Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Thu 17 January 2008

African Cup of Nations Preview (Part 2)

Yesterday we dealt with Group A and today we move onto Group B. Here's another four teams to consider prior to Sunday's big kick-off...

Group B
If you thought Namibia were a bit 'part time', think again. We start by looking at Benin, at country that have only ever made it to one previous African Cup of Nations in 2004. The rest of the time, they've either not qualified or not entered in equal measures. Football, as far as Benin are concerned, is something you're either good at or you're not, and that's about it.

Yet for all their 'might play, might not' attitude, Benin astounded everyone by edging Togo out of the running in qualifying group 9 to become one of the three best runners-up in the competition. Finishing just one point behind group winners Mali, Benin had a storming finish that included a 6-0 win over Sierra Leone and a 4-1 win over Togo.

It's arguably the best we've seen from a Benin side ever (most probably) and we would feel inclined to credit them with a chance of greatness... except we've just seen the other three teams in Group B.

Let's take Ivory Coast first. Runners-up in the last Cup of Nations and conquerors of Serbia and Montenegro in the 2006 World Cup, they're looking to go one better in 2008. With players to call on including Didier Zokora (Tottenham), Emmanuel Eboue (Arsenal) and Didier Drogba (Chelsea), you can bet the Orange-shirted neighbours of the hosts, Ghana, will continue in the fine form that saw them qualify unbeaten.

Then there's Mali. Though they didn't reach the 2006 Finals, their previous two attempts resulted in fourth place finishes, but they'll be hard pushed to do that well in 2008. Take away a 6-0 win over Sierra Leone in the qualifiers and you have a team that scored only four goals in the other five games and conceded one. Top of the group they may have ended up, but they'll need to find more goals from somewhere and not just from star striker Fredi Kanoute.

And finally we come to Nigeria, one of the favourites not only to win the group, but the competition in general. Led by former German legend Berti Vogts, the Super Eagles were on fantastic form in qualifying Group 3, dropping points in only one of their six games and finishing four clear of runners-up Uganda.

A check of the scoresheets from that campaign looks like an advertisement for the Premier League. Games 1 and 2 featured goals from Everton's Aiyegbeni Yakubu, Game 3 saw a first goal for Portsmouth's Nwankwo Kanu, John Utaka (also of Portsmouth) scored in Game 4 and in Game 5, Kanu and Yakubu scored again.

But the talent doesn't stop there. Consider for a moment Joseph Yobo of Everton, Chelsea's John Obi Mikel as well as many other familiar names playing in England and across Europe, and what you have are a Nigeria team that could well pick up its first title since 1994. Though the African Cup of Nations often throws up surprises, don't be surprised if Nigeria pick up the trophy in three weeks' time.

Group B Matches:
Jan 21: Nigeria v Ivory Coast (Sekondi-Takoradi)
Jan 21: Mali v Benin (Sekondi-Takoradi)
Jan 25: Ivory Coast v Benin (Sekondi-Takoradi)
Jan 25: Nigeria v Mali (Sekondi-Takoradi)
Jan 29: Nigeria v Benin (Sekondi-Takoradi)
Jan 29: Ivory Coast v Mali (Accra)

Coming next in Part 3: Cameroon, Egypt, Sudan and Zambia...

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