Friday, January 20, 2006

THE NATIONS CUP GROUP C

Group C: Easy pickings for Tunisia?
Compiled by Farayi Mungazi
TUNISIA

Nickname: Carthage Eagles
Coach: Roger Lemerre
Captain: Riadh Bouazizi
Cup record: Winners in 2004; Qualified 12 times.
Tunisians reacted with euphoria to the draw that placed them in a relatively uncomplicated group.
On recent form, neither Zambia, Guinea or imploding South Africa can be tipped to win the group.
The Carthage Eagles have not changed much since winning the African title on home soil two years ago.
Roger Lemerre's team has a familiar look going into Egypt 2006, with the Frenchman having the benefit of a squad that has played together more or less uninterrupted for four years.
Tunisia: BBC News Country Profile
Indeed, Tunisia are probably the most settled of the 16 finalists and, rather ominously, they look even stronger and better prepared than they were during the 2004 edition.
Tunisia were runners-up in 1965 and 1996 but they finally landed their hands on the trophy after a thrilling 2-1 victory over Morocco two years ago.
And all but two of the stars from the victorious 2004 side - Mehdi Nafti and Imed Mhadhebi - were not included in the 23-man squad to defend the title in Egypt.

Hatem Trabelsi is one of the most coveted defenders in EuropeKey Players: Lemerre has some exciting players at his disposal but Hatem Trabelsi is undeniably the main man.
The 28-year-old right-back's appearances in the 2004 tournament were limited by injury and he only played a full part in the final.
Trabelsi is one of the most coveted players in Europe and looks set for a big-money move sooner rather than later.
Elsewhere, Radhi Jaidi is a tough nut to crack while not many defenders will relish trying to cope with the pace of Brazil-born forward Santos.
Verdict: The Carthage Eagles have a great platform from which to launch a successful defence of their crown.
A word of caution for the Carthage Eagles though: Only Cameroon have successfully defended the Nations Cup title since the competition was expanded to 16 teams.
ZAMBIA

Nickname: Chipolopolo
Coach: Kalusha Bwalya (above)
Captain: Elijah Tana
Cup record: Runners-up in 1994; Qualified 12 times.
After missing out on the 2004 Nations Cup party, Zambia are back on the biggest stage in African football.
Ironically, it was in Egypt 20 years ago, that Zambian coach Kalusha Bwalya played in his first Nations Cup finals.
As a young striker, he scored a memorable goal against Cameroon but saw his side finish bottom of their group.
Now back as commander-in-chief, he will be hoping his troops do much better than the 1986 squad.
Most of the Zambian squad play in their humble domestic league, but they are not incapable of mixing it with the continent's elite.
Zambia: BBC News Country Profile

Collins Mbesuma is another high-profile Nations Cup finals virginKey Player: They may not think much of him in the English Premiership but Collins Mbesuma has established himself as the most prolific striker in Zambian football.
He is a typical goal-poacher, as he demonstrated during his time with Kaizer Chiefs of South Africa, and Egypt 2006 is the first real opportunity for him to prove his worth on the international stage.
Bwalya will also bank on the considerable experience of two reliable performers - Andrew Sinkala and Laughter Chilembi.
Verdict: Zambia should be capable of beating both South Africa and Guinea, and on a given day should not necessarily be without a chance against the Tunisians.
If the Zambians advance to the knock-out stage, the biggest fear is that there may not be enough petrol in the tank to take them further than the last eight.
SOUTH AFRICA

Nickname: Bafana Bafana
Coach: Ted Dumitru
Captain: Sibusiso Zuma
Nations Cup record: Winners 1996; Qualified six times
What is there to say about this team that has not already been said already?
Under normal circumstances, the South Africans would be fancied to accompany holders Tunisia out of this group.
But having endured a dismal qualifying campaign where they came perilously close to making an embarrassing exit, they are not in a position to underestimate anyone.
Their preparations were overshadowed by the resignation of coach Stuart Baxter in November, and it will be a true test of their character to see if they can get their act together.
The South Africans spluttered through the qualifiers, losing four times in 10 matches to finish five points behind eventual group winners Ghana.
South Africa: BBC News Country Profile
And while there is a large measure of pride in hosting the 2010 World Cup finals, failure to qualify for the 2006 event in Germany caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Critics dismiss their chances of winning their second African title as nothing more than pie-in-the-sky stuff, but caretaker coach Ted Dumitru remains remarkably upbeat.
The former Kaizer Chiefs coach insists that Bafana Bafana will be contenders - a prediction which borders on the comical given that he picked a squad of largely untried local players.

A lot is expected of new Bafana Bafana captain Sibusiso Zuma
Key players: Dumitru says his team will mount a strong challenge if things suddenly click during the tournament.
This is always a possibility when the likes of Benni McCarthy, captain Sibusiso Zuma and young FC Copenhagen midfielder Elrio van Heerden are in the squad.
If he is in the mood, Portugal-based McCarthy can be a handful for any defence and will be keen to re-establish his diminishing credentials.
Then there is also the enigmatic Siyabonga Nomvete who can be a matchwinner on his day.
Verdict: Things are not exactly shipshape in the Bafana Bafana camp and unless Dumitru does something special, the South Africans will sink without trace.
So play safe, and do not bet a penny on them - it would need a footballing miracle of quite dramatic proportions for South Africa to claim the title.
GUINEA

Nickname: Syli Nationale
Coach: Patrice Neveu
Captain: Dianbobo Balde
Cup record: Runners-up 1976; Qualified eight times
It is no secret that Guinea long for a return of the good old days of the 1970s when they never entered any tournament just to make up the numbers.
Those were the days when Hafia won the African Champions Cup three times, Horoya took the African Cup Winners Cup and and Cherif Souleymane was voted African Footballer of the Year.
Since then, however, Guinean football has languished in the doldrums with the Syli Nationale hardly achieving anything one could write home about.
Which is why the fact that Guinea are not one of the favourites to lift the Nations Cup title is indisputable.
But the fighting qualities they displayed in the qualifying campaign make them a side no one will relish facing.
The Syli Nationale have a reasonable squad, as their 2004 Nations Cup quarter-final place shows, and they will have lofty ambitions in Egypt.
Guinea: BBC News Country Profile
Any thoughts they have of actually winning the Nations Cup should be dismissed as hallucinations, but Guinea will certainly add an unpredictable element to the group.
Most pundits would consider that a quarter-final appearance would represent an excellent result for this team.

Pascal Feindouno is one of Guinea's big-match performersKey players: Pascal Feindouno gave up the captaincy earlier in the year, saying he could not cope with the demands it placed on him.
But he remains the team's key asset and most pundits agree that Guinea are likely to go as far as he can carry them.
Scotland-based Dianbobo Balde is a defender who scares opponents with his giant frame while Sambegou Bangoura is another player with the benefit of European football.
Verdict: Guinea are a real threat to everyone in this group and a good result against South Africa in their opening game may provide the spark for a good campaign.
But few would expect to see any more than three matches from the Syli Nationale. So not many would be surprised to see them on the first plane home.

BBC SPORTS NEWS REPORT.

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