The squad is a mix of the experienced players, runners-up in the competition in 2010 and who came to attention with their exciting performances in reaching the World Cup quarter finals the same year, and young players who won the U-20 World Cup – also in 2010.
With some of the traditionally strong teams such as Egypt, Nigeria and Cameroon failing to qualify, the pressure is on Ghana to succeed for the first time since 1982. Kwesi Nyantakyi, President of the Ghana FA has stated he has “a strong belief our time is now”. The experienced spine of captain and veteran defender, John Mensah, midfielder Sully Muntari and striker Asamoah Gyan will have to lead by example for talented youngsters such as Andre Ayew and Kwadwo Asamoah to meet these expectations.
Coach – Goran Stevanovic: Stevanovic took over from fellow Serb Milovan Rajevac in January 2011. Despite a modest coaching career, steered Ghana through as winners of qualifying Group I. Stevanovic has a preference for a 4-2-3-1 formation but can be flexible with this depending on the opposition.
One to watch – Asamoah Gyan: ‘Baby Jet’ grabbed the headlines at the 2010 World Cup with a series of storming performances. A roving striker, Gyan has netted 27 times in 54 games, however he only just made the squad due to a hamstring injury. If not fully recovered, Ghana will feel the loss.
Guinea make their seventh appearance at the tournament, having failed to qualify in 2010 following three successive quarter-final appearances. Unbeaten in qualification, the Syli Nationale topped Group B, taking four points from the Nigeria and eliminating the Super Eagles in the process.
The squad has seen disruption since with friendly losses to Senegal and Venezuela as well as the withdrawal of Genoa based Kevin Constant, who revealed he no longer wishes to play for his country. His replacement, 21-year-old Sochaux striker Abdoul Camara, represented France at junior level and was awaiting international clearance from FIFA to be able to represent Guinea.
Camara may be one to watch, as well as 20-year-old midfielder Sadio Diallo. The squad does however have experience in defenders, captain Kamille Zayette and Bobo Balde, and in the forward partnership of Ismael Bangoura and Pascal Feindouno , the 30-year-old having scored 21 goals in 55 games. Syli Nationale prefer to set up in a 4-4-2 formation looking to use their pace in quick counter attack
Coach – Michel Dussuyer: The 52-year-old Frenchman has tournament pedigree having coached Guinea in 2004 to the last eight. Dussuyer was assistant to Henri Michel’s Ivory Coast when runners-up in 2006, and coached Benin to the quarter finals in 2010 before returning to coach Guinea that year.
One to watch – Ismael Bangoura: The 27-year-old forward made his debut during the 2006 competition and has gone to score 12 goals in 42 appearances for the Syli Nationale. Perhaps best known for helping Dynamo Kiev to the UEFA Cup semi-finals in 2008/9, Bangoura now plays at Al Nasr.
Mali topped a weak Group A, qualifying only on goal difference from Cabo Verde. The Eagles have often been expected to deliver on the promise of their quality players, but frequently failed to meet expectations.
This was perhaps exemplified by their performance in the 2010 tournament. Against hosts Angola in the opening match, The Eagles trailed 4-0 with 11 minutes left but staged an amazing comeback to draw 4-4. Rather than use this as a springboard, Mali then failed to go through from a modest group.
The current squad should be centred around the excellent Barcelona midfielder, Seydou Keita, who has ended an 18 month self-imposed exile, and will have exciting talents such as former Newcastle United target Modibo Maiga and Sidy Kone. However, the squad has had to cope with some big losses. Freddy Kanoute and Mohamed Sissoko made themselves unavailable, captain Mahamadou Diarra is without a club and so not selected and defenders Amadou Sidibe and Adama Coulibaly have withdrawn injured. These absences may be difficult for Mali to overcome.
Coach – Alain Giresse: The 59-year-old three time French footballer of the year was hired after the 2010 tournament. As a player, Giresse was recognised as a truly great midfielder; however he has had an unorthodox coaching career, with stints at Toulouse, PSG, FAR Rabat and Georgia.
One to watch – Modibo Maiga: With Mali tending to play a lone forward, Maiga’s contribution may be key and the 25-year-old will be under pressure to carry the attacking burden. The Sochaux striker has scored four goals in 12 games this season, and strengths are in the air, pace, long shots and finishing.
Botswana will make their debut in the finals of the tournament after winning qualifying Group K. As debutants, The Zebras may be underdogs to proceed, but should not be underestimated.
Employing a traditional 4-4-2 formation with two defensive midfielders, Botswana conceded just three goals in eight games to qualify. However, they only scored seven and this may need to improve for the Zebras to make a mark. They have the players – Jerome Ramatlkhwane scored five of their seven goals en route, captain Dipsy Selolwane who has 15 goals in 33 games and with the pace of Phenyo Mongala and Boitumelo Mafoko on the flanks, chances should be created.
After failures in 2006 and 2008 Botswana turned to their youth development and this has perhaps been the basis of their success, with players such as Ofentse Nato coming through. The squad is made up of home based players and a smattering who play in South Africa. There is a sense of unity and purpose within the squad in what are exciting times for Botswana football.
Coach – Stanley Tshosane: The 54-year-old, appointed coach in 2008 is credited in turning around the fortunes of The Zebras. Named CAF African Coach of the Year, Tshosane is a believer in the team ethic and preparation with The Zebras having had lengthy training camps in South Africa, Qatar and Cameroon.
One to watch – Dipsy Selolwane: One of the veterans of the squad and the only player to have had European experience, the 33-year-old has also played in the United States. The captain can play as striker or attacking midfielder and was awarded the Botswana Presidential Award for captaining the team to the finals.
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