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African Cup of Nations 2012 preview: Group C

Morocco and Tunisia will fancy their chances of booking places in the knockout stages, but Group C is bound to be tightly-contested.

Morocco's Adel Taarabt has shown the talent he possesses at QPR.
Morocco's Adel Taarabt has shown the talent he possesses at QPR.
Image: ohn Walton/EMPICS Sport

Morocco

UNDER THE VASTLY-experienced Belgian Eric Gerets, Morocco knocked out Algeria in the qualifiers and are dark horses to go far in this tournament having failed to make the finals in 2010.

The Atlas Lions conceded just two goals on their way to Gabon and Equatorial Guinea and their mean defence is marshalled by Celtic’s Badr El Kaddouri and the highly impressive Mehdi Benatia, who plays with Udinese’s foreign legion in Serie A.

In attack, they will rely on QPR winger Adel Taarabt for creativity and, despite flopping at Arsenal, Marouane Chamakh will provide the main goalscoring threat.

Group C opens with a repeat of the 2004 final as Morocco take on Tunisia, which is bound to be a cracking spectacle.

Nickname: Atlas Lions

Player to watch: Mehdi Benatia (Udinese)

A product of the prestigious Clairefontaine football academy, Benatia had spells in the French lower league before joining Udinese in 2010. The has become an important asset to the Francesco Guidolin’s side, who sit fourth in the league, and has been tracked by AC Milan and Manchester United.

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Outright betting: 8/1

Best previous performance: Champions in 1976

Gabon

Co-hosts only began participating in AFCON in 1992 but received a major boost in December by winning their first ever continental title.

They beat Morocco 1-0 in the final of the U23 competition, which act as the qualifiers for the Olympic Games, and four of that team have made the transition to the senior squad.

Gernot Rohr, who led a Bordeaux side featuring Zinedine Zidane to UEFA Cup glory in 1996, has called up St Etienne striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and he should partner former Rangers and Hull City forward Daniel Cousin in attack.

Gabon will struggle to finish ahead of Morocco and Tunisia but will see their first game against newcomers Niger as the perfect opportunity to pick up points.

Nickname: Panthers

Player to watch: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (St Etienne)

The 22-year-old spent four years on the books at AC Milan, the majority of which were spent out on loan, before signing permanently for Les Verts in December.

A one-time France U21 international, Aubemeyang’s father captained Gabon in 1994 and if they are to achieve anything this month, his partnership with Cousin will be key.

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Outright betting: 25/1

Best previous performance: Quarter-final in 1996

Tunisia

Tunisia are the highest ranked nation in the group and were crowned AFCON champions on home soil eight years ago.

They were in danger of missing out this time around until former captain Sami Trabelsi took over in January of last year to lead them to a runner-up spot behind Botswana.

Now the Carthage Eagles will look to better 2010, when they could only manage three draws, and have compiled a squad with plenty of home-based players although there are also a few who earn a living in France, Germany, Turkey and Switzerland.

Having to do without injured frontman Slama Kasdaoui is a cruel blow and there are also fitness concerns over leading scorer Issam Jemaa, who will most likely not feature until after the group stages.

Nevertheless, Tunisia should progress to the knockout stages barring an upset from Gabon.

Nickname: Carthage Eagles

Player to watch: Amine Chermiti (FC Zurich)

The 23-year-old has called FC Zurich in Switzerland home since signing a four-year deal in 2010 and, after coming off the bench to score against Sudan in the run-up to the finals, will be keen to leave his mark.

Outright betting: 11/1

Best previous performance: Champions in 2004

Niger

Beating the odds, Niger have reached their first AFCON by finishing above heavyweights Egypt and South Africa. What made it even stranger is that, despite losing all of their games on the road, the Mena (Dama Gazelles) had a perfect home record.

It is their maiden voyage and little will be expected from the team coached by Harouna Doula, who was recently named African Coach of the Year, but this group could turn out to be the most competitive of all four.

Nickname: Dama Gazelles

Player to watch: Moussa Maazou (CSKA Moscow, on loan at SV Zulte Waregem)

There were high hopes for the striker at CSKA Moscow but injuries and indiscipline have led to a series of loan deals and he finds himself in Belgium’s top division at the moment.

Undoubtedly the country’s most talented player but whether he can actually produce on the biggest stage remains to be seen.

Outright betting: 66/1

Best previous performance: First appearance

African Cup of Nations 2012 preview: Group B

African Cup of Nations 2012 preview: Group A

About the author:

Ben Blake

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