Though there are a number of European managers who would much rather not be reminded, the 2010 African Cup of Nations is a little more than a month away.
Egypt followed up winning in 2006 as hosts by defeating Cameroon to win the final in Ghana in 2008, and they’ll be looking to make history this time around in Angola and be the first country to win three titles in a row.
However, there are several other teams who will be more than a little hungry to knock the Egyptians off of their perch as African champions.
How do I see things shaking out in Angola? Keep reading to get my group-by-group breakdowns and complete competition predictions.
Group A – Algeria, Angola, Mali, Malawi
The odds certainly favor Angola here, as the last time a host failed to make the quarterfinals was Tunisia in 1992, and the last time a host failed to make at least the semifinals was in 2000, when co-host Ghana lost in the quarters.
First-timers Malawi won’t figure into the picture as more than a potential spoiler, if that much, which leaves it to Angola, Algeria, and Mali.
Angola made a surprise appearance in the in the quarterfinals in 2008, and they’ll be expected to go at least that far, if not one or two better, as hosts. Former Manchester United striker Manucho was one of the tournament’s stars in Ghana with his four-goal haul, and he’ll be counted on to produce once again.
Mali have quality in midfield in Mahamadou Diarra, Momo Sissoko, and Seydou Keita, and up front in Fredi Kanoute, but what will be different this time after they were eliminated in the group stage last time around with the same stars?
After keeping Egypt from the World Cup, you’d have to expect Algeria to be eager to prove their worth even more so in Angola, and their two Bundesliga-based Karims (midfielders Matmour and Ziani) will be key to their efforts.
Group Winners: Angola
Group Runners-Up: Algeria
Group B – Burkina Faso, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Togo
Group B includes two of Africa’s World Cup qualifiers in Ghana and Ivory Coast, and they are undoubtedly the favorites to progress to the quarterfinals.
There’s not much to say about the Ivory Coast and Ghana’s level of talent that most European football fans don’t know already. You know they’re good, and with both carrying memories of semifinal heartbreak in 2008, watch out.
But Burkina Faso came in a more than respectable second to the Ivory Coast in their qualification group, and Togo have a top-class striker (well, when he wants to be) in Emmanuel Adebayor.
However, it must be mentioned that the Ivory Coast disposed of Burkina Faso 3-2 away and 5-0 at home in qualifying, and Togo’s never advanced past the first round in any of its previous six African Cup of Nations appearances.
I see at least one of the Group B favorites being in the final (and perhaps both, but you’ll have to wait for that), but as for who will have the more favorable path, I like the Ivorians to top the group. They swept through qualifying unbeaten, and if Didier Drogba carries his sizzling form to Angola, well, good luck and deepest sympathies to those who have to face him.
Group B Winner: Ivory Coast
Group B Runners-Up: Ghana
Group C – Benin, Egypt, Nigeria, Mozambique
Fear the angry Egyptians? Without a trip to the World Cup to look forward to, you can bet on the Egyptians to be motivated, as if a quest to be the first team to three-peat wasn’t going to be enough of a motivator.
Egypt don’t have a bevy of Europe-based stars, but 2006 and 2008 show that they have more than enough quality to get it done, and the likes of Aboutrika, Zaki, Moteab, Zidan, and several more will play integral roles once again.
Nigeria had a disappointing quarterfinal exit in 2008, but even the luck of the draw can’t be used as an excuse for such a talented team missing out on at least the semis this time around. It’ll be all the better for their hopes if Yakubu can find his rediscover his scoring touch in time to be the difference maker he can be.
Benin lost all three group matches in their first appearance in 2008, while Mozambique has an all-time 0-8-1 record in three previous appearances. Suffice it to say that not much will change there, but it will at least be worth a watch to see Benin’s Nigerian-born star Razak Omotoyossi face off against the country of his birth.
Group Winners: Egypt
Group Runners-Up: Nigeria
Group D – Cameroon, Gabon, Tunisia, Zambia
Cameroon fell short last time around, but they’re well equipped to make another run at their fifth African Cup of Nations title. Samuel Eto’o can still scor goals by the bushel, and he’ll spearhead their efforts as he did in 2008, when his tournament-leading five goals helped fire them to the final.
A loss to Mozambique on the final matchday cost Tunisia a World Cup place, but I’ve certainly got them penciled in to make the quarterfinals in Angola. Tunisia have made at least the quarterfinals in each of the last three tournaments, including a win in 2004, and that track record and experience will drive them to a place in the final eight.
Zambia don’t look to pose a real threat, and the same goes for Gabon, so which of the two contenders will take top honors? It looks like it could come down to the Cameroon-Tunisia match on the final matchday of group action, and I’ve got them edging out the Tunisians to earn the more favorable (if you can call Nigeria such) quarterfinal matchup.
Group Winners: Cameroon
Group Runners-Up: Tunisia
Ghana over Angola
Cameroon over Nigeria
Ivory Coast over Algeria
Egypt over Tunisia
Cameroon over Ghana
Ivory Coast over Egypt
Ivory Coast over Cameroon