GROUP B: IVORY COAST, BURKINA FASO, SUDAN AND ANGOLA
The Ivorian Elephants square off against some tricky opposition in what is, perhaps, the best balanced of all the groups.Francois Zahaoui’s side qualified with a 100% record from what could be described as an undemanding group. But no finalist could better the 19 goals shared among nine players and that razor-sharp edge should help Africa’s highest-ranked side to finish top of this group and make a serious challenge for the title they last won in 1992. Defending, however, has often proved to be their Achilles heel.
With a number of players over 30, this could be the last chance for some of the players to add a trophy to their cabinet.
Sudan, despite their low ranking and fielding a team of completely local players, held favourites Ghana to two scoreless draws in qualifying.
The Falcons of Jediane have raised their status over the past few years, largely due to the efforts of the two country’s top two clubs, El Merreikh and Al Hilal, both regular campaigners in the African club competitions. Under their experienced coach, Mohamed Abdullah, Sudan do not share the problem of other teams, who have their players scattered across several European and African clubs. This has given the team sufficient time to forge itself into a hardworking and difficult unit to beak down.
Hosts and runners-up at the 2011 CHAN tournament, Sudan could spring a few surprises. Winners back in 1970, the side have not won a match at their last three finals (1972, 1976 and 2008), a record they’ll be determined to bring to an end.
Burkina Faso, with the sole European coach in the group, Portuguese Paolo Duarte, has welded a squad drawn from diverse European leagues. They have quietly climbed the FIFA rankings, off the back of an unbeaten qualifying campaign, with Auxerre striker Alain Traore in a good run of form for club and country. Backed up by a good cast of professionals, like midfielder Charles Kabore and Jonathan Pitroipa, the West Africans have realistic possibilities of reaching the knockout rounds.
Angola had looked out of the qualifying picture, but pipped Uganda and Kenya at the qualifying post to clinch their tickets, with Manucho rediscovering his goal touch.
The Palancas Negras, hosts at the last finals, strung together three straight wins to book their finals spot, much to the relief of coach Lito Vidigal.
With a squad drawn from the local GiraBola and the Portuguese league, their chances of making an impact at these finals look doubtful.