Whilst neither the Angolan nor Ivory Coast camps were rewarded with a $1m bonus for winning their opening group games, as the squad of co-hosts Equatorial New Guinea have been by the controversial businessman Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, both sides are in the enviable position of being able to qualify for the quarter-finals of this year’s Africa Cup of Nations with a game to spare.
This will happen, should Angola triumph over Sudan and Ivory Coast against Burkina Faso, but it is also appropriate to emphasise that these outcomes are by no means foregone conclusions, given the level of competitiveness which was witnessed in the first round of games in Group B.
It would have been understandable for the Sudanese players to feel daunted by the prospect of facing tournament favourites Ivory Coast, but even if they were, their play did not suggest so. Although beaten 1-0, it was Mohamed Abdallah’s men who, for performing manfully against their far more illustrious opponents, rightfully received all the plaudits registered by neutral spectators. From these plaudits the Sudan players can draw confidence, which they will need to play with to get the positive result against Angola, which Abdallah is demanding: “For
Whatever Abdallah’s thoughts on elimination at the group stage, it is a strong possibility for his charges. To avoid it becoming a reality, they will have to be at their best against Angola, who impressed in beating Burkina Faso 2-1 and have received positive news on the availability for selection of two of their players in the wake of that victory.
The Angola Football Federation’s application to swap the allegiance of Nando Rafael from Germany, who he represented at U-21 level, back to the country of his birth was accepted by Fifa on Monday. This means the player is in contention to face Sudan, along with fellow striker Djalma Campos, who has recovered from a muscle strain that was causing him some discomfort. The duo’s availability enhances Angola’s prospects of becoming the second nation in the last eight, after Equatorial New Guinea making it through last night, where Ivory Coast will join them if they defeat Burkina Faso in this evening‘s late game.
In order to achieve this against the same nation which held them to a 0-0 draw in the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations, the Elephants will need to improve upon the performance they produced in unconvincingly beating Sudan 1-0, with Didier Zokora set to return from suspension to help them do just that.
Whilst Zokora’s inclusion will not make Burkina Faso’s already difficult task of avoiding defeat in the game to retain hope of securing a quarter final place, any easier, neither will their squad being cut to 22 players. Fifa have declared talented midfielder Abdou Razak Traore ineligible to play any role at the finals as a result of “passport issues,” according to Burkina Faso’s outspoken Coach Paulo Duarte, who has accused Angola of employing anti-football tactics during their 2-1 win over his side. However, the Portuguese also recognised that defensive frailties had contributed to this defeat, which his players must eradicate against Ivory Coast to give themselves a genuine chance of causing an upset against the tournament favourites.