GROUP D: GHANA, BOTSWANA, MALI, GUINEA
Many observers are already predicting that the Black Stars of Ghana have only to turn up to advance to the 2012 final. But fellow West Africans Mali and unbeaten Guinea, who eliminated Nigeria, will certainly have something to say about that in Franceville.
But there is no question that Goran Stevanovic’s Black Stars are definitely the team to beat in this group, and will be all out to achieve their first Nations Cup triumph since 1982 (see story on Ghana, pp. 56-8).
Guinea’s Syli Nationale qualified unbeaten to return to the finals, after missing out on a place at Angola 2010. Coached by Michel Dussuyer, the side put up a bold display to hold Nigeria to a 2-2 draw in Abuja, in order to clinch their finals spot. They will certainly need the same level of resilience to earn a ticket into the knockout stages. Quarter-finalists in their previous three finals outings, reaching the last four would be a tremendous improvement.
Mali certainly limped through the qualifiers after losing away against Cape Verde and Zimbabwe. Former France midfielder Alain Giresse, now in charge of the Eagles, has the task of wielding together a side without the influence of players like Frederic Kanoute and Momo Sissoko. Barcelona midfielder Seydou Keita is expected to be the lynchpin of the side, desperate to shake off their unfortunate run at the 2010 finals, where they were eliminated in the group stages. Giresse’s side should not be underrated, but they do not appear as strong as their 2010 squad.
Tournaments debutants Botswana complete the section and they will be hard-pressed to take points off any of their group opponents, despite their enviable record of being the first team to qualify for these finals. With a mainly home-based pool of players, boosted by a handful of exports to South Africa’s PSL, the Zebras will find themselves battling superior forces.
The goals of striker Jerome Ramalthakwane, from Vasco da Gama in South Africa, paved the way to the finals for the manager, Major-General Stanley Tshosane, who believes his side will not be making up the numbers. “We have confidence because when we started [qualifying] we were underdogs, just like we are now… if you prepare well for your examinations, you will pass,” Tshosane said. But they might need a wee bit more schooling before graduating to the next class of the African game.