 8-Hosni Abd Rabou, 14-Sayed Moawad, 17-Ahmed Hassan; 9-Mohamed Zidan, 10-Emad Motaeb.

The players are out, and it’s time to disrepect one another’s national anthems! There are generous clouds of flare smoke wafting across the Benguela stadium…healthy amount of away fans, as promised, from both nations. My feed commentator says 3,000 Angolan police have been assigned to this game…let the HATE begin! (sorry)

10 min: Egypt looking silky & determined already…Algeria looking just plain determined. No way I am gonna be able to keep y’all updated on this game!

14 min: Vintage Aerobics fashion enthusiast Essam Al Hadari collects a dangerously in-swinging corner, then willfully headbutts an Anthar Yahia’s arm and dutifully rolls around clutching his face. At least wait til you’re up 1-0, Al Hadari!

17 min: Several dubious injuries, fakery/faqir-y already—otherwise, more evenly-tempered than you might think, though certainly the match has pace and intensity.

???: My eretofore commendable myafricanfootball.com stream has crashed on me…the server/satellite/etc was probably pelted with stones by Algeria AND/OR Egyptian hooligans.

HALFTIME! EGYPT 1-0 ALGERIA! OK, I am back in stream business here. No one is actually depending on this blog for a thorough account of the action, but here is a rapid summary anyway: penalty to Egypt, red card to Algeria, Chaouchi made several excellent saves but also apparently headbutted the ref in a post-penalty dispute! Sporadic updates & thoughts coming throughout the 2nd half…

63 min: Cagey stuff, but when Egypt go forward they flowwww like buttah—sorry. They’ve just wasted several  nearly-golden chances featuring good breaks down the left…having trouble finding the open man in the middle amidst all the excitement.

65 min: EGYPT 2-0 ALGERIA!!! Scratch that…Zidan scores. He shucks and jives after receiving the ball at the top of the box, puts the ball onto his left foot and beats Chaouchi to his left. THAT should indeed by that…probably a bit far gone for 10-man Algeria.

70 min: Hate bubbling over here…the Pharoahs are flicking it about, lording it over the Algerians a bit. Ghezzal just kicked Hassan in the back of the leg and it’s CAN ’10 nadir for Nadir Belhadj as he goes in for a (HATEFUL!) two-footed tackle and is given a straight red card for his efforts. Algeria are down to 9 men.

74 min: Egypt are playing keep-ball here…the flare smoke is rolling in again (red flares, not green ones!)

81 min: EGYPT 3-0 ALGERIA! Evisceration time! Substitute Abdelshafi has been on the field for 2 minutes, and he’s already been teed up by Zidan. The Pharoahs are putting on a show…for their fans and also to give the Ghanaians a glimpse of what they’re up against.

88 min: RED CARD #3 for Algeria…oh dear. A great through ball plays in Gedo, he’s 1-on-1 with Chaouchi…possible whistled offside, but the Algerian keeper proceeds by just directing an angry kick at his leg. That’s his second yellow, so he’s off.

90+3 min: EGYPT’s 4th!!! Gedo finishes calmly after a quick passing move, weaving through the limited numbers of Algerians still on the pitch.

Bangin' the drum for Egypt

AND THAT IS THAT!!! Sweet revenge for that World Cup qualifier. Rafik Halliche’s sending off at 30 minutes set the tone of the game, but all in all the Egyptians just seemed to have too much class.

It will be EGYPT-GHANA in the final on Sunday. The Pharoahs team are 2-time defending champs, have scored 14 goals and only conceded 2, and have bags of experience…obviously not the case with the Ghana squad stripped of its stars. CAN ’10 has not been the most entertaining of tournaments so far, but things are getting yet more interesting. GET PUMPED for the final, and see you “all” Sunday!

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CAN ’10: Gettin’ Pumped for the Semis

Posted in Uncategorized by Steven Villereal on January 27, 2010

Apologies to once & future BOLAS & BANDEIRAS readers for several days of radio silence. I know my gentle colleague Nathaniel has more pressing life obligations, and wish I had such an excuse! Rather, I think I burnt myself out with Sunday’s back-to-back QF coverage. Since that blessed day, we had Monday’s QFs, which saw Egypt (greatly aided by a calamitous Cameroonian defence as well as one extremely dodgy refereeing decision/plea for goal-line technology) and the Super Eagles of Nigeria (in a snoozefest with Zambia which finished 0-0 after extra time and finally generated some excitement via a penalty shootout) advancing to the semi-finals. Both semis are TOMORROW and they also both represent two of the most intense rivalries in African soccer…a West & a North African derby if you will.

EGYPTALGERIA is certainly the contentious contest freshest in our minds. The flames were generously fanned for their World Cup qualifying playoff match back in November, billed as a rematch of their 1989 “Match of Hate”. Media in both countries whipped their fans into a frenzy, and there was a lot of controversy in the choice of the neutral venue of Khartoum (Egypt’s preferred location, as opposed to Algeria’s suggestion of Tunis). Desert Fox fans flocked to Sudan to support their team however, with over 13,000 Algerians in attendance and ready for, well, war:

In the end, the Egyptian fans left Khartoum shaken but generally unscathed. The Egyptian health minister reported that 21 Egyptians had been injured. Nonetheless, back in Cairo, the escalation continued. The media ran stories of the Algerian government emptying its jails and transporting thousands of criminals to Sudan, of Algerian supporters chasing Egyptians with what Egypt’s English-language Al-Ahram Weekly listed as “knives, nails, daggers, switchblades, scalpels and heavy wooden sticks.” Crowds of indignant Egypt supporters tried to attack the Algerian Embassy in Cairo; dozens of policemen and fans were injured in the fighting and rock-throwing that ensued. Alaa Mubarak, the president’s son, called in repeatedly to TV talk shows to complain of the behavior of the Algerians in Khartoum and to call them “terrorists” and “mercenaries.” Elsewhere in the Egyptian media, Algerians have been described, en masse, as “uncivilized,” “violent,” and “sick.”

And of course, Algeria won 1-0. Despite the expense of travel and lodging in Angola (at least this match is in Benguela and not World’s-Most-Expensive-City Luanda) it’s expected that at least 1,000 fans from each side are set to fly down. Although Algeria have delivered more tactical compactness than aesthetic footballing thrills, surely if anything can fire to the next level it’s the intensity of this clash. It has to be said after exorcising their demons in their 3-0 loss to Malawi, Les Fennecs have looked more cohesive than any other side at CAN…except Egypt!

Hopefully there will be more fans in Luanda...

NIGERIA-GHNA is a rematch of the match that sent home the Super Eagles in the quarterfinals of CAN 2008. These two West African footballing giants have a less violent rivalry, though it has a deeeep history, going back to the 1950s Jalco Cup competition held between the two:

The 1958 edition of the JALCO Cup was perhaps the most melodramatic. The Black Stars came to Lagos determined to avenge Nigeria’s first win on Ghanaian soil. The score was 2-2 when an unfortunate, if not scandalous decision by the centre referee almost completely ruined a match of outstanding quality. Hell broke loose as the Black Stars, captained by Ghanaian legend Charles Gyamfi, protested the “goal” vehemently. A furious wife of Ohene Djan stormed the field and slapped the centre referee, causing the match to be stopped for twenty minutes.

Sadly tomorrow will likely see the Ghana WAGs more sedate. Alas, despite Ghana’s massive injury problems they still might be seen as favorites. Nigeria has been downright soporific so far this tournament, and Ghana’s youthful side seem to be gaining in confidence. This humble blogger’s predictions have been less than revelatory throughout CAN ’10…so why not just watch the games yourselves! Hopefully our editorial crew will be around tomorrow for to illuminate & unpack as these semifinal clashes unfold. CYA THEN!

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CAN ’10: Day 3— Egypt v Nigeria

Posted in Uncategorized by 00000000 on January 12, 2010

I (and possibly Steev as well) will be here from around 11:00 AM (5:00 PM Angola time) onwards with LIVE updates on this clashing-together of The Giants Of Group C™. Judging from the Copa’s results so far, this one is likely to end up with the Super Eagles the winner by 17 goals to 12. Or it will be 0-0.

While you’re waiting, admire these thrikers from today’s probable national heros, Mohamed Zidan and Obafemi Martins:

SV: Grey text updates mean its me, Steev, nudging into the frame and offering up some realtime commentary. Here are the team sheets for both squads:

Egypt: El Hadary, Fathallah, Said, Moawad, Gomaa, Fathi, Abd Rabou, Ghaly, Hassan, Zidan, Moteab.
Subs: Abdoul-Saoud, El Mohamady, Salem, El Sakka, Eid, Tawfik, Gedo, Wahid,
Shikabala, Abdelshafy, Raouf, Hamdy.

Nigeria: Enyeama, Yobo, Taiwo, Nwaneri, Mohammed, Mikel, Yussuf, Uche, Etuhu, Obasi Ogbuke, Yakubu.
Subs: Ejide, Apam, Echiejile, Kaita, Kanu, Martins, Obinna, Odemwingie, Odiah, Olofinjana, Shittu, Aiyenugbu.

And we’re underway! Egypt are confidently stroking the ball around these first 5 minutes, and Zidan has just slapped in the first shot on goal…parried over the bar by Enyeama.

12 min: 1-0 NIGERIA!!! …after a confidence-building pinged pass move from Nigeria, Hoffenheim forward Chinude Obasi Ogbuke loses his man, pushes the ball off to his left foot and THUMPS, yes THUMPS it in from the top of the box. EAT THAT!

32 min: (here’s Nate in black) I’m just popping in here late, but the action is looking pretty lively. Zidan does some great work down the left and almost thrikes one into the back of the net, very similarly to the above-posted youtube video. Apparently Obi Mikel has been peppering his forwards with very pretty passes.

33 min: EGYPT 1-1 NIGERIA!!! Moments after Taiwo got forward on the left side and Uche flashed a shot wide, it’s Egypt on the counterattack! A quick bit of service from the Egypt keeper finds Emad Moteab loitering just on-side near a dithering Nigerian centerback…Nigeria keeper Vincent Enyeama came waaaay out trying to beat Moteab to the ball, but he jinked right past him and tapped into an empty net.

Jink! Egypt 1-1 Nigeria

45+1 min: Obi Mikel aims a free kick from the far right towards the near post, forcing a smart save from Egypt keeper Al-Hadary. And that does it for the first half.

HALF TIME Egypt 1-1 Nigeria- And I’ll spend this little break seriously considering getting this pay-per-view thing, having seen VERY LITTLE of this game, at VERY LOW resolution so far…

A more robust crowd for the first match held in Benguela

For instance, Steev just informs me that was Taiwo and not Mikel with the half-ending free-kick. Geeeez. No, worries about the confusion Nate…similarly spikey heads, both players lacking necks, it could happen to any commentator really.

2ND HALF! and it appears as though Egypt are playing their 3-5-2 formation, giving them lots of midfield coverage. Nigeria are so far doing well to minimize the benefits of this midfield monopoly/overpopulation.

53 min—GOAL! Egypt 2-1 Nigeria: Despite their robust midfield, Egypt have had a hard time passing their way through the sturdy Nigerian formation, and are so far doing much better with a Liverpudlian long-ball-to-brilliant-frontman approach, with Zidan playing the Egyptian Torres. Zidan receives a pass, tricks his way around the Nigerian defender before neatly cutting back for Hassan to smash it into the far corner, thanks also to a deflection off Taiwo.

59 min: The Pharaohs should have had a third there, as Yobo plays Moteab onside, who receives a pass nicely before blazing over the bar when he really should have scored.

59 min: What Nate said, basically! Zidan is starting to thread some really smart balls through to the forwards. A sneaky chipped through ball (admittedly NOT from Zidan) sneaks Moteab in (behind who I thought was Taiwo?) but he sails his one-on-one chance over the crossbar. It’s good to tackle this from multiple viewpoints, surely between the two of us we’ve gotten a few things factually correct, god bless.

70 min: Nigeria manager Amodu is doing a bad impression of insouciance on the sidelines.

71 min: A couple of minutes ago Nigeria made their first change…striker for striker swap with Uche (who had his moments) making way for Victor Nsofor Obinna. Now Egypt bring on Gedo for defensive midfielder Hosni…coach Hassan Shehata trying to kill things off here?

75 min: “Viertel stunde noch,” says my German commentator. Taiwo BLAZES a DAISY-TRIMMER (as I think they might be called), a rolling, tumbling scythe of an herbicidal ball from 20 yards out that El-Hadary does well to fall onto. The Egypt keeper then rolls about as if he ate too much cake. Maybe he pulled something? Ah, he looks OK now.

78 min: Here comes Kanu to save his countrymen! “Who needs Abutreika when we’ve got Kanu”… or something. Mikel makes way.

79 min: Is there a Nwankwo Kanu birther movement? Supposedly 33 years old, he won the European Cup with Ajax back in 1995! LET’S SEE THE BIRTH CERTIFICATE!!!

88 min— GOAL! Egypt 3-1 Nigeria: Nigeria are really looking without direction or focus. Kanu lets himself be easily robbed of the ball in the Egypt half, starting a counter-attack as Nigerian defenders scramble back. Moteab is left unmarked and is easily found with a lateral ball, this time on target with a simple finish into the far corner.

90+2 min: Timewasting. My English announcer informs me that Egypt keeper Essam El Hadary is famous for his celebrating and that he is known for “dancing on the crossbar”.

PEEEEEEEEEEP!!! That is that…Egypt grab 3 points and come back from a goal down to win their CAN debut. Zidan and Emad Moteab looked particularly impressive, and a nice confidence builder for Gedo to score as a substitute. The Nigerians had most of the ball and looked stronger for 20 minutes or so, but didn’t look particularly incisive in attack. Though Nigeria are without points, one would think their fortune will improve against Benin and Mozambique…

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CAN 2010 — Group C

Posted in Uncategorized by 00000000 on January 9, 2010

EGYPT

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.

Shikabala

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.

NIGERIA

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.

Taye Taiwo celebrates in Ghana, CAN2008

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.

MOZAMBIQUE

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.

Tico-Tico

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.

BENIN

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.

Razak Omotoyossi

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.