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African Cup of Nations 2012 preview: Group D

With the tournament kicking off tomorrow, we complete our preview with a look at Ghana, Mali, Guinea and Botswana.

Marseille's Andre Ayew is one of the Black Stars' most influential players.
Marseille's Andre Ayew is one of the Black Stars' most influential players.
Image: Mike Egerton/EMPICS Sport

Ghana

IT HAS BEEN 30 long years since Ghana were last crowned the AFCON champions and, along with the Ivory Coast, they will be aware that there may never be a better opportunity to end that drought.

Their exploits in South Africa 2010, where they lost out to Uruguay on penalties at the quart-final stage, were a first for an African nation and the young talents who won the U20 World Cup in 2009 are now two years older.

Players like Marseille’s Ayew brothers, Andre and Jordan, who are the sons of legendary player Abedi Pele, will both play big parts. While Andre ‘Dede’ is more established as one of the continent’s best players, Jordan has shown he can also produce the goods (see video below).

Udinese pair Kwadwo Asamoah and Emmanuel Agyemang Badu should fill in for missing midfielders Michael Essien and Kevin Prince Boateng, who are absent through lack of fitness and early retirement respectively.

There were injury concerns hanging over Asamoah Gyan’s head but he played and scored against Platinum Stars in Rustenburg on Wednesday. Having conceded just one goal in qualifying, they have every chance of making the final.

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Nickname: Black Stars

Player to watch: Emmanuel Adyemang Badu (Udinese)

20-year-old holding midfielder Badu should bring the energy and physical presence that Essien, Boateng and Stephen Appiah have in the past. He was part of the triumphant U20 team but missed out on the World Cup two years ago through injury.

Outright betting: 9/2

Best previous performance: Champions in 1963, 1965, 1978 and 1982

Mali

The Eagles will be looking to make up for lost time after failing to make the last AFCON under suspicious circumstances. Having beaten Malawi, they saw Angola and Algeria play out the 0-0 draw which both countries needed, resulting in an official protest from Mali.

Household names Fredi Kanoute, Mohamadou Diarra and Momo Sissoko have all retired although influential Barcelona midfielder Seydou Keita has returned to Alain Giresse’s squad.

The Frenchman led them to top spot in their qualifying group but a couple of injuries and an inexperienced squad means expectations in the country aren’t very high.

Second spot is up for grabs here though and a win against Guinea in the first game will leave them in an excellent position to take it.

Nickname: Eagles

Player to watch: Cheick Diabate (Bordeaux)

The striker came from the same youth academy as Seydou Keita and joined Bordeux in 2006. At 6ft 4in, he is a powerful player with aerial presence and is expected to produce the goals along with Modibo Maiga and Garra Dembele.

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Outright betting: 16/1

Best previous performance: Runner-up in 1972

Guinea

After a forgettable campaign in which they finished bottom of their qualifying group in 2010, Guinea called on former manager Michel Dussuyer , who had previously taken them to the last eight in 2002, to stop the rot.

They then sent Nigeria packing en route to Gabon and Equatorial Guinea by drawing 2-2 with the Super Eagles.

Experienced playmaker Pascal Feindouno, who will be the player with most AFCON goals at the competition, will be using it to put himself in the shop window after terminating his contract with FC Sion, while followers of British football will know Bobo Balde from his time at Celtic and former Hull City defender Kamil Zayatte.

Genoa’s Kevin Constant has chosen not to travel as he attempts to sort out his club career, but there are high hopes for Ibrahima Traore and Mamadou Bah. Another contender for runner-up in the group.

Nickname: National Elephants

Player to watch: Ibrahima Traore (VfB Stuttgart)

The French-born winger, who signed for Bundesliga outfit Stuttgart last summer, scored in a friendly with Kenya on Thursday and at 23, has the potential to carve out a successful career in Germany.

Outright betting: 25/1

Best previous performance: Runner-up in 1976

Botswana

The surprise package of 2012, nobody would have bet on Botswana making the finals at the beginning of the qualifying round. At their tenth attempt, the Zebras upset the odds and beat Tunisia twice to top their group ahead of the North Africans.

Celebrations have since turned sour with the players striking over the failure of the football federation to pay bonuses, who claimed that the money wasn’t available.

It was eventually called off however, and Botswana’s will bring tactics based around organised defending and fast counter attacks. Diphetogo ‘Dipsy’ Selowane is their best-loved player because of 15 international goals and fellow striker Jerome Ramatlhakwane scored five in qualifying.

Anything other than three defeats would be an achievement for a nation who can still hardly believe they are here.

Nickname: Zebras

Player to watch: Jerome Ramatlhakwane (unattached)

Despite being without a club for 18 months because of a contractual dispute between two clubs in South Africa, Santos and Vaso de Gama, the 26-year-old was in terrific form for his country and scored four match-winning goals to help them progress to their first ever AFCON.

Outright betting: 100/1

Best previous performance: First appearance

African Cup of Nations 2012 preview: Group C

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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