Preview: 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, Group A

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Group A, the only quartet without a traditional continental power, kicks off play at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations on Saturday in South Africa. Whereas Ghana, Nigeria, and Cote d’Ivoire take headlining slots in the competition’s other groups, a struggling host nation gets the preferred spot in the tournament’s first group. As a result, we’re left with a quartet where the highest ranked team has no history, the group’s former champions may be its weakest teams, and the team that has reason to think it can do some damage is could still tumble out after three games.

Welcome to the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations. Over the next three days, we’ll be giving you snapshots of the four, four-team groups. Today, we begin with Group A, a packet that starts the tournament at 11 a.m. Eastern on Saturday.

GROUP A: South Africa, Angola, Morocco, Cape Verde

SOUTH AFRICA

World rank: 85; CAF rank: 22; Best finish: 1996 Champions

Many will remember the Bafana Bafana from their role as hosts for the 2010 World Cup. There, they became the first hosts to fail to advance out of their group. Things didn’t improve competitively after the finals, with the team failing to qualify for the 2012 Cup of Nations in Gabon-Equatorial Guinea.

South Africa were absolved from a potential repeat embarrassment when, in response to domestic unrest in Libya, hosting duties were switched to the continent’s southern tip. Now it’s a matter of taking advantage of that fortune.

History: South Africa was banned from participation for political reasons until 1994, when they failed to qualify. As hosts in 1996, they won the competition in their first appearance and went on to qualify for seven successive finals (finishing second in 1998, third in 2000). They’ve missed the last two tournaments.

Players: South Africa’s biggest star is Everton winger Steven Pienaar, but with the 30-year-old three months into an international retirement, the hosts are left with a team with few recognizable names. Some will remember midfielder Siphiwe Tshabalala, the team’s most capped player (78), for his goal to open the 2010 World Cup, but with the possible exceptions of former Fulham midfielder Kagisho Dikgacoi (now with second-division Crystal Palace), forward Bernard Parker (who spent a short time with FC Twente), and defender Bongani Khumalo (who spent one season bouncing around England), only South African league experts will be familiar with this roster.

How they’ll play: Head coach Gordon Igesund has played both one and two-striker formations in pre-tournament friendlies, each featuring 28-year-old Mamelodi Sundowns striker Katlego Mphela as the main threat. His 23 international goals (in 49 games) are almost twice as many as the next most-prolific player on the roster (Parker, 12).

Expect athletic but direct play that will rely on opportunism more than creativity.

Outlook: As hosts, they should expect to get out of this group, but a knockout round spot is not a given. If this tournament was being played anywhere else, the Bafana Bafana would be unlikely to come out of this group.

ANGOLA

World rank: 78; CAF rank: 19; Best finish: Two quarterfinal appearances

Despite only qualifying for one World Cup (2006), Angola is making their fifth straight appearance in their continent’s championship. In 2012, only the goal difference tiebreaker kept the Antelopes from making their third straight quarterfinal appearance. That setback hasn’t kept the Angolans from setting ambitious goals for this tournament. Uruguayan coach Gustavo Ferrin, having guided his team to South Africa on a seven-match unbeaten run, is starting a top three finish.

History: Angola didn’t qualify for the finals until 1996 but have since back seven of 10 tournaments. They’ve never advanced beyond the round of eight.

Players: Most of Ferrin’s squad plays in the Angolan domestic league. Former Manchester United prospect Manucho Goncalves (Real Valladolid) is the most notable exception, his size and athleticism making him one of the more difficult marks in the tournament. Mateus (Nacional, Portugal) has been a regular in the team since their run to the knockout round at Germany 2006, Djalma (Kasımpaşa, Turkey) will provide the creative spark, while veteran Gilberto (AEL Limassol, Cyprus) will serve as the midfield linchpin.

It’s an experienced group that has seen relative success in this competition. You can see why Ferrin wants them to be ambitious.

How they’ll play: In the past, Angola’s usually featured Goncalves as the focal point of a two-attacker setup, with the team’s four-man midfield featuring a creator and destroyer. The team Ferrin’s selected hints he’ll set up the same way; however, this will be the 53-year-old’s first major senior competition. It remains to be seen how he’ll manage it.

The Antelopes don’t play the most intense brand of soccer, but the technical quality is there. And they’re capable of getting out on the counter.

Outlook: Angola has the talent and pedigree to get out of this group, but drawn with the host nation, their path to the final eight is not without pitfalls. There are no easy games in this packet, and while the Angolans should be favored to advance, a second straight near miss wouldn’t be a shock.

source: Getty ImagesMOROCCO

World rank:  74; CAF rank: 17; Best finish: 1976 Champions

The 2015 hosts are appearing in their eighth finals in nine tournaments, yet the northwest African nation’s results have been mostly disappointing. While they lost to the hosts in the final of Tunisia 2004, the Lions of the Atlas have only moved out of group one other time since 1998. This year, head coach Rachid Taoussi is without most of the countries most prominent stars, with Marouane Chamakh (West Ham), Adel Tarrabt (Queens Park Rangers), and Houssine Kharja (Qatar’s Al-Araby) not in the team that travelled to South Africa. Despite the upheaval, Taoussi predicts the Lions and South Africa will advance from the group.

History: In addition to their 1976 title, Morocco has finished second (2004) and third (1980). Add in their fourth place finishes in 1996 and 1998 and the Lions have made the final four five times. It’s the most accomplished history in the group.

Players: Chamakh, Tarrabt, Kharja and excluded Anzhi Makhachkala midfielder Mbark Boussoufa have combined for 186 caps and 38 goals. The 23-man team Taoussi’s taking to South Africa count a total of 208 appearances and 12 goals.

This isn’t merely a matter of taking a young team. Only six players in Taoussi’s 23-man squad are under 24 years of age.

The most important of them is 22-year-old Montpellier midfielder Younès Belhanda (right). A key figure in MHSC’s 2011-12 Ligue 1 title run, Belhanda is among the most talented players in this tournament. Morocco will need a lot of luck to advance if Belhanda doesn’t perform like this group’s best player.

How they’ll play: In their latest pre-tournament friendly against Namibia, Taossi started Fiorentina’s Mounir El Hamdaoui as a striker flanked in attack by Galatasaray’s Nordin Amrabat, and Liverpool’s Oussama Assaidi; however, it remains to be seen how the team sets up when Balhanda returns from injury. In all likelihood, Belhanda will have to do some heavy lifting to power the attack in front of sitters Karim El Ahmadi (Aston Villa) and Adil Hermach (Al-Hilal).

Outlook: Taoussi’s over confident. This team’s unlikely to break Morocco’s recent trend of disappointment.

CAPE VERDE

World rank: 70; CAF rank: 15; Best finish: Never previously qualified

In the always unpredictable world of African soccer, Cape Verde’s qualification was the most difficult to foresee. This year’s only finals debutants, the Blue Sharks qualified at the expense of Cameroon, a four-time champion that was trying to avoid the indignity of missing a second straight Cup. With their 3-2 aggregate win in the final playoff round, the island nation of around 500,000 people qualified for South Africa, leaving the Indomitable Lions at home.

Players: Defender Nando is the team captain and most experienced player (38 appearances) on a young and Verdean team that have had little time together. The more intriguing attacker is 23-year-old Lille forward Ryan Mendes, who has scored three goals in nine international appearances. Olhanesne’s 21-year-old attacker Djaniny had a goal against Cameroon, one of two he’s scored in four international appearances.

How they’ll play: In their latest friendly, coach Lúcio Antunes started with one up top against Nigeria, though with players like Mendes and Djaniny starting on the bench, it’s unclear that’s how Antunes plans to play come Saturday’s opener against South Africa. As with most things Cape Verde soccer, how they’ll approach their first major tournament is an unknown.

Outlook: Having quickly acquired a reputation for a well-organized in defense, Cape Verde shouldn’t be an easy match for any team. However, they get some bad luck having to face the host nation in their Cup of Nations debut. While many expect the Sharks to give South Africa a difficult time on Saturday, it is their first major tournament match, and they’ll be on the road.

Had that match come later in the tournament, the Verdeans may be better prepared (having shaken off their first tournament jitters). In game one, they may miss out on valuable points they’d need to advance.

SCHEDULE

Saturday, Jan. 19, 11 a.m. ET – South Africa vs. Cape Verde
Saturday, Jan. 19, 2 p.m. ET – Angola vs. Morocco
Wednesday, Jan. 23, 10 a.m. ET – South Africa vs. Angola
Wednesday, Jan. 23, 1 p.m. ET – Morocco vs. Cape Verde
Sunday, Jan. 27, 12 p.m. ET – Morocco vs. South Africa
Sunday, Jan. 27, 12 p.m. ET – Cape Verde vs. Angola

Wild guess order of finish:

1. South Africa (7 pts.)
2. Angola (5 pts.)
3. Cape Verde (4 pts.)
4. Morocco (0 pts.)

Spanish federation maintains five-match ban for Ronaldo

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MADRID (AP) The Spanish soccer federation has ratified its decision to suspend Cristiano Ronaldo for five matches.

The Real Madrid forward will miss the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup against Barcelona. Madrid holds a 3-1 advantage.

He will also miss the first four matches of the Spanish league, which Madrid opens on Sunday at Deportivo La Coruna.

Ronaldo was suspended for one match after being sent off during Sunday’s first leg of the Spanish Super Cup. Spanish media reports said Madrid appealed Ronaldo’s second yellow card, when the Portugal forward was booked for diving.

Ronaldo was given an additional four-match ban for shoving the referee in the back after he was shown the red card.

USMNT’s John Brooks out three months with thigh injury

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Uh oh.

The U.S. men’s national team will have to do without center back John Brooks for their crucial upcoming 2018 World Cup qualifiers after his club side, Wolfbsurg, confirmed he ruptured tendons in his thigh in a German Cup game last weekend.

Brooks, 24, became the most-expensive U.S. player in history this summer after he joined Wolfsburg from Bundesliga rivals Hertha Berlin for $23.3 million but the German-American will now spend a considerable amount of time on the sidelines.

“John Anthony Brooks will be out for VfL Wolfsburg long term,” Wolfsburg said in a statement. “In the first round of the DFB Cup the American ruptured a tendon in his right front thigh at FC Eintracht Norderstedt. This resulted in in-depth investigations on Tuesday and Wednesday and it is expected that Brooks will be able to return to the team training in about three months.”

So, a huge blow for Bruce Arena who will now have to find a new partner for Geoff Cameron at the heart of the USA’s defense.

Tim Ream, Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez will be the frontrunners to slot into the back four, but Cameron and Steve Birnbaum struck up a good partnership in the past. Ream, who has had a fine start to the season with Fulham, would seem like the best option, especially with his ability to play as a left-sided center back.

Whatever way you slice it up, this isn’t great news for the USMNT ahead of their qualifiers against Costa Rica at Red Bull Arena on Sept. 1 and at Honduras on Sept. 5.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Saints won’t sell Van Dijk; Aurier to Tottenham

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Southampton are said to be interested in signing Lazio’s Dutch international center back Wesley Hoedt and have issued an update on Virgil Van Dijk‘s future at St Mary’s.

[ MORE: Danny Rose to Chelsea?

Multiple outlets, including the Sun, say Saints have bid $20 million for Hoedt, 23, and many believe that is the first chain of action in star Virgil van Dijk leaving St Mary’s.

Van Dijk, 26, has put in a transfer request with Liverpool and Chelsea said to be interested in the $80 million valued center back, but the Press Association is reporting that Hoedt is not seen as a replacement for VVD.

Southampton continue to insist that their star man isn’t for sale despite his desire to leave and in an interview with BBC Radio Solent, Saints chairman Ralph Krueger issued an update on van Dijk’s situation on Wednesday.

“Our stance remains based on our strategy from May when we spoke last. I already told you the numbers that we have transferred in and transferred out and it is time to stop that. We really thought this was a good summer for that. Strength of the contracts, age of the group and the experiences of last year like going to a cup final gave us the feeling this is a group that tasted that winning and keeping them together would give us the chance to reach another level.

“Virgil is not the only player that is involved in this he is part of the whole strategy of not selling. Nobody is for sale that we don’t want to sell and so he is not for sale in this window. We have said it more than once. We are not done with the window yet. We are still looking at some options. I am not going to promise anything. It has got to be something that truly strengthens the squad and fits into our group.”

Saints currently have Japanese international Maya Yoshida, England U-21 international Jack Stephens and Poland U-21 defender Jan Bednarek as their three central defensive options available, and it is likely Hoedt would come in to take a starting role in place of either Yoshida or Stephens.

If Van Dijk’s situation can be resolved amicably and he returns to the squad then Saints’ defense would be much stronger with two Dutch internationals at the heart of their defense. Conceding goals hasn’t been the biggest issue over the past 12 months for the south coast club but a drought of six home Premier League games without a goal is perhaps the biggest concern for new manager Mauricio Pellegrino.


French outlet L’Equipe are reporting that Tottenham have agreed to sign Paris Saint-Germain’s Serge Aurier for $25.7 million.

Aurier was previously linked with a move to Manchester United and both Inter Milan and Juventus are said to be interested in the defender.

The right back, 24, has fallen down the pecking order for Les Parisiens after Dani Alves joined PSG from Juventus this summer, plus Thomas Meunier is also around at the Parcs des Princes.

Per the report the deal for Aurier is fully agreed but is dependent on his appeal hearing against his conviction of assaulting a police officer in Paris. He was handed a two-year suspended prison sentence and that could complicate a move to the UK as Aurier could not travel to England to play in PSG’s UEFA Champions League game at Arsenal last November.

The Ivory Coast international has pace, power and is versatile, making him a perfect fit for Spurs’ defensive unit. After losing Kyle Walker to Manchester City for $64.3 million many believed Kieran Tripier would be the automatic starter for Tottenham at right back, but with the England international currently out injured Spurs academy product Kyle Walker-Peters (I know, confusing Stick with it) put in a man of the match display at right back against Newcastle United during the opening weekend of the Premier League season.

Aurier’s added experience would help Spurs in the UCL this season and there’s no questioning they need some extra cover in the back with Mauricio Pochettino also said to be closing in on a move for Ajax’s Colombian center back Davinson Sanchez.

Premier League player Power Rankings – Week 1

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It is time to take stock of the Premier League’s opening weekend and select the top 20 players who dazzled to open up the 2017-18 campaign.

[ MORE: Power Rankings archive ]

Remember: this is a list of the top 20 performing players right now in the Premier League.

Let us know in the comments section below if you agree with the selections of the top 20 players in the PL right now.


  1. Romelu Lukaku (Man United)
  2. Steve Mounie (Huddersfield)
  3. Nemanja Matic (Man United)
  4. David Silva (Man City)
  5. Alexandre Laczette (Arsenal)
  6. Jamie Vardy (Leicester City)
  7. Dele Alli (Tottenham)
  8. Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
  9. Wayne Rooney (Everton)
  10. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)
  11. Kevin De Bruyne (Man City)
  12. Christian Eriksen (Tottenham)
  13. Alvaro Morata (Chelsea)
  14. Kyle Walker (Man City)
  15. Stefano Okaka (Watford)
  16. Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield)
  17. Sam Vokes (Burnley)
  18. Jay Rodriguez (West Brom)
  19. Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea)
  20. Ryan Bertrand (Southampton)