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Major casualties at 2015 Africa Cup of Nations

Posted: 9 October 2014 Time: 10:26

This week we will pass the halfway stage of the qualification series for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations.

By next weekend, the seven groups will have firmly taken shape and we may be in a position to pencil-in some of the the 15 nations that will join Morocco at the continental high table in January.

Following the first round of games, several high-profile nations have dropped points or have even fallen to defeat.

Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Egypt have all been beaten, while Ghana were only saved from a similar predicament against Uganda by an Andre Ayew penalty.

It will all be clearer after the next two rounds of games, but at this moment in time it looks likely that at least one major side won’t make it to the African main event early next year.

There is, of course, precedent to this.

Reigning African champions Nigeria may have shone in 2013, but a year earlier they had missed out altogether as Zambia claimed the crown in Angola.

Similarly, Egypt, the dominant force in Africa for three consecutive competitions, failed to earn an invitation to the last two tournaments – they were absent in 2012 and didn’t qualify either the year after, for South Africa 2013.

Cameroon and Bafana Bafana also know what it feels like to watch from afar as the continent’s finest contest Africa’s highest honour.

But who will it be this year?

Perhaps the first name that springs to mind is Egypt, who look on course to complete an unhappy hat-trick this year. Over the last few years the nation has undergone a devastating civil war, domestic football has been, at times, decimated, while the national side has been subject to immense transition.

The Golden Generation departed one by one, with the likes of Wael Gomaa and Mohamed Aboutrika – true African greats – ending their glittering international careers in ignominy as the Pharaohs were smashed 6-1 by Ghana in Kumasi in a World Cup qualifier.

The North-African giants were dealt a tough hand with a taxing group-stage draw. Not only were they paired with Senegal, a side who have their own recent experiences of missing out on Nations Cups, but they were also joined by local rivals Tunisia.

All was not lost, however, and with a good start, Egypt could have placed themselves in a positive position ahead of the upcoming double-header with Botswana.

Things have gone about as disastrously as they good.

Egypt remain, plainly, a team in transition. They lacked cohesion and intensity as they were beaten 2-0 by Senegal in their qualifying opener, and it didn’t help that their star man, the hope of the new generation, Mohamed Salah, was clearly lacking match sharpness. The former Basel forward has been resigned to a bit-part role at Chelsea this year and, shorn of game time, he was guilty of several clumsy touches and wayward finishing.

Having been beaten by Senegal, the Pharaohs were defeated by Tunisia. Heading into their double against Botswana, they find themselves six points behind both Senegal and the Eagles of Carthage.

It is imperative they beat the Zebras, however, with the federation unhelpfully threatening Shawky Gharib with dismissal should he fail to qualify, and the manager himself losing faith with a swathe of the players he invited for the first two matches, they look sent for an extended spell away from the continental spotlights.

Nigeria are another giant whose progress looks less than certain.

After two games, the Super Eagles sit on one point, behind both South Africa (with four) and the Republic of Congo (with six). Perhaps Nigeria will take solace from the fact that they face group whipping boys Sudan (who have zero points), but the Falcons of Jediane will take confidence from the reigning champions’ recent performances.

Stephen Keshi’s side ended their 33-year record of home dominance by losing 3-2 to Congo in Calabar in September, ending a run that had stood since 1981. They followed that up with a lacklustre 0-0 draw against South Africa in Cape Town.

The manager’s position is under increasing threat and a recent squabble with Emmanuel Emenike hasn’t helped matters. The inclusions of the likes of Hope Akpan, Michael Babatunde and Raheem Lawal may well freshen-up the squad, but the loss of Victor Moses through injury is a major blow and may spell disaster for the Super Eagles’ AFCON aspirations.

However, if Nigeria can ‘come good’ against Sudan, could South Africa find themselves in rocky territory?

Bafana Bafana impressed in the second half against the North Africans last month, but appeared toothless against Nigeria and found themselves under increasing pressure as the match wore on.

Mashaba has returned to old-timers such as Reneilwe Letsholonyane and Tefu Mashamaite, suggesting he isn’t totally convinced by those that avoided defeat against Nigeria and Sudan.

Thulani Serero’s return should bring composure and class to the midfield, but Bafana will need to be wary of Congo. In Thievy Bifouma, the Red Devils boast a tricky and occasionally explosive forward, while the indefatigable Prince Oniangue will look to cause trouble for Dean Furman, Oupa Manyisa and Andile Jali.

Nigeria and their supporters witnessed, first hand, just how effective Congo could be. They are well-organised and determined under Claude Le Roy and, in Bifouma, possess menace in attack.

The team did, however, look a little naïve in defence against Nigeria. With high-profile centre-back Christopher Samba having refused a call-up, there will be concern that Le Roy’s team may have a weak underbelly which the likes of Mandla Masango, Tokelo Rantie and the newly-recalled Kermit Erasmus may enjoy some joy.

For Bafana to avoid another uncomfortable absence from the top table, they will need to demonstrate, once again, the qualities that they boasted in their first two qualifying matches. Only two other sides (Burkina Faso and Senegal) are yet to concede a goal in AFCON qualifying and it is important they retain this resiliency in Pointe-Noire and then Polokwane.

By Ed Dove

Ed is the Founder of the African Football Weekly podcast:

Livefyre comments on this story...

T-Man wa leKhosi
posted: 2014-10-09 10:20:40

Mgugudi Treble Addict tjmothapo-40 passes vs Chiefs 

They have a far better tactical and technical awareness than us.

posted: 2014-10-09 10:23:15

Mgugudi Treble Addict Yes we failed in the past but we won't be intimidated by that today is a brand new day full of possibilities. We rectify our mistakes the sky is the limit um confident we on the right track.

We get four points from Congo Nija is in trouble that's a big fact.

CJB Ramses III
posted: 2014-10-09 10:33:14

This is the kind of engagement I expect on… you've presented yourself articulately on the cold hard facts… notwithstanding, they don't entirely represent the truth… The truth being over the last decade or so Bafana has not been represented by the best in SA… both in talent personnel and coaching coupled with style of play… we might be getting closer to that but until then the facts don't reflect the truth…

posted: 2014-10-09 10:34:23

Of the two countries aspiring to follow Nigeria to Morocco, Congo I say is the safer. Congo has been able to take 3 of the maximum 6 points on the table against the Eagles while SA's Bafana lost 2 crucial points on their home ground. To worsen the equation, Bafana will then be going to face a resurgent Super Eagles at a time the Eagles might just be needing a draw or win to be in Morocco. The qualifiers will be decided by number of points and not the number of goals scored against Sudan.

posted: 2014-10-09 10:35:31

Fully behind our boys. I wish the coach can start with Erasmus upfront as a lone striker with Vilakazi, Yeye, Masango and Manyisa controlling the midfield. Bring back our pride Bafana, bring back the AFCON trophy...Mzantsi African Til Death

CJB Ramses III
posted: 2014-10-09 10:39:02

Yes the possibility is there… like in all things… however, with the right attitude… not even high level application… 6 points are for the taking against Congo… with respect… Congo B. cannot stand with us…

posted: 2014-10-09 10:47:30

Nigerians have only themselves to blame so far let us wait for wednesday for our second last assessment.

I got two words for Congo, Bafana Bafana.

posted: 2014-10-09 10:58:31

CJB Ramses III This is kind of debate one will engage in it with facts not with Chiefs and Pirates issues. I got to admit that on Paper we are the second weakest team in our group. As South Africans we do want to see our country qualifying. Truth need to be told we should have beaten Nigeria when they were miserable but our fear denied us an opportunity to do that. We cannot really blame it on the team as our team also was completely getting together and had lots of inexperienced players in terms of national or international duties.

I got to admit that Serero is way far better than over rated Mikel. Just that Mikel is playing for Chelsea. On my personal view i think BB is on the right direction and they can beat Nigeria on home soil. I am not so concerned about Congo cause i know there are 60% chances that we can beat them at thier home if we want too. Congo beat Nigeria because they were not afraid, but we just had our own fears of been a hoodoo team to Nigeria. 

posted: 2014-10-09 11:01:46

khosimynation I see us collecting 7 points from remaining games. 4 from Congo, 3 from Sudan. = 11

posted: 2014-10-09 11:10:20

All that stats would have been relevant if it was still the same team playing now!! Now you comparing apples with oranges!

posted: 2014-10-09 11:33:21

Mgugudi Treble Addict mash_khozi you just disagree with him because hes a zebra

posted: 2014-10-09 13:02:49

Nigeria - under pressure no doubt....them playing Sudan back-to-back could help them, they have to get 6 points this round, anything less they are out!!

Congo - from both games with SA it is difficult to predict. They they the best team in the group so far, I say 3 points to them from 2 matches against SA

Bafana - also 3 points from this round of 2 matches, so end of this round will look like this

Congo - 9

RSA - 7

NGA - 6

SUD - 0

posted: 2014-10-09 13:43:44

Izinja ze game I hope so too Chief

posted: 2014-10-11 21:54:36

Isicefe  lol that's the drawback of making predictions in football...

posted: 2014-10-11 22:03:48

iburo  Well fact is Nija is the Weakest my brother, Don't know where u got this second weakest rating of urs from...but u right, we did drop 2 valuable points from these whipping boys

Forever fearless
posted: 2014-10-12 05:30:49

Isicefe you got it wrong baba go and restudy the group RSA is on 7 points with 3 matches remaining

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