Africa Cup of Nations 2015: Group A – Equatorial Guinea; Burkina Faso; Gabon; Republic of Congo
Best Finish: Quarter-final, 2012.
If not for Morocco’s late withdrawal as hosts over fears about Ebola, Equatorial Guinea would be nowhere near this tournament. But now that they are in as the new hosts, they will be hoping to repeat their heroics of three years ago when, buoyed by partisan home support, they made the quarter-finals after beating Senegal and Libya. There is only so much the fans can do, however, and on the field, Spanish coach Andoni Goikoetxea will need his troops to go at full throttle In 2012, the Nzalang Nacional (“National Thunder”) were significantly helped by a controversial policy whereby the government gave foreigner players national citizenship in order to appear for the team. It could well do the same this time round too.
POSSIBLE LINE-UP: Felipe Ovono, Kily, Diosdado Mbele, Jimmy Bermúdez, Sipo, Juvenal, Viera Ellong, César Rivas, Dio, Mauricio Mina, Jônatas Obina.
Best Finish: Runners-up, 2013.
Up until 1996, Burkina Faso had only made one appearance at the Finals, but it is testament to their growing quality that they have qualified on every occasion but two since then and came within 90 minutes of winning in 2013.
Inspired by the effervescent Jonathan Pitroipa and Aristide Bancé, Les Étalons (“The Stallions”) will be hoping to go one better this time round, but in reality, they may do well to get out of the group stage. Burkina Faso lost recently to both Congo and Gabon, while Alain Traoré, whose 3 goals helped propel them to the final in 2013, has been plagued by injury this season and may be lacking in form.
POSSIBLE LINE-UP: Germain Sanou, Bakary Koné, Mohamed Koffi, Paul Koulibaly, Narcisse Bambara, Charles Kaboré, Jonathan Zongo, Djakaridja Koné, Bertrand Traoré, Aristide Bancé, Jonathan Pitroipa.
Best Finish: Quarter-finals, 1996, 2012.
Gabon was one of four countries, along with South Africa, Cameroon and Tunisia, who went through qualifying unbeaten, finishing top of their group. This was especially noteworthy given that they did so partly without the services of temperamental star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who often was not made available by his club Borussia Dortmund. The squad’s showing without him demonstrated that they are much more than a one-man team under Portuguese coach Jorge Costa, who has been in the job less than a year. When they were co-hosts with neighbouring Equatorial Guinea in 2012, Les Panthères (“The Panthers”) got as far as the quarter-finals. On current form, they stand a great chance of equalling if not surpassing that record.
POSSIBLE LINE-UP: Didier Ovono, Henri Ndong, Johann Obiang, Randal Oto’o, Levy Clement, Lloyd Palun, Ibrahim N’dong, André Poko; Malick Evouna, Frédéric Bulot, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
REPUBLIC OF CONGO
Best Finish: Champions, 1972.
Not many people will remember that Congo’s Diables Rouges (“Red Devils”) are past African champions, winning the title in 1972 at only their second appearance in the competition. But it has been mostly downhill since that moment of glory, with the country qualifying only every other tournament. That was an imbalance that needed addressing and the national football association picked Frenchman Claude Leroy to do so. The experienced campaigner set about overhauling the squad, mixing players who ply their trade on the continent with those who play in Europe. Spirits were boosted when they stunned defending champions Nigeria 3-2 away from home in qualifying, laying the foundations for their heroic return to AFCON in 15 long years.
POSSIBLE LINE-UP: Chancel Massa, Francis N’ganga, Arnold Motou, Dimitri Bissiki, Sagesse Babélé, Césaire Gandzé, Prince Oniangue, Boris Ngounga, Férébory Doré, Thievy Bifouma, Francis Litsingi.
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