The Lions of Teranga are looking to – at least – make it out of the group stages of the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time in their last six attempts. The Senegalese faithful will feel that their team should be aiming higher, but the tournament has not always smiled on them. In the last Africa Cup of Nations tournament in Equatorial Guinea the Senegalese team totally flopped.
Pitted in a tough group containing Algeria, South Africa and eventual finalists Ghana, the Lions of Teranga could not qualify after losing their last group game by 2-0 to the North African giants. Expectations have always been high in the West African nation but a runner-up medal won by Senegal’s golden generation in 2002 stands as their highest finish in the competition. A fourth-place finish sandwiched between three group-stage exits have been Senegal’s best exploits in the succeeding years.
But 2016 has seen the team finally rise to the occasion. Inspired by Liverpool winger Saido Mane, the team has developed an attacking brand that thrives on wing-play. With the power of West Ham midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate, coupled with the pace of Stoke City attacker Mame Biram Diouf, Senegal has been in imperious form going into the Africa Cup of Nations.
Aliou Cisse’s side has lost just once in their last 10 games in all competitions, winning a sizable seven. The Senegalese legend led the side to a 100% record during the qualifying stages, with the Lions of Teranga recording home and away victories over Burundi, Namibia and Niger to top group K.
The 2017 Africa Cup of Nations will be Senegal’s 13th appearance at the tournament and the team will be hoping to win the gold for the first time in their history. Senegal will kick-start their quest for the Nations Cup trophy against Tunisia before facing Zimbabwe and Algeria later in Group B.
The North African heavyweights will arrive in Gabon having not lost a single game in the qualifying rounds. The Desert Foxes have always been also-runs in the Africa Cup of Nations but have not quite been able to repeat the feats of 1990, when they won the trophy on home soil.
The Desert Foxes might have gone through the qualifying phase with ease, but Algerian football has not been at its best in the past year. Algeria has dropped from being the highest ranked team on the continent to fifth after failing to win any of their first two games in the World Cup qualifiers. And with the country stuck at the bottom of their group in the race for a ticket to Russia 2018, the Africa Cup of Nations presents the prefect opportunity to gain some respite.
The country’s quest for immediate success saw Serbian Milovan Rajevac sacked in September for poor results after just two games in charge with new coach Georges Leekens taking over. The Belgian – who will be under pressure to deliver when he takes his side to Gabon – has a detailed understanding of the African game, having managed North African neighbours Tunisia between 2014 and 2015.
The one-time Nations Cup champions have failed to get past the semis since they last won the trophy 16-years ago – with their best finish being 4th in 2010.
Algeria boasts of one of the strongest squads on the continent with big-names like Islam Slimani, Yacine Brahimi, Nabil Bentaleb and recently crowned BBC African footballer of the year, Riyad Mahrez among others. The emergence of El Arabi Soudani as a strike partner to Islam Slimani has seen the forward line of Algeria equipped with two of the most lethal front men on the continent. The Dinamo Zagreb forward scored six goals to top the scoring charts in the qualifying rounds. The Desert Foxes have history behind them and are favorites to top group B ahead of Senegal, Zimbabwe and Tunisia.
The Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon will be only the second time that Zimbabwe has participated in the competition. Drawn in group B – considered by many as the group of death – together with Tunisia, Algeria and Senegal, the Warriors face an uphill task to make it out of the group stages.
Having failed to qualify for the tournament since their last appearance in 2004, Zimbabwe are back in the mix with a dream to, at least, reach the last eight for the first time in their history. Managed by home favourite, Callisto Pasuwa, Zimbabwean football has seen progress of late. The former Zimbabwean international won four consecutive league titles with local side Dynamos before moving to handle the national side. And he has had a telling impact ever since his appointment as coach of the Warriors.
There were initial doubts over the managerial nous of Callisto, especially after the team mustered just one win in their first three matches of the Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign. But the Warriors bounced back in style with important wins against Swaziland and Malawi to cement their status as table toppers in group L.
However, Zimbabwe will have it all to do once again when they come up against three of the continent’s trickiest sides in Tunisia, Algeria and Senegal as opponents in Gabon. The minnows are the undoubted underdogs in group B but will fancy their chances of pulling a major upset. And in strikers Knowledge Musona and Cuthbert Malajila the Warriors have a lethal front line that has the ability to trouble any side on a good day. The pair scored three goals apiece to secure qualification for Callisto’s side. Added to the pace and power of Kahma Billiat, Zimbabwe posses a squad capable of putting up a good show when the tournament kick-starts. The above trio were responsible for eight out of the 11 goals that the Warriors scored en route to the Africa Cup of Nations.
The South African nation has enjoyed good fortune in 2016 and will be looking to continue with their fairytale rise in 2017, starting with the tournament in Gabon.
The North Africans have qualified for each of the last seven consecutive Africa Cup of Nations tournaments and they boast an impressive record of never finishing below the quarter-final stage on five occasions during that period. Tunisia’s only win in the showpiece was in 2004 when they claimed the coveted gold on home soil.
A disappointing 2-1 last eight loss to hosts Equatorial Guinea ended the hopes of the Carthage Eagles in the last edition of the competition. But Tunisia is back again to try to win a second Nations Cup trophy after topping group A in the qualifying series. The North African heavyweights were one of the highest scoring sides during the qualifying rounds, scoring a total of 16 goals. But the trait that has earned coach Henryk Kasperczak’s side a lot of praise is the resolute defensive unit that they possess.
The Polish, who is back for a second spell with the Carthage Eagles, has managed the defensive problems of the side very well. The former Lille and Monpellier boss has built his team on a solid back line led by Valencia defender Aymen Abdennour. In six qualifying matches the Tunisian defense was breached just thrice, making them the team with the best defensive record going into the Africa Cup of Nations.
And the Carthage Eagles will be hoping to replicate that sort of form when they take on Senegal, Algeria and Zimbabwe for a place in the knock-out stages of the Africa Cup of Nations. After powering their way through the likes of Djibouti, Liberia and Togo to book a ticket to Gabon, the real test will come when Tunisia face the aforementioned trio in group B.
The North Africans are tipped as third favourites behind Algeria and Senegal, but they possess a decent squad to upset the pair.
By Yaw Ofosu Larbi|3news.com|Ghana