Preview: 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, Group A


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


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.


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.


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.


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.)

Brazil names squad to face trauma and Messi in WC qualifiers

BRASILIA, BRAZIL - JUNE 23: (L-R) Willian, Neymar and David Luiz of Brazil react after defeating Cameroon 4-1 during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group A match between Cameroon and Brazil at Estadio Nacional on June 23, 2014 in Brasilia, Brazil.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Brazil not only faces Argentina in World Cup qualifying next month but also the ghost of the 7-1 debacle against Germany in the 2014 World Cup semifinals, coach Tite said on Friday.

Brazil plays Lionel Messi’s side in the same Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte on Nov. 10. Five days later, Brazil is in Peru.

[ MORE: Neymar signs new deal ]

“The psychological work has been perfectly placed. We have to see that two years have passed. That time has brought us maturity,” Tite said at his squad announcement. “It is the same stadium, but we have to know that this is a different moment.”

There were few changes to the squad, which features the return of Bayern Munich winger Douglas Costa and Real Madrid defender Marcelo after injuries, and the absence of Chelsea midfielder Oscar.

Tite started out with convincing victories against Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, and Venezuela, which lifted Brazil from sixth position in South American qualifying to first. But his dream of coaching the five-time world champion will seem more real, he said, when they meet fifth-place Argentina and Messi.

“I am living a dream that every Brazilian coach has. To be in a Brazil v Argentina is a great honor,” he said. “To face Messi and all his virtues is such a challenge.”


Goalkeepers: Alisson (Roma), Weverton (Atletico Paranaense), Alex Muralha (Flamengo).

Defenders: Dani Alves (Juventus), Fagner (Corinthians), Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Miranda (Inter Milan), Gil (Shandong Luneng), Marquinhos (Paris Saint-Germain), Thiago Silva (Paris Saint-Germain), Rodrigo Caio (Sao Paulo).

Midfielders: Casemiro (Real Madrid), Fernandinho (Manchester City), Giuliano (Zenit St. Petersburg), Renato Augusto (Beijing Guoan), Paulinho (Guangzhou Evergrande), Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool), Lucas Lima (Santos), Willian (Chelsea).

Forwards: Douglas Costa (Bayern Munich), Gabriel Jesus (Palmeiras), Neymar (Barcelona), Roberto Firmino (Liverpool).

MLS weekend preview: Four playoff spots, Supporters’ Shield on the line

SANDY, UT - MARCH 12: Jordan Morris #13 of the Seattle Sounders FC and Chris Wingert #16 of Real Salt Lake try for the ball in the first half at Rio Tinto Stadium on March 12, 2016 in Sandy, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)
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First and foremost, for the unclear, our own Andy Edwards has put together a complete list of possibilities for MLS teams on Sunday’s final match day.

Read that here.

There will be a quick turnaround in on-field fortunes for some of Sunday’s competitors, and a nightmare of logistics for those remaining.

[ MORE: CONCACAF Champions League quarters set ]

As of right now, only three teams know their next match after Sunday; The Red Bulls, Colorado, and FC Dallas will get a full week to plan for whoever wins the knockout round matches.

The West remarkably still has three playoff spots on the line amongst four combatants. The remaining Western playoff team, LA, only knows that it will be home for one of the those four.

Over in the East, Philadelphia is likely to claim the final playoff spot barring a wild loss and a wild win for New England. But both Toronto and NYC are still up for first round byes, with the loser hosting a knockout game. DC and Montreal could still host knockout games as well.

It’s going to be a fun Sunday for the league, as every game has at least one opponent who needs a result. The marquee matches see a Cascadia Cup deciding match between Portland and Vancouver, a potential playoff decider between Seattle and RSL, and a tone-setter between LA and still Supporters’ Shield seeking FC Dallas.

Toronto FC vs. Chicago Fire
Vancouver vs. Portland
LA Galaxy vs. FC Dallas
Orlando City vs. DC United
Sporting KC vs. San Jose
New York City vs. Columbus
Seattle vs. Real Salt Lake
Colorado vs. Houston
Philadelphia vs. New York Red Bulls
New England vs. Montreal

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks: Score predictions for all 10 games

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: Christian Benteke of Crystal Palace celebrates scoring his sides third goal with his team mates during the Premier League match between Sunderland and Crystal Palace at the Stadium of Light on September 24, 2016 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)
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Week 9 of the 2016-17 Premier League season is here.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ] 

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Click play on the videos below to hear my score prediction and preview of each game.

[ VIDEOS: Preview all 10 games ]

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


West Ham 2-0 Sunderland – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Arsenal 3-0 Middlesbrough – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Hull City 1-3 Stoke City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Swansea 2-0 Watford – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]


Chelsea 1-1 Manchester United – (Sunday, 11 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Burnley 1-2 Everton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Manchester City 2-1 Southampton – (Sunday, 8:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Liverpool 3-2 West Brom – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]


Leicester City 1-2 Crystal Palace – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Bournemouth 1-1 Tottenham – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Premier League preview: Bournemouth vs. Tottenham Hotspur (video)

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  • Spurs won both matches in 15-16
  • Cherries unbeaten in three overall
  • Spurs 2W-2D on road this season

Tottenham’s treatment of new boys Bournemouth was downright disrespectful last season, and the improved Cherries would love a measure of payback (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports).

Spurs handled Bournemouth 3-0 at home last season after belting the Cherries 5-1 at Vitality Stadium in October.

[ MORE: USWNT’s Holiday has tumor removed ]

Almost exactly one year later, Bournemouth sits 11th with 11 points and is closer to the top of the table than the bottom.

Meanwhile, Spurs are again in a title race despite the continued absence of striker Harry Kane, who is back training but won’t be available for Saturday’s contest.

What they’re saying

Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe on facing Tottenham“I think we’re better prepared for these kind of games. We’re more hardened to Premier League football and our belief and confidence levels are better than what they previously were, but we have to prove it on the pitch. It’s going to be a real test for us. They have an outstanding manager who in my opinion is up there with the very best. The intensity at which his sides play makes them difficult opponents. They are general title contenders.”

Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino on Vincent Janssen“Always we need to give time. He’s young, he’s come in from the Netherlands and always the players that come from outside need time. He’s a striker that brings to the team different characteristics but I am happy with his behavior, his professionalism and how he is playing.”


It’ll be far from easy, and Howe certainly has a motivated team in form. Spurs’ quality will be on display as well, and both managers like to see their teams play free. Call it 2-2.