Political instability in Libya forced the country to withdraw from hosting the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations. With Gabon named as hosts for the tournament following their successful co-hosting of the 2015 event - and their helpful contributions after Morocco pulled out in 2015 - it’s CAF who’s experiencing political instability. Algeria were figuratively up in arms regarding the decision and lack of transparency of the voting process and upon discovering Mali and Benin had done an about-face, promptly decided there would be no more friendlies, nor aid, between them. Still, the business of the qualifiers is pressing for managers and national teams alike. Let’s see if we can find some winners this weekend.
Friday 12 June
It’s been eleven years since Tunisia last hosted and won the AFCON and the former African giants haven’t tasted victory in ninety minutes since their second group game in the 2015 tournament. They drew with both DR Congo and Cape Verde in the group and lost their quarter-final to host nation Equatorial Guinea. They come into this match with minnows Djibouti having lost to Japan 2-0 and drawing with China, both away from home. Being back at their home stadium in Rades will suit the North Africans and I can’t imagine Djibouti - who have one win in 2007 from their 22-match history - will have much to offer. Back the home side to win with ease.
North Africans Morocco missed out on hosting the 2015 AFCON due to the outbreak of Ebola. They last appeared in March of this year, going down 1-0 at home to Uruguay to end a five-match winning streak. Bayern Munich’s Medhi Benatia is the bedrock in the Moroccan defence while NAC Breda’s fifteen-goal Adnane Tighadouini, as well as the likes of Marouane Chamakh and Adel Taarabt, miss out. The Atlas Lions host North African rivals Libya in what is sure to be a heated affair. Libya’s entire squad if sought from the country’s own clubs. The last time these nations met was in 2014 in Marrakech with Morocco 3-0 winners. I foresee a similar result in Agadir. The home side should be backed.
Saturday 13 June
South Africa 7/20
Bafana Bafana arrive in Durban to host Gambia at the magnificent Moses Mabhida Stadium without four of their stars. Tefu Mashamaite has withdrawn due to family commitments while Dean Furman, Sibusiso Vilakazi and Mzikayise Mashaba nurse injuries. Pirates duo Tshepo Gumede and Ntsikelelo Nyauza, along with Siphelele Ntshangase and Jabulani Shongwe, have been called up to replace them. Tokelo Rantie ties the knot this weekend but Anele Ngcongca, Ayanda Patosi, Andile Jali, Thulani Serero and May Mahlangu have all returned from Europe. Gambia, ranked 157th by FIFA, beat Mauritania and Tanzania in their last two appearances to end a long losing streak. However, Bafana Bafana should have enough to see off a much weaker Gambian squad.
The Super Eagles failed to qualify for the last edition of the Africa Cup of Nations and will be hoping to make a start to a swift comeback by ensuring victory here. Only the thirteen group winners will secure automatic progression to the tournament and being draw in Group G with former African giants Egypt, Nigeria cannot afford to be sloppy in any fixtures. The likes of John Obi Mikel, Emmanuel Emenike, Joel Obi, Victor Moses and Efe Ambrose have all been left out by Stephen Keshi, who included eight local players in his 23-man squad. CSKA Moscow’s Ahmed Musa is a real danger man on the wing while Vincent Enyeama was inspirational between the sticks in the 2014 World Cup. Chad last appeared over a year ago when they beat Malawi 3-1. The home side should come up trumps with confidence.
New Senegal coach Aliou Cisse takes on lightweights Burundi without several of the so-called big name players at his disposal. The manager chose to omit veteran Fenerbahce forward Moussa Sow, West Ham striker Diafra Sakho as well as Newcastle’s Papiss Cisse and Hull’s Dame N’Doye. The bulk of the goal scoring was to fall on the shoulders of Demba Ba, however with the Besiktas striker injured, Senegal will have to rely on the advanced midfield options of Sadio Mane and Mame Biram Diouf for creativity. Senegal will still be smarting from their 2015 AFCON exit and Cheikhou Kouyate forms a strong basis in midfield. I expect the Lions of Teranga to get up for the win in Dakar.
As previously mentioned, Algeria are none too happy with the announcement of Gabon to host the 2017 African showpiece. With a strong performance at the 2014 World Cup, a quarter-final finish at AFCON 2015 would’ve met only the most basic of expectations. Algeria are ranked number one in Africa and hosting the 2017 tournament, their last opportunity in 1990 crowning them champions, would’ve been a tremendous opportunity to stamp their dominance on the rest of the continent. They’ve named a powerful side to host Seychelles in Blida with Slimani and Soudani a dangerous strike force, the likes of Bentaleb, Mahrez, Feghouli and Taider all competent midfield options and the wonderful Yacine Brahimi to cap off the centre of the park. Experienced defender Carl Medjani is expected to lead the side to victory against minnows Seychelles. Another home win is the tip here.
Sunday 14 June
Newly appointed Togo coach Tom Saintfiet has his work cut out for him. The Belgian has already lamented the lack of discipline within the squad with key members Emmanuel Adebayor, goalkeeper Kossi Agassa and Floyd Ayite having not arrived for preparations. Adebayor is the national captain and having been given compassionate leave from Tottenham twice this season to deal with a family feud, in spite of his poor form, the West African nation may be forced to do without the frontman. Togo have failed to win in four matches and have only beaten Uganda in the past year and a half. Liberia are captained by Mamelodi Sundowns winger Anthony Laffor and fellow midfielder Sekou Oliseh, a fringe player loaned out by CSKA Moscow, could cause a demotivated Togolese side some problems. I’m sticking my neck out and predicting a draw.
Volker Finke will continue to coach Cameroon for another two years after his contact was extended following a lengthy period of deliberation. The coach was criticised for the poor showing from the Indomitable Lions at AFCON 2015 where they failed to progress from the group stage, while his strained relationship with Alex Song after his sending off at the 2014 World Cup led to the midfielder’s international retirement. Cameroon are unbeaten in their last three matches since their defeat to Ivory Coast at the AFCON. With Schalke’s Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting leading the line, Cameroon are expected to see off lowly Mauritania, ranked 129th by FIFA. The home side should run out comfortable winners.
Ghana head coach Avram Grant hasn’t tinkered too much with the squad that went all the way to the AFCON 2015 final. An injury has forced departing Olympique Marseille attacking midfielder Andre Ayew out of contention while twenty-year-old Bernard Mensah has been called up after impressing in Portugal. Albert Adomah has been recalled after missing the AFCON as a result of injury. The likes of Baba Rahman, Jonathan Mensah, Christian Atsu, Jordan Ayew and veteran Asamoah Gyan are all available. I can’t see Mauritius causing Ghana many problems in Accra. Get behind another home win.
Ivory Coast 6/10
Gabon’s star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will lead the side in this crucial Group I clash with African champions Ivory Coast. The frontman has had a stellar season with Dortmund despite the club’s fall from grace and is Gabon’s best opportunity to hurt their opponents. Ivory Coast will be intent on letting nothing slip away from home, as points lost on the road could come back to haunt their qualification prospects. As we’ve seen in African football, winning a continental tournament is one thing, prolonged success another. Indeed, the players are yet to be paid their bonuses for winning the trophy. Ivorian figurehead Yaya Toure will be forced to sit out of the clash with injury. However, the usual stars in Serge Aurier, Serey Die, Max Gradel, Salomon Kalou, Gervinho and Wilfried Bony could all make appearances. I’d usually be happy to tip the away win but Gabon will feel boosted by their successful AFCON 2017 bid and will be looking to cause an upset in front of their home fans. Perhaps the Ivory Coast / Draw Double Chance is the safer bet for this one.