•Mali’s Eagles in high spirit against Niger
There will be fireworks when four-time champion, Ghana meets ex-winner DR Congo in Group B of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations today. The clash at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium is seen as one of the most-anticipated matches of the tournament because of the pedigree of the two sides in African football. But the discussion ahead of the game has been dominated by the turmoil in the Leopards’ camp after trainer, Claude Leroy threatened to resign just two days before the match in Port Elizabeth.
Leroy returns to the side confident that he can lead the Leopards to victory over the side he coached at the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations. Despite the turmoil in the DR Congo, the Black Stars must be wary of the street-wise Leopards, who have been boosted by the return of several players to the fold after quitting over lack of proper planning in the national team. The Frenchman convinced Anderlecht’s prolific striker, Dieumerci Mbokani and West Brom midfielder, Youssouf Mulumbu to return to boost the squad.
The duo had previously refused to play for the country but following their meeting with the French coach late last year in Europe, they agreed to return. Peterborough United’s Gabriel Zakuani and Charleroi goalkeeper, Parfait Mandanda have all accepted to play for the country while experienced striker, Lomana LuaLua has returned to the side. Ghana arrived in the tournament with their confidence boosted by their impressive pre-competition form after beating Egypt and Tunisia 3-0 and 4-2 respectively.
The four-time champions will be fielding a squad dominated by young players with as many as ten players making their debuts in Africa’s showpiece football event. In the absence of players like Sulley Muntari,Michael Essien and Andre Ayew, talented youngsters Mubarak Wakaso, Albert Adomah and Christian Atsu are expected to step up and make a big impact on one of the biggest stages in world football.
The experience of the likes of Asamoah Gyan, Derek Boateng and John Paintsil will be vital for the Ghanaians who have been tipped to top the group. In the second game of today,Mali takes on the Menas of Niger with team spirit in Mali’s camp high in spite of the crisis that has engulfed the country with Islamist militant groups in the vast desert northern region. Since January 2012, insurgents have been fighting Malian troops for greater independence for northern Mali.
This month, troops from other African states backed by French air and ground forces moved in. French-born Mali coach Patrice Carteron said the involvement of foreign troops has made his players feel a lot safer and they are now confident the conflict will end soon. “The players are now a lot more confident that the country will be peaceful again soon and life can return to normal.” “We began training for the Nations Cup in Mali and it was incredible to see as many as 20,000 fans at our sessions.
We have given the people hope and we hope we can carry on doing so here in South Africa,” said the coach who replaced compatriot Alain Giresse last year. Carteron has also picked Moussa Maazou as the main danger Niger will pose for his team in today’s opening Group D match. “Niger have some good forwards with (Moussa) Maazou the top star,” remarked Carteron at the team’s Protea Hotel in Port Elizabeth.
“I have watched several of their games and also know they are a very physical team, who rely a great deal on the long ball. “They are also not a very high scoring team, but they also do not concede a lot of goals.” Mali finished third at last year’s competition and Carteron said he would wish to first improve on team’s first round record where they won only a game to qualify for the group stage of the tournament.
The Menas are making their second consecutive appearance at the Nations Cup after making their debut in the last edition and so,would want to prove that they are just not in the tournament to make up the number.