With all their qual­ity, Sene­gal could be their own worst en­emy

Cape Times - - SPORT -

JO­HAN­NES­BURG: The Africa Cup of Na­tions is a lot like go­ing on hol­i­day in De­cem­ber. The lead-up to it is chaotic, with last-minute prepa­ra­tions and wind­ing traf­fic. But when you get there, it’s a party with all the colour­ful char­ac­ters there.

Group B is a lot like that. Zim­babwe’s lead-up to the tour­na­ment was chaotic. Their play­ers went on strike, boy­cotting their of­fi­cial send-off that was at­tended by sev­eral mem­bers of par­lia­ment.

The play­ers de­manded close to R69 000 bonuses for each match. A last-minute agree­ment was made, with the ad­min­is­tra­tors and the play­ers led by cap­tain Wil­lard Kat­sande, sign­ing a hand-writ­ten con­tract. With that sorted, the War­riors now have to try to reach the knock­out stage for the first time in their his­tory af­ter a more than decade-long ab­sence.

Zim­babwe boasts a strong at­tack led by Khama Bil­liat, Knowl­edge Mu­sona and Tendai Ndoro. If the War­riors are to make an im­pact in Gabon, that trio will need to bring their A-game with Kat­sande adding the mus­cle in a tough group that fea­tures Al­ge­ria, Tu­nisia and Sene­gal.

Al­ge­ria’s clash with Tu­nisia will be a bruis­ing en­counter be­cause of the ri­valry be­tween th­ese two na­tions. It’s among the matches that will turn the group stages into a party, with the en­ter­tain­ment it will of­fer.

The Desert War­riors coach, Ge­orges Leekens, won’t be lack­ing in mo­ti­va­tion com­ing up against his former em­ploy­ers. The Bel­gian left Tu­nisia over un­paid bonuses for Af­con 2015.

He has a squad good enough to pun­ish the Ea­gles of Carthage and chal­lenge for hon­ours. Riyad Mahrez, Is­lam Sli­mani and Yassin Brahimi lead the at­tack of an Al­ge­rian side that will feel that it’s time that they are African cham­pi­ons again.

But it’s the Lions of Teranga who roar qual­ity. They are man­aged by Aliou Cisse who was there in Sene­gal’s finest hour, when they stunned then world cham­pi­ons France at the 2002 World Cup be­fore go­ing all the way to the quar­ter-fi­nals. That was a cou­ple of months af­ter Sene­gal lost in the fi­nal of Af­con 2002.

Cisse’s men can do bet­ter than that, if they don’t self-im­plode. With all their qual­ity, Sene­gal are their own worst en­emy. When they show up, they do so in style and when they don’t, they also do so in equal mea­sure like was the case when they bombed out of the group stage at Af­con 2015. Al­ge­ria were in their group then, giv­ing Sene­gal a chance to avenge that em­bar­rass­ment.

Al­ge­ria and Sene­gal are favourites to top the group be­cause of the qual­ity and the ex­pe­ri­ence of their teams. But Zim­babwe and Tu­nisia can cause a sur­prise. The Zim­bab­weans have to prove to their coun­try­men that they are worth the money that they de­manded, while Tu­nisia are led by an old hand. This should make this a tight group, that will be sep­a­rated by the small­est of mar­gins.

City: Franceville This city is con­nected with the cap­i­tal, Libreville, by a rail­way line that stretches for al­most 700km. It’s name trans­lates to city of the freed. It’s the third big­gest city af­ter the cap­i­tal Libreville and Port-Gen­til.

Sta­dium: Stade de Franceville – 22 000 ca­pac­ity

Draped in the colours of Gabon’s flag, Stade de Franceville is a rel­a­tively new venue that was built for the 2012 Africa Cup of Na­tions that the coun­try co-hosted with Equa­to­rial Guinea. It only hosted group­stage matches in 2012. This time, it will not only host Group B matches but also a quar­ter-fi­nal and semi-fi­nal.

STAR PLAY­ERS Al­ge­ria: Riyad Mahrez Mahrez wears two crowns as King of Eng­land with an un­fan­cied Le­ices­ter City side and as King of Africa af­ter he was named Foot­baller of the Year. He beat Sene­gal’s Sa­dio Mane and Pierre-Em­er­ick Aubameyang of Gabon for the prize. But there is space for an­other crown, the one that would de­light Al­ge­ria, win­ning Af­con 2017. The 25-year-old will lead a tal­ented gen­er­a­tion that can com­pete against the con­ti­nent’s best. Sene­gal: Sa­dio Mane While Liver­pool fans are count­ing the days Mane will be ab­sent from their line-up, the Lions of Teranga are re­joic­ing at hav­ing the man who can lead them to Af­con glory. The holder of the fastest hat-trick in the Premier League, just un­der three min­utes, is the spark that will ig­nite a star-stud­ded Sene­galese side that was eas­ily blown out in the last Af­con in Equa­to­rial Guinea.

Tu­nisia: Ay­men Ab­den­nour

The Tu­nisian cen­tre-back has at­tracted in­ter­est from Eng­land be­cause of the job he has done at the back for Va­len­cia. The strong de­fender will be a cru­cial fig­ure for Tu­nisia who are grouped against three of the fastest and dead­li­est at­tacks in this tour­na­ment. He has plenty of ex­pe­ri­ence at this level as he will ap­pear in his fourth Af­con. Zim­babwe: Khama Bil­liat The run­ner-up for the African-Based Player of the Year at the Caf awards has ev­ery­thing; pace, skills and an eye for goal. De­spite him reg­u­larly steal­ing the lime­light at Mamelodi Sun­downs in their Caf Cham­pi­ons League suc­cess, he does a good job as a sup­port­ing act. He will per­form that job in Gabon to make the team and his friend Knowl­edge Mu­sona shine.

COACHES Al­ge­ria: Ge­orges Leekens The Bel­gian coach has been at the helm of Al­ge­ria for a pal­try three months. He re­placed Ser­bian Milo­van Ra­je­vac, who was fired af­ter the draw with Cameroon in Al­ge­ria’s open­ing 2018 World Cup qual­i­fier. That should keep Leekens on his toes in his sec­ond stint with the Desert War­riors, know­ing that noth­ing short of ex­cel­lent is re­quired. Sene­gal: Aliou Cisse The former cap­tain of the Lions of Teranga has vowed to cut off his dreads should he guide Sene­gal to win­ning the Africa Cup of Na­tions for the first time in their his­tory. Apart from get­ting a new hair­cut, the 40-year-old is driven to re­write his gen­er­a­tion’s fail­ures in 2002 when they lost in the fi­nal to Cameroon.

Tu­nisia: Hen­ryk Kasper­czak The 70-year-old is one of the most ex­pe­ri­enced coaches at the tour­na­ment, not only be­cause he has been a coach for close to four decades but be­cause he will be in­volved in his sixth Africa Cup of Na­tions. Only the leg­endary Claude Le Roy, who will be mak­ing his ninth ap­pear­ance with Togo, has been to more Af­cons. Kasper­czak took Tu­nisia to the fi­nal of the 1996 edi­tion where they lost to Bafana Bafana.

Zim­babwe: Cal­listo Pa­suwa

Pa­suwa is one of the most re­spected and decorated coaches in Zim­babwe, thanks to his ex­ploits with Dy­namos. He guided the club to four con­sec­u­tive league ti­tles from 2011 to 2014. Af­ter the War­riors chaotic de­par­ture for the Africa Cup of Na­tions, Pa­suwa has to re­move that board­room drama in the play­ers’ minds and in­stil the fight­ing spirit that pro­pelled them to qual­i­fy­ing for this tour­na­ment for the first time since the 2006 edi­tion.

WHAT’S THEIR STORY? Al­ge­ria The Desert Foxes could once again be a force in the con­ti­nent. They have the pedi­gree, a strong squad and the mo­ti­va­tion to end a 27-year long drought. This cur­rent group is dubbed the “sec­ond golden gen­er­a­tion” af­ter the first golden gen­er­a­tion of 1980-1990 stunned the world by beat­ing then Euro­pean cham­pi­ons West Ger­many at the 1982 World Cup be­fore be­com­ing African cham­pi­ons in 1990. This gen­er­a­tion has al­ready made the world stand up and take no­tice af­ter push­ing even­tual world cham­pi­ons Ger­many all the way at the 2014 World Cup. Al­ge­ria lost in ex­tra-time in a last-16 match they could have won. If they are to fol­low in the foot­steps of their pre­de­ces­sors, they now have to win the Africa Cup of Na­tions. Sene­gal The big­gest threat to this Sene­gal side is them­selves. They learnt that the hard way at the last Af­con where they bombed out of the group stage, de­spite boast­ing one of the best squads at the tour­na­ment. That’s be­cause they were a col­lec­tion of stars and not a co­he­sive unit. Former cap­tain Aliou Cisse has fos­tered unity, mak­ing a group of tal­ented in­di­vid­u­als to play to­gether as one. Cisse would know all about this be­cause even though El-Hadji Diouf stole the head­lines in 2002, they reached the fi­nal be­cause of unity. Cisse cap­tained that side that lost in the fi­nal. He would con­sider it mis­sion ac­com­plished if he can take this gen­er­a­tion to glory as coach. Tu­nisia Tu­nisia have fallen be­hind their ri­vals Egypt and Al­ge­ria in re­cent years. The Egyptians can be ex­cused be­cause of their suc­cess and the up­ris­ing that not only dis­posed of Hosni Mubarak, but also desta­bilised their foot­ball be­cause clubs had to play be­hind closed doors and their league was closed at one stage. Iron­i­cally that Arab Spring – a wave of protests that hit Arab na­tions, over­throw­ing four pres­i­dents and forc­ing oth­ers to make re­forms – started in Tu­nisia. They will be look­ing to start an­other up­ris­ing, on the field this time. Zim­babwe The War­riors will be mak­ing a re­turn to the Africa Cup of Na­tions for the first time since 2006. They were elim­i­nated in the group stages of that tour­na­ment. In fact, they have never gone past that stage in their two ap­pear­ances at the con­ti­nen­tal show­piece. But there is hope that could change this time around with an­other golden gen­er­a­tion that can make a start­ing XI solely on the strik­ers they have pro­duced. South Africa has been the big­gest ben­e­fi­ciary of that, with a num­ber of those strik­ers ply­ing their trade in the PSL or hav­ing used it as a spring­board to Europe.

Af­con His­tory – Best Per­for­mance Al­ge­ria: 1990 – Cham­pi­ons Sene­gal: 2002 – Run­ners-up Tu­nisia: 2004 – Cham­pi­ons Zim­babwe: 2002 and 2004 – Group Stage

SA­DIO MANE: The spark that will ig­nite Sene­gal

RIYAD MAHREZ: There is space for an­other crown

KHAMA BIL­LIAT: The com­plete pack­age

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.