The Black Stars are making their 19th appearance in the Africa Cup of Nations, but are still searching for their first major trophy in more than 30 years. Their 2010 final defeat to Egypt was the closest they have been in recent times and Kwesi Appiah has not been afraid to make big decisions ahead of the tournament in South Africa. The Ayew brothers, Andre and Jordan, who ply their trade at Ligue 1 side Marseille, have been left out of the squad.
Ghana qualified with a comfortable victory over Malawi and head into Group B the considerable favourites to qualify. Appiah has some injury doubts with Bristol City wide man Albert Adomah, defender Isaac Vorsah and midfielder Anthony Annan all on the treatment table following the recent warm-up games. Captain Asamoah Gyan will be the man to watch for the Black Stars with 29 goals in his international career.
Mali: Best Performance – Runners-up 1972
Mali breezed into the finals with a 7-1 aggregate victory over Botswana and will go into the group confident of their ability to usurp favourites Ghana. Their last meeting was the Third Place play-off in last year’s competition with Mali victorious, and they boast a host of talent this year. Patrice Carterton has recalled Momo Sissoko after three years’ absence from the squad and also has Samba Diakite of Queens Park Rangers and former Barcelona player Seydou Keita as his captain in midfield.
The Eagles have the chance of qualifying top of the group if they can see off Niger and DR Congo, as well as battling a tough game with Ghana. Carterton’s star player is Moussa Yatabare, the Guingamp attacker, who is lethal in front of goal in an attacking unit that features West Ham’s Modibo Maiga.
Niger: Best Performance – Group Stage 2012
The relative newcomers to the Africa Cup of Nations, Niger made their debut appearance in last year’s tournament, but lack of experience saw them exit without a single point. Gernot Rohr’s side are back this year after a narrow victory over Guinea in the qualifying round and will be looking to grab a victory at this season’s competition, despite the difficulty of the competition in their group.
Heavy reliance will go on captain Moussa Maazou, who was signed by Russian giants CSKA Moscow back in 2009. A year in Russia did not work out and the 24-year-old is back in Africa playing his football for Tunisian side Etoile, but will be needed for Niger to have any chance of scoring more than their one goal in the tournament like last year.
DR Congo: Best Performance – Winners 1968, 1974
The Congolese are back for their first tournament since 2006 and what will be their 16th appearance at AFCON. Equatorial Guinea were dispatched in the qualifying round and the Leopards are looking to cause an upset in the group with experienced coach Claude Le Roy at the helm. The 64-year-old has worked as a coach in Cameroon, Senegal and Ghana and has steered the Congo back into the tournament after a lengthy hiatus.
Congo have a leading light up front in striker Dieumerci Mbokani, the Anderlecht forward who has attracted attention across Europe. The 26-year-old has an eye for goal and will need to fire on all cylinders for Congo to make it from the group.
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