If I hadn’t nominated Group C as the “Group of Death” then Group D could’ve sufficed. Again with three teams capable of causing problems in this group, Ghana being the superior of them, means this will be no “walk in the park” for anyone. Mali and Guinea will also have a serious say in this group with both teams possessing the kinds of players who can drag something special up when needed. Along for the ride and making up the numbers are Botswana, they’ll be keen to show they’re not pushovers but I believe they lack the cutting edge to progress. Here we go with a closer look…

Ghana have a squad of players tipped a few years ago as highly promising who are ready to explode out the gates and terrorise this competition, The question remains if they will accomplish this or will they become like Ivory Coast and leave their promise unfulfilled. Being the strongest African side at the past two World Cups and delivering excellent defensive performances against Italy, Serbia, Germany and the USA they may prove to be a force worth reckoning with after the Group stage.
Strong players are not this teams downfall but the two who will definitely be key are:

Sulley Muntari: In the absence (again) of Michael Essien through injury, Muntari will be required to step up and be counted, lucky for him since joining Inter Milan he hasn’t found this difficult, playing 97 games in three and a half years and winning Serie A twice in this time. Muntari may find Essiens absence a blessing in disguise and will hopefully use this opportunity as a chance to show what he can do on the world stage.

Asamoah Gyan: Looking on top of the world at Sunderland last season, anyone would be forgiven for wondering why this man ended up on loan to a team in the United Arab Emirates, and that may well be a story for another time. Having scored thirty six goals in 127 appearances for numerous clubs over his career it is at international level were twenty eight goals in 55 appearances improves what was already an impressive strike ratio. It remains to be seen if taking himself away from the spotlight of the Premier league will have tainted his ability in any way but he will be the focal point of the Ghana attack.

My prediction: Definitely contenders for the semi finals at least, I fully expect Goran Stevanovic’s men to win this group and cause major problems for a lot of teams.

Mali no longer have the impressive Fredi Kanoute to call on when they need goalsbut they do have plenty of young exciting talent and a dynamic midfield just waiting to take out the “big guns”. Always capable of providing something just a bit special, like a comeback from 4-0 down to force a draw against Angola in 2010, this side will provide plenty of grit and determination and a will to win which may just see them become contenders.
The players to keep your eyes on are:

Seydou Keita: Solid defensively, never afraid to be on the ball and full of experience (64 caps) the Barcelona midfielder and Malian Captain will use his play-making skills to bring his younger team-mates into games. Hopefully this massive pressure placed on him will only push Keita to drive his team through this group and into the quarter finals.

Garra Dembele: Having only been capped twice before for his country you may regard my choice as very surprising, though did you know before signing for current club SC Freiburg in the summer, at previous club Levski Sofia, Dembele finished his season with twenty six goals in 24 games making him ranked among the most efficient attacking players of the 2010-11 season with a goal every 76.89 minutes. If that kind of form can be transferred to his international career then who knows what he can achieve.

My prediction: A solid shout to progress to the quarter finals, may provide some surprises if their young team can step up to the challenge and not shy away from this big international stage.

Guinea failed to qualify for the last Africa Cup of Nations but before that had reached the quarter finals three competitions in a row, their squads core remains the same as it was when they performed so creditably in 2008. Unbeaten in qualifying this time momentum is definitely with them but can they carry it through to the main competition?
Providing the spark they will need are hopefully:

Pascal Feindouno: Possibly famed for the part he played in being one of the ineligible players FC Sion fielded in this seasons Europa League, Guinea’s captain, now without a club, has scored twenty one international goals in 55 games and will be hoping to use this tournament as an advertisement for what he’s capable of and hopefully secure himself a new club.

Bobo Balde: Yes another controversial figure as far as Celtic go, Bobo spent eight years in Glasgow dividing opinion for the first five, before being left to hang about the reserves and collect a reported £30,000 per week. With forty four caps for his country, scoring one goal, Balde is no stranger to the international scene and if he provides the same level of performance as he did in his earlier years at Celtic then the massive central defender could dominate.

My prediction: A team with a real chance of making the quarter finals but for some reason I believe that’s as far as they’ll get. If faced with a bigger team like Ivory Coast or Senegal in the next round I don’t think they’ll be organised enough to cause problems.

Botswana have never qualified for major finals before and not only that they’ve never even come close. Surprising everyone by being the first to qualify out of all the nations taking part their own fans at home may not get to witness their attempts at progressing as the state Tv channel refused to pay for the rights to broadcast it. Worryingly for them they only scored seven goals in 8 games yet only conceded three, so don’t be looking for them to be involved in a high scoring draw as I suspect they may concede a lot more here.
Key men for Botswana are:

Diphetogo “Dipsy” Selolwane: Is Botswana’s all time top scorer with fifteen goals in about 40 appearances, at 33 years of age he’s not getting any younger and will be hoping to use what he learned in his four years playing in the MLS to help his country give a good account of themselves at this Africa Cup of Nations.

Mompati Thuma: Capped 67 times for Botswana making him their most capped player he has played in almost all of their games since becoming a recognised FIFA nation around 1994, when they first attempted to qualify for a major tournament. Captain and defensive stalwart he will be the man trusted with organising this squad and leading them towards what they hope will be a succesful campaign.

My prediction: Performing amicably and well disciplined is the best Botswana can hope for, looking more likely to be torn to shreds by the other teams in this group I can see them finishing with 0 points and a highly negative goal difference, we shall see.

And that concludes my look at the African Cup of Nations I hope everyone enjoyed it and as always feedback would be appreciated.

By Mark McInnes
Follow him on twitter @itspartymarky

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