At the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Ghana shocked the world. Their performances in a tough group which featured Germany, Serbia and Australia saw them reach the second round, where they shocked the United States in extra-time. If it hadn’t been for Luis Suarez’s handball, and Asamoah Gyan’s subsequent penalty miss, the Black Stars would have been in the semi-finals against Holland.
Since then, there has been a wave of disappointment for Kwesi Appiah’s side. They were the favourites for last year’s African Cup of Nations, but were knocked out in the semi-final by shock winners Zambia. Appiah only has one main goal threat in ex-Sunderland striker Asamoah Gyan, which is partly down to a lack of strikers and due to the fact that the Ghana coach elected to leave out Marseille brothers Jordan and Andre Ayew.
Ghana face Congo in the opening fixture and the Black Stars must be wary of their opponents. Claude Le Roy, who has slammed the set-up and resigned, then un-resigned on the eve of the tournament, is prestigious in African football and has led Congo to their first AFCON since 2004.
West Brom midfielder Youssouf Mulumbu is in the squad, as well as Anderlecht striker Dieumerci Mbokani, who will be the figurehead of the Congolese attack. If Congo can overcome their pre-tournament hysterics, and produce a positive result against the Black Stars in their opening game, then they have enough quality to usurp the two other teams in their group, Niger and Mali.
Niger vs Mali
Mali themselves will be confident of progression in this group, having beaten Ghana last year to the third placed position and posting their highest world ranking in history. The Eagles have managed to find some consistency, with four successive AFCON qualifications, and host a talented side spearheaded by ex-Barcelona midfielder Seydou Keita.
Keita, the captain with 74 caps, will be partnered with Mohamed Sissoko, formerly of Liverpool, and ahead of those two in central midfield will be West Ham striker Modibo Maiga. The opener against Niger helps ease Mali into the tournament and a victory is essential if they want to challenge Ghana for top spot in Group B.
Niger make only their second AFCON appearance this year, after their inaugural showing in 2012 saw a difficult group produce a bottom placed finish with no points for the Mena. Gernot Rohr will not be expecting much from his side, but there will be hope that their unknown status could cause some upset. Highly unlikely, considering roughly half their squad ply their trade in the 14 team Niger domestic league.
Captain Moussa Maazou is the one recognisable face for any Russian football fans, having played one year at CSKA Moscow without much success. Niger will be lucky to gain any points from this group and could be on the receiving end of a thrashing against the much stronger Mali side.
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