The phrase “Group of Death” is thrown about at every cup drawn in which groups play a part and if the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations was to nominate one this would be it. Niger are by far the weakest team in this group but Morocco, Gabon and Tunisia all have a chance if they play to their strengths lets take a look at each of them….

Gabon are a team whom luck does not favour, history could’ve been different for them if tragedies hadn’t caused havoc with previous fixtures causing them to be rearranged to more hectic schedules. The current squad have a sense of “almost there” about them, talented individuals who could prove to be a force if they gel together into a solid unit. Additional statistical favour is available for them in the fact that in seven of the last eight AFCON’s a host nation has made it to the semi finals, could it be Gabon this year?
Helping them along the way will be these two skilled individuals;

Didier Ovono: In what has proved to be quite the typical position to feature a star player, this goalkeeper has over 50 caps for his country and has won a top division title in the Georgian League with Dinamo Tbilisi. Keeping 18 clean sheets for Le Mans last season will also provide a confidence boost.

Daniel Cousin: Lightning fast and a keen eye for goal are the main strengths of this former Rangers and Hull City striker. Five goals in 34 games for the English club and thirteen goals in 40 games for Rangers do not compare to his impressive haul of twenty eight goals in 37 appearances in his national shirt.

My prediction: As host nation they will have the crowd behind them but that may prove too much pressure for this side, if they perform well against the other two big teams in this group then they have a chance.

Tunisia are the only one of the previous nine winners of the Africa Cup of Nations to qualify this time around but they almost didn’t make it, securing their spot with a victory on the last day of qualification. Seven coaching changes since 2008 also doesn’t make for pleasant reading if you are a fan of Tunisia but one advantage they always have is just how organised and disciplined their team performs when they have to.
Key men for Tunisia will be:

Karim Haggui: A member of the 2004 Cup of Nations winning squad this massive centre half commands respect wherever he goes. At club level he has played 50 games in France and now over 160 games in Germany, and at current club Hannover 96 has chipped in with 2 goals this season.

Issam Jemaa: Occasionally played as a winger at club level for Auxerre, it is at international level this 27 year old striker is more consistent. Twenty six goals in 57 matches for Tunisia make him a danger in and around the box, expect the opposition teams to keep him locked down at any opportunity.

My prediction: If they remain well organised and connect well as a team then progression from this group will be straight forward, beyond that they definitely have the ability to cause problems.

Morocco conceded only two goals in qualifying for this tournament and unleashed some solid hammerings on others, like 4-0 over biggest rivals Algeria. A very free flowing and attacking team they will look to force there superiority onto others while remaining solid at the back. The men they can rely on to provide key moments for them are:

Marouane Chamakh: Arsenal fans may tell you something different but Chamakh leads the Moroccan front line with a physical approach, this allows the technical midfielder space to create chances or take them for themselves. Also not forgetting that before making his move to London he scored 70 goals for Bordeaux in France.

Adel Taarabt: Nobody else was going to be the other key to this team, on his day he is one of the most technically gifted players in the Premier League but his concentration and temperament sometimes get in the way. Twenty seven goals and thirty five assists in 111 games for Queens Park Rangers makes him a man to watch throughout this competition

My prediction: Definitely going to be a force in this competition, would not be surprised to see them top this group and push for at least a semi final place, an outside chance of taking the trophy home.

Niger basically qualified for this tournament by accident, ending their qualifying campaign with a 3-0 defeat to an Egypt team made up of mostly youngsters, but South Africa mistakenly played for a draw thinking it would send them through only to finish lower due to head to heads rule. I’m not expecting much from this team but if these men play well you never know:

Moussa Maazou: The poster boy of Nigerien football, Moussa has scored twenty seven goals in 94 games across countries such as Belgium, France and Russia. Strong and pacy he will no doubt find himself the focal point of most if not all of his countries attacking movement.

Kassaly Daouda: A goalkeeper (again) with over 50 caps for his country he will have his work cut out for him, has played club football in Romania and Cameroon and for his sake I hope he’s ready for what he may be about to face.

My prediction: Bottom of the group and with a negative goal difference is the only way I can see this turning out, literally no hope in a group packed with talent, if you like underdogs then this is your team.

By Mark McInnes
Follow on twitter @itspartymarky

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