Tough Group Could Hinder Algeria’s Quest for Africa Cup of Nations Glory

Algeria will hope Yacine Brahimi translates his Champions League form to the international stage

Algeria will hope Yacine Brahimi translates his Champions League form to the international stage

After some doubts about the tournament towards the tail-end of 2014, the 2015 Africa Cup of Nation is here – perhaps against the better judgement of many. Due to the threat of the Ebola virus, Morocco withdrew themselves as hosts in October and were replaced by Equatorial Guinea in November. Despite being co-hosts in 2012, the country have not had long to prepare and there are some doubt about the pitches at the two of the stadiums.

However, here we are and there is a tournament to discuss.

 

Africa Cup of Nations Outright Betting Odds:

Côte d’Ivoire 7/2

Algeria 9/2

Ghana 8/1

Tunisia 8/1

(All odds provided by Intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

There are two distinct halves to the draw and will make for some really interesting semi-final match-ups when we eventually get down to the last four. Groups C and D are full of potential winners of the competition and that ultimately means none of the teams in those groups will be able to enjoy anything close to an easy game at the beginning of the competition.

Ghana, Algeria, South Africa and Senegal will battle for two places in Group C while Mali, Cameroon, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire have been drawn together in Group D. Trying to pick the four teams that will reach the quarter-finals out of those eight would be nothing more than a punt in the dark; and with both pairs of qualifiers due to face each other in the last eight, there is a real chance for the teams in Group A and B to build up real momentum ahead of the semi-finals.

 

2013 finalists Burkina Faso may just fancy themselves for a repeat run in 2015 thanks to a favourable draw in Group A. Jonathan Pitroipa continues to be an important player for his nation and a repeat of his performances two years ago would ensure safe passage through the group. Paul Put, the man that masterminded the run to the final defeat against Nigeria two years ago, remains in charge and will be confident of a similar run for his hard-working team. They don’t have the same star as other teams heading into the competition but they will be buoyed by their showing in 2013.

In Group B, we can’t help but wonder that 2012 victors Zambia’s current squad has evolved too much from the group that pulled off the emotional victory three years ago. The rest of the teams will be looking at the top seeds as a side they can eliminate from the competition. Georges Leekens has built a hard-working Tunisia side that may capitalise in the same way as the recent victors of the competition. Both Zambia in 2012 and Nigeria in 2013 profited thanks to disciplined, structured line-ups with players who stuck to their jobs. Leekens should be able to get the same from his squad this time around and they might just be the team to beat in Group B.

 

Betting Instinct tip Burkina Faso and Tunisia to both win their opening games is 5.91 with AllYouBet.ag

 

Both Tunisia and Burkina Faso could be the two big problems for the pre-tournament favourites Algeria and the Ivory Coast in the semi-finals should they all make it that far. Christian Gourcuff and his Fennec Foxes are probably the best squad in the competition but with all three teams in Group C well aware of the ability of Sofiane Feghouli, Yacine Brahimi and company, no-one will be happy to give them an easy game. That said, we still fancy them Gourcuff and his squad to find a way of topping the group.

 

The one thing we aren’t expecting is goals.

A tournament in the middle of the European season, in warmer clients, with a vast majority of the players having just enjoyed a brief winter break should breed goals – you would think. It makes sense that the attacking players are predominantly at the peak of their powers but recent tournaments suggest otherwise, even if the World Cup in Brazil bucked that trend. 2013 produced 69 goals in 32 games, seven below 2012’s haul of 76. Neither tournament averaged more than 2.5 goals per game and backing the final now at under 2.5 goals would be a wise investment. Only two of the last 10 AFCON finals have produced three goals or more. They are usually tense affairs, as are most finals in football, and goals are not an easy currency to come by.

 

That said, we can’t wait for our January and February evenings to be brightened up by some meaningful international football. A perfect tonic for the cold winter nights of the United Kingdom and North America.

 

Ryan avatar RYAN KEANEY (ryankeaney) is a huge sports fan who spends most of his week toying around with sports data.  He is the editor of www.thefootballproject.net and a co-editor for In Bed with Maradona. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

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Could we see the first ever African World Cup winner in 2014?

Côte d’Ivoire are one of two African teams in the top 25 of the FIFA World Rankings

Much of the build-up to this year’s World Cup has seen the African challenge dismissed. But pride often comes before the fall: Cameroon defeated reigning champions Argentina and rocked England in 1990, Senegal were written off as no-hopers in 2002 before their remarkable run, and Ghana came within a hand’s width of the semi-finals four years ago. This group of African teams is arguably the strongest in years, and any of the continent’s five representatives could cause shocks.

 

Cameroon (401.00 to win the tournament with AllYouBet.ag)

Of all the African teams, Cameroon have been given the weakest hand. The Indomitable Lions were given the unenviable task of sitting alongside three good sides in Group A: they face Mexico first, followed by Croatia and the small matter of hosts Brazil in Brasilia’s National Stadium. Their current crop of players has not been blessed with creativity, instead relying on solid defensive midfielders like former Arsenal star Alex Song and Aston Villa outcast Jean Makoun.

And yet that may work to their advantage – great World Cup sides are often built from the back and are very difficult to beat, a mould Cameroon fit. They also have a strong group of forwards, spearheaded as ever by the legendary Samuel Eto’o, hoping to finally lead his team out of the group in his fourth and likely final World Cup appearance. Qualification seems doubtful, but they will certainly influence the result of the group.

Betting Instinct tip – Cameroon to score more than 2.5 goals in the group stages is 2.20 with AllYouBet.ag

 

Côte d’Ivoire (151.00 with Intertops.eu)

Côte d’Ivoire, on the other hand, have a more straightforward task in progressing from the group stage. After two difficult draws in 2006 and 2010, they have been set the task of finding a way through a group that contains Japan, Colombia and Greece, all eminently beatable teams. Didier Drogba is no longer the centre-point of this team, with Swansea’s Wilfried Bony likely to start up front, but Yaya Toure is now an enormous influence. Where the other remaining members of the”Golden Generation” have already begun to decline, the Manchester City midfielder is operating at the peak of his powers and is capable of winning games on his own.

Yaya’s presence may be enough to guide The Elephants into the second round for the first time, but his supporting cast is also impressive. Alongside him in midfield will be Newcastle’s Cheick Tiote, with the width provided by Roma’s Gervinho and former Leeds winger Max Gradel. They look shaky defensively, with a centre-back partnership of the ageing Didier Zokora and former Leicester defender Sol Bamba, but can also call on rising star Serge Aurier at full-back. If the Golden Generation want a Golden Opportunity to qualify for the next round, this is it.

Betting Instinct tip Côte d’Ivoire to reach the quarter-finals is 5.50 with Intertops.eu

 

Nigeria (201.00 with AllYouBet.ag)

As in three of their last four appearances at the World Cup, Nigeria have been drawn against Argentina. The Super Eagles fans must be sick of the sound of the Argentine national anthem, as they lost all three of those meetings by a solitary goal. But Nigeria enter the World Cup as strong as they have ever been, with a young, talented group of players who have already proven they can perform on the big occasion by winning the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.

The player that scored the winning goal in the final, Sunday Mba, was a shock omission from the squad, but the other leading Nigerian talents were included: Emmanuel Emenike, John Obi Mikel, Ogenyi Onazi, and of course Shola Ameobi. There was also a surprise recall for in-form Stoke striker Peter Odemwingie. Captained by experienced goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, this is a well-balanced squad, superior to Iran and capable of ousting Bosnia & Herzegovina from second place.

Betting Instinct tip – With the other African sides facing challenging groups, Nigeria to go the furthest of all the African sides could be worth a punt at 4.00 with AllYouBet.ag

 

Ghana (126.00 with Intertops.eu)

Ghana have a much tougher task, but do at least have the experience of qualifying for the second round in the last two World Cups. Much of the side remains the same from that famous run of four years ago: Kevin-Prince Boateng has once again come out of international retirement just in time for the tournament, while Asamoah Gyan no doubt has some demons to banish after his extra-time penalty miss, though has pledged not to take another penalty in his career. In addition, Michael Essien returns after missing the 2010 tournament due to injury, but he is now a faded force and not even guaranteed to start in a midfield which also includes Sulley Muntari, Kwadwo Asamoah and Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu.

Perhaps the player to watch, though, is striker Majeed Waris. The 22-year-old Spartak Moscow forward has scored four times in his first nine appearances for the Black Stars, and has forced his way into a starting berth alongside Gyan. One of these came in the dramatic 6-1 play-off first leg win at home to Egypt which ultimately secured Ghana’s place at the World Cup, a display that demonstrated that when on song they are a formidable attacking force. Though they face a strong group in Germany, Portugal and old foes the USA, don’t count them out just yet.

Betting Instinct tip Majeed Waris to top-score for Ghana is 7.00 with Intertops.eu

 

Algeria (751.00 with AllYouBet.ag)

Algeria are also being given little hope, as pundits have already slotted them into the discussion for the weakest team in the tournament. But you could be forgiven for thinking that this is much the same team that slogged its way through three narrow, scrappy games in 2010. Coach Vahid Halilhodzic has overseen a transition to a new generation of talented youngsters, with an attack-minded team which includes Inter’s Saphir Taider, Napoli’s Faouzi Ghoulam, Valencia’s Sofiane Feghouli, and Sporting Club’s Islam Slimani. Added to this, Tottenham’s teenage midfielder Nabil Bentaleb has worked his way into the squad after previously playing for France’s U19 side, while Leicester winger Riyad Mahrez has also been picked after a fine season.

Captained by former Rangers defender Madjid Bougherra, the oldest player in the squad at 31, this is a young side being built for the future, and we may not see Algeria become a force in African football for another two or three years. But if they are dismissed as routinely by Belgium, Russia and South Korea as they are by observers, they are certainly capable of picking up some points in this group. As with Cameroon, progression seems unlikely, but they can certainly be influential. The spirit of 1982, when Algeria defeated West Germany, is with them; their controversial elimination from that tournament will inspire them. Like all the African teams heading to Brazil, they will not be pushovers.

Betting Instinct tip Algeria to pick up three points in their group is 4.50 with Intertops.eu

 

Sports blogger JamesJAMES BENNETT (James) is a History MPhil/PhD student, who writes about soccer, Formula 1 and the NFL in his spare time to pay for his studies. He is also a Torquay United fan. He publishes articles in his sports blog, and you can follow him on Twitter and Google+.

World Cup Dark Horses Croatia Can Stun Brazil in Sao Paulo

Young talent Mateo Kovacic could surprise a few people in Brazil

Young talent Mateo Kovacic could surprise a few people in Brazil

The World Cup is almost here, and as intrigue explodes around the obvious betting markets of which nations could win in Brazil and who could grab the Golden Boot, it’s time to look at some less obvious yet intriguing tips to sink your teeth into this summer.

Who are the six most backable dark horses to surprise the globe at the 2014 World Cup?

 

Group A: Croatia

After Spain, Croatia will arguably be the team bristling with the most magical midfielders in Brazil this summer. Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Mateo Kovacic and the even more directly attack-minded Ivan Perisic would each be worthy of playing as the sole creative fulcrums of many other sides. Together, if their coach Niko Kovac can get the balance right, they could be witheringly potent, pulling enough strings to fill a harp behind Mario Mandzukic and Ivica Olic. That may be a big “if” should they remain as discordant as they were at times in qualifying, but if Croatia click, watch out Cameroon and Mexico. Brazil can’t afford to rest on their laurels in the group opener either.

Betting Instinct tip – Croatia to win or draw against Brazil is 3.22 with Intertops.eu

 

Group C: Japan

Having famously put together a 100 year plan to turn Japan into a World Cup-winning football superpower in 1992, the 2014 tournament in Brazil may  have too soon for the Blue Samurai to push for the title, but they will be a genuine left-field threat to the other teams in Group C, with all the qualities needed to top the group. After all, everything seems to be going for them. Colombia have lost Radamel Falcao, Ivory Coast have a long history of fluffing their lines on the big stage and Greece are solid yet not exactly spectacular. By contrast, Japan are a team full of pacey, technical footballers who thrive as a collective. With the right draw, the quarter finals aren’t out of the question.

Betting Instinct tip Japan to reach the quarter-finals is 7.50 with AllYouBet.ag

 

Group E: Ecuador

France will be favourites to top Group E, but Ecuador cannot be overlooked as a potential source of upsets and heroic narratives with La Tri well-adapted to any potential issues with the Brazilian climate, and boasting some highly effective players, not least Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia. Pace, as we’re forever being told, is a deadly weapon in international football, and the winger could shred many a full-back on his mission to heave his nation into the knock out stages. To do that, they will have to hold back Switzerland and Honduras—the former being a more challenging proposition, but far from unbeatable. After all, this Ecuador team did finish fourth in South American qualifying, finishing above Uruguay, with striker Felipe Caicedo finishing fifth-highest scorer with seven goals. With the element of surprise and low expectations, they could thrive.

Betting Instinct tip – Ecuador to finish top of Group E is 5.00 with Intertops.eu

 

Group F: Bosnia and Herzegovina

Even before the tragic flooding of their country in May, World Cup debutants Bosnia were all set to take the most inspiring narrative with them to Brazil, entering their first international tournament after a troubled recent past of war and sectarian in-fighting. Yet the Dragons will not be heading to South America hoping to best sides with a sympathetic story. With Asmir Begovic in goal, Emir Spahic in central defence, Miralem Pjanic in midfield and Edin Dzeko leading the line, they have an exceptionally strong and surprisingly experienced spine of proven, top class players. The presence of Iran, another potential dark horse team, and Nigeria in Group F has tempered the enthusiasm of some for hailing Bosnia’s chances, but if those four key players fit—especially Dzeko, who finished as second-highest top scorer in European qualifying—then they could be more than worthy runners-up to Argentina.

Betting Instinct tip Edin Dzeko to win the Golden Boot is 51.00 with AllYouBet.ag

 

Group G: Ghana

With a well-constructed squad that blends together some of their most exciting young talents such as Christian Atsu, and the experience of Michael Essien, Kevin Prince-Boatang and Kwadwo Asamoah, Ghana could be the strongest African contender at Brazil 2014. The Black Stars have some impressive depth, with other well-regarded names such as Sully Muntari and Andre Ayew swelling the midfield ranks behind captain Asamoah Gyan, who will lead from the front four years after emerging as one of the big stars of South Africa 2010. On first glance, Group G may look like a fiefdom to be fought over by Germany and Portugal, but the high-energy football of die Mannschaft could well wilt in Brazil, and with Cristiano Ronaldo struggling for fitness, Paul Bento’s men may struggle to make the knock outs, especially with Ghana on their tails.

Betting Instinct tip Ghana to make it out of Group G is 3.75 with Intertops.eu

 

Group H: Algeria

Most will remember Algeria as England’s anti-football antagonists in South Africa, whose negative approach also failed them in the 2010 African Cup of Nations. Yet these disasters eventually lead to a rethink and refreshing of the national team under Vahid Halihodzic, who has replaced the turgid time-wasting of the past with a high-press and a refocus on passing. Never mind Adnan Januzaj’s Belgium call up. Tottenham Hotspur’s 19-year-old passing conduit Nabil Bentalab is heading to the World Cup with just two caps to his name; a one-man reinforcement of the ideological shift that has taken place within this Algerian team. The youthful midfielder joins an already exciting cast of players featuring Valencia’s Sofiane Feghouli—a hero of many a player on Football Manager 2014—Granada’s Yacine Brahimi and Islam Slimini of Sporting. A hardened touch of the previous regime remains too to add some physical backbone in captain Madjid Bougherra, which will be needed in a tough and well-balanced group featuring Belgium, Russia and South Korea. However, even if foreign perceptions don’t yet realise it, Algeria have the quality to crash the party in Group H.

Betting Instinct tip – Algeria to make the last 16 is 5.50 with AllYouBet.ag

 

Greg avatar GREG JOHNSON (gregianjohnson) is a freelance football writer based in London and contributor to  FourFourTwo, Squawka, Drowned In Sound and Mirror Football. He also co-edits The False Nine football  blog and podcast. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.