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.
Côte d’Ivoire 7/2
(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 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.