The quality of player that will represent Ivory Coast at the finals has inevitably resulted in Les Elephants being regarded, in many quarters, as favourites to win the tournament. This assessment is naturally substantiated given the surprise absence of Cameroon, Egypt and Nigeria. However, although regularly tipped to add to the solitary championship that they won in 1992, this has failed to materialise. They did reach the 2006 final but lost in a penalty shoot-out to hosts Egypt and in subsequent tournaments they have not realised their potential. Whilst this criticism has been widely recognised, even by manager Francois Zahoui, so too should the imperious form which his side showed as they qualified with maximum points. The squad which Zahoui hopes can reproduce this form in the finals is the only one of any participating nation, which consists entirely of players who play for clubs outside their home country. Apart from forward Abdul Kader Keita of Qatari outfit Al Sadd, every other squad member plays in Europe, including London-based trio Didier Drogba, Gervinho and Salomon Kalou, who are likely to be deployed in a 4-3-3 formation.
Coach – Francois Zahoui
Just a fortnight before the qualifying campaign for this year’s finals began, former Coach of the Ivory Coast’s U-20 side, Zahoui, was appointed the country’s new boss, succeeding Sven-Goran Erikkson, after a successful period in caretaker charge, which included a 1-0 friendly win over Italy.
One to Watch – Seydou Doumbia
The meteoric rise to stardom of CSKA Moscow’s 24-year-old striker Seydou Doumbia underwent it’s most distinguished upsurge during the group stages of this season’s Champions League as he tormented opposition defences to score five goals in as many games for the Russian side.
Burkina Faso’s qualification for the tournament verged on perfection, as they achieved it with a game to spare from the smallest of the qualifying groups in which they faced Namibia and Gambia. However, a claim which the former of these opponents persevered in presenting to both the ‘Confederation of African Football’ and ‘The Court of Arbitration for Sport’ (CAS), that Burkina Faso had ineligibly fielded Cameroon-born Herve Zengue in their encounters, had cast a shadow of doubt over the Stallions’ presence at the finals. Until that is, CAS rejected the Namibians claim and cleared Burkina Faso to participate in Group B, alongside Angola, Ivory Coast and Sudan. This represents a challenging schedule but one which the highly-rated Stallions are regarded as being capable of overcoming to progress beyond the group stages, as they did in 1998 when they were hosts and finished as the fourth placed nation. The 23-man squad that manager Paulo Duarte has put his faith into this time around is dominated by 18 European-based players.
Coach – Paulo Duarte
Paulo Duarte will manage Burkina Faso at the finals for a second time, having done so two years ago when the tournament was held in Angola. He has been in charge of the Stallions since early in 2008, after stepping down as manager of Uniao Leira.
One to Watch – Alain Traore
Auxerre’s goalscoring midfielder Alain Traore has displayed his considerable ability on the international stage, with eight goals in 18 appearances, which suggests he is capable of making a significant impact in Gabon and Equatorial New Guinea, where he is expected to play in behind two strikers in a 4-3-1-2 formation.
Unlike any other nation competing in the finals, Sudan will be represented by a squad of players who are all based in their homeland, with 18 of them being drawn in equal proportions from just two of the country’s club sides – Al Merreikh and Al Hilal. Whilst familiarity with the playing ways of one another should not be a problem for Mohamed Abdallah’s men – as they go in search of their first victory at a finals since, as hosts, they beat Ghana 1-0 to win their first and only championship to date in 1992 – the inactivity of the Sudanese League since late November, may be. By arranging warm-up games against Tunisia, Gabon and Senegal, Abdallah has tried to ensure his squad do not show signs of their lack of match practice when they open their campaign against Ivory Coast. Achieving this is a pre-requisite for Sudan to have any chance of progressing from Group B, since each of the nations they will face boast squads with greater experience of playing in the finals and on the international stage in general.
Coach – Mohamed ‘Mazda’ Abdallah
Under the stewardship of Mohamed ‘Mazda’ Abdallah, Sudan reached their first finals for 36 years when he guided them to qualification for the 2008 tournament in Ghana. Abdallah is an advocate of the 4-4-2 formation, which he is likely to deploy at the finals, after doing so during qualifying to the desired effect.
One to Watch – Haitham Mustafa
Playmaker and long-throw specialist, 34-year-old Mustafa has accumulated a record 120 appearances for his country and remains an influential player. Despite recently falling out with ‘Mazda’, Mustafa is the team’s captain for the finals, as he was during the 2008 competition in Ghana.
The hosts of the 2010 finals, Angola will begin their campaign against Burkina Faso, in a match widely regarded as potentially deciding who will advance to the knockout stages with Ivory Coast from Group B. Achieving this will be the very least of the Angolans expectations, as they have done so in each of the last two finals, only to be eliminated in the quarter-finals on both occasions. This is the furthest the Black Antelopes have ever progressed but there is enough ability and experience in their 23-man squad to suggest they can improve upon these performances in Gabon and Equatorial New Guinea. Whether they would even have the chance to do this was in serious jeopardy, after defeats to both Uganda and Kenya in their opening round of qualifying matches, sandwiched a solitary win against Guinea Bissau. However, victories over each of these opponents in the remaining games was enough to earn Angola a place at the finals, where they are likely to field a 4-4-2 formation.
Coach – Jose ‘Lito’ Vidigal
Jose ‘Lito’ Vidigal was named as the new manager of Angola barely two weeks ago, succeeding Zeca Amaral. After spending his entire playing career in Portugal as a defender, Lito remained there after his retirement to manage several different clubs including Uniao Leira.
One to Watch – Manucho Goncalves
Whilst Real Valladolid’s Manucho failed to establish himself at Manchester United, the 28-year-old striker has had no such problems on the international stage and in particular during an African Cup of Nations career, which boasts four goals to date.