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.)

Porter’s Timbers just wanted in the playoffs, now they’re 90 mins away from a title

PORTLAND, OR - NOVEMBER 22: Head coach Caleb Porter of the Portland Timbers looks on from the bench before the match against the FC Dallas at Providence Park on November 22, 2015 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
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Midway through the season, it was reasonable to question whether Caleb Porter could hang onto his job as Portland Timbers coach. With two games to play in the regular season, the Timbers were on the verge of missing the playoffs entirely, that job status still hung in the balance.

[ MORE: Timbers hold off Dallas | Crew advances past RBNY ]

Yet, this is Major League Soccer, where anything is possible. “Hot at the right time” is a mantra, and Portland hasn’t tasted defeat since early October. The Timbers are 6W-2T since losing to Sporting KC on Oct. 3.

Whether that’s “more exciting” than another league’s system is a conversation for another day, because today’s conversation is about what Porter and the Timbers have done in rising to within 90 minutes of an MLS title.

From Timbers.com:

“When we started the year, we wanted to get into the playoffs and win a trophy,” Timbers head coach Caleb Porter said in his post game comments outside a champagne and beer-drenched locker room. “That was the goal, and here we are. We’ve won one, and now we want to win the big one. So it’s very satisfying.”

And that’s the thing: You just have to get in. I imagine most Portland fans aren’t thinking, “Does this feel good in relation to how it would feel if we went wire-to-wire as champions?” They are thinking, “This feels good.”

The Timbers just needed to get in. Columbus, too. And now they are playing for a title with some of the better all-around players in the league, running the gamut from veteran savvy (Nat Borchers) to youthful flair (Lucas Melano).

MLS Best XI comes from a wide variety of backgrounds

Toronto FC 's Sebastian Giovinco, center,  tries to take the ball between Columbus Crew's Harrison Afful, left, and Ethan Finlay during the second half of an MLS soccer game in Toronto, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
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Major League Soccer rolled out its Best XI on Sunday, with few surprises.

Though the lack of fullbacks perhaps rightly cause Taylor Twellman and others to roll their eyes, the MLS’ 3-4-3 formation looks daunting.

[ MORE: Timbers hold off Dallas | Crew advances past RBNY ]

With expected MVP attacker Sebastian Giovinco of Toronto pacing the field, the XI is strong and filled with players from different backgrounds.

From American College Soccer, to Costa Rica, Serie A and the Premier League, there’s no one unifying thread. Heck, Benny Feilhaber and Kei Kamara mark careers reborn with the win, perhaps shining as bright as ever.

Best XI
Goalkeeper: Luis Robles (RBNY)
Defenders: Laurent Ciman (Montreal); Matt Hedges (Dallas); Kendall Waston (Vancouver)
Midfielders: Ethan Finlay (Columbus); Dax McCarty (RBNY); Benny Feilhaber (Sporting KC); Fabian Castillo (Dallas)
Forwards: Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto); Kei Kamara (Columbus); Robbie Keane (L.A. Galaxy)

It’s hard to call out snubs on a team this loaded, but David Ousted from Vancouver certainly deserves a shout, and Darlington Nagbe is probably the most aggrieved omission. But who comes out for the recently-made USMNT star?

Neymar, Ronaldo, Messi are Ballon d’Or finalists; USWNT’s Lloyd up for women’s honor

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 17:  Soccer player Carli Lloyd poses for a portrait at the USOC Rio Olympics Shoot at Quixote Studios on November 17, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Carli Lloyd and Neymar are among the new names on the shortlists for FIFA’s top individual honors.

Of course, Barcelona’s Brazilian joins a pair of familiar faces in Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar. One will win the Ballon d’Or on Jan. 11.

On the ladies side, USWNT star Carli Lloyd has to be considered a front-runner to become just the third American to win the FIFA World Player of the Year on the women’s side.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup | Bundesliga wrap ]

Abby Wambach and Mia Hamm have also won the award, though Germany has won two-straight behind the heroics of Nadine Angerer and Nadine Kessler.

This time, it’s German striker Celia Sasic who will try to bring home the honors, and Japan’s Aya Miyama is also on the shortlist.

The coaches for Lloyd and Miyama, Jill Ellis and Norio Sasaki, are up for Women’s Coach of the Year, along with England’s Mark Sampson.

On the men’s coach side, the honor is between Luis Enrique (Barcelona), Pep Guardiola (Bayern Munich) and Jorge Sampaoli (Chile).

Premier League Playback: Costa’s time up at Chelsea?

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Diego Costa took his time as he strode out to warm up on the sidelines late in the second half of Chelsea’s draw at Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday. Costa, 27, looked unhappy, to say the least, and then as he returned to the bench as a petulant act occurred which may be seen as the beginning of the end of his Chelsea career.

[ MORE: Costa “privileged” at Chelsea ]

Costa took off his his warm-up bib and tossed it towards Jose Mourinho and his coaching staff flippantly as youngsters Kenedy and Ruben Loftus-Cheek were instead selected to come off the bench with Chelsea’s main striker left to stew and sit in the cold at White Hart Lane. No less than 10 minutes after the full time whistle Costa waltzed past the mixed zone and walked straight onto the Chelsea team bus where he sat for over an hour waiting for the rest of his teammates to arrive.

[ MORE: Poch trolling Mourinho? | 3 things we learned

I wonder what the Spanish international was thinking… Anyway, here’s what Mourinho (who said he has no issue with Costa) had to say post-game when asked about benching Costa following their public disagreement in Chelsea’s win away at Maccabi Tel-Aviv last week.

“Diego is very privileged because he was the last one to be on the bench,” Mourinho said. “Everyone else has been: the captain; Ivanovic, Cahill, the vice-captain of England, Fabregas, Pedro, Hazard, player of the season, Oscar, everyone was on the bench. Diego was privileged because I kept him in the team for all these matches. Today we thought the best strategy was this one. We are happy with the decision and the players. If we had won 1-0, our performance would have been considered tremendous. You will still say it was good.”

With just four goals in 17 appearances for the Blues this season, Costa’s slump is clear for all to see compared to his start to the season last year where he scored 11 goals in his first 17 games. It’s not just recently he’s struggled either, and without scoring goals regularly and being more interested in fighting, pushing, shoving and diving, Costa doesn’t seem to be adding much to Chelsea’s attack after initially taking to the PL like a duck to water.

Rumors suggest Mourinho is looking to buy a new striker in January to replace Costa, with the Brazilian born forward going through a tough time and Chelsea sticking by him despite two bans from the FA in 2015 for misconduct on the pitch.

Premier League Schedule – Week 14

Result Recap & Highlights
A. Villa 2-3 Watford Recap, watch here
B’mouth 3-3 Everton Recap, watch here
C. Palace 5-1 N’castle Recap, watch here
Leicester 1-1 Man Utd Recap, watch here
Liverpool 1-0 Swansea Recap, watch here
Man City 3-1 Saints Recap, watch here
Norwich 1-1 Arsenal Recap, watch here
Sunderland 2-0 Stoke Recap, watch here
Tottenham 0-0 Chelsea Recap, watch here
West Ham 1-1 WBA Recap, watch here

Loic Remy and Radamel Falcao are both set to return to action this week, so Chelsea will have options up top and given the way Eden Hazard led the line in a false nine formation at Spurs on Sunday, Costa could soon be well down the pecking order. If he continues to react anything like he did on Sunday then Mourinho will have a big decision to make with regards to his main man up top.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Hazard, who replaced Costa in the lineup, was superb. The diminutive Belgian battled against Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen on his own and won balls in the air, made intelligent runs in-behind which Mourinho applauded and the only thing he didn’t do was score as he headed over in the first half and forced Hugo Lloris into a terrific save in the second half from a wonderfully controlled volley.

ProSoccerTalk asked Mourinho about Hazard’s display and if the reigning PFA Player of the Year is getting back to his best.

“I think that was his best game of the season,” Mourinho said. “His game was more complete, in both directions: with and without the ball and he was attacking people with the ball and attacking the space without it. He was jumping and trying in the air against the two Belgian boys who are two meters tall. He did fantastically well. Even without scoring, his appetite to be important in the game and make an impact was there.”

Is Hazard, supported by Oscar, Willian and Pedro, the answer for Chelsea? Will Costa return to the starting lineup? Will Mourinho use Falcao or Remy instead?

Plenty of questions remain around the reigning champs but Mourinho has sent a clear message out to Costa which he must absorb quickly: nobody is bigger than the team. Shape up or get out.


He did it. Jamie Vardy, 28, became the first player in Premier League history to score in 11-straight games as his opener put Leicester City 1-0 up against Manchester United in a game they eventually drew 1-1.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned from Leicester 1-1 Man United ]

Vardy’s remarkable rise from non-league to the Premier League and the English national team has been much documented and he deserves all the praise he is getting for beating Ruud van Nistelrooy’s long-standing record and doing something the greats of the PL didn’t manage.

Soak in the atmosphere from the King Power Stadium in the video above as the Vardy party went on long into the night. Next up: Jimmy Dunne’s record of scoring in 12-straight games for Sheffield United in the 1931-32 English top-flight season.


Arsenal’s fans had their hearts in their mouths as Alexis Sanchez went down clutching his hamstring in the second half of the Gunners’ draw at Norwich City on Sunday.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Despair then turned to anger, most of which was directed at Arsene Wenger, as the Chilean forward was forced off with what looked like a serious hamstring pull which could keep him out of a pivotal stretch of games. In his pregame presser on Friday Wenger admitted that Sanchez was struggling with a hamstring knock. He selected him anyway and now Arsenal’s main man is out, with others dropping like flies around him.

Wenger was less than impressed when the press hounded him after the game asking: why on earth risk Sanchez when your talisman was already struggling?

“Nobody is scientifically developed enough, not even the press, to predict exactly when a guy will be injured,” Wenger said. “I would have rested him but he felt perfectly alright before the game. We declared that he had no problem. Despite all the tests he looked alright. The players are there to play football not to be rested when the press decides that they need to be rested. He [Alexis] says it is a kick on his hamstring but I believe that is not really the reality.”

The reality is that Wenger got this wrong. His vast experience should have told him that Sanchez resting against Norwich was the right decision.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

Now, the Chilean superstar joins Francis Coquelin, Laurent Koscielny and Santi Cazorla (both injured in the game at Norwich), Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky and Theo Walcott on the treatment table. No matter how influential all of those players are, Sanchez is the key ingredient and Wenger simply had to manage the situation better. Not just on Sunday but in recent weeks he’s had the chance to bring Sanchez off for the final 30 minutes of games in blowout wins but has failed to do so. In truth, this is nothing new. November is always the month when Arsenal’s squad seems to suffer with injuries as their early-season promise evaporates before the festive season arrives and then reemerges around Easter when the squad is back to full health.

In the past Wenger has said that resting Sanchez has actually had an adverse impact on his play, so maybe that swayed his mind. Regardless, Wenger is a manager and has to manage the situation. Sanchez was always going to declare himself fit because, well, he’s a player. It’s up to Wenger to be a manager and make the tough decisions in the short-term which will benefit Arsenal in the long-term. Now, Sanchez could be out for a long-time and Arsenal will suffer greatly because of that.

Highlights from Arsenal’s clash with Norwich, and every game during Week 14, can be found in the video below.


The latest episode of Premier League Download is out as Roger Bennett goes behind-the-scenes to find out what Crystal Palace’s fanatical supporters are all about.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Below you can watch “South London and Proud” in full as the Eagles continue to soar up the table and American investors are ready to take over during the festive period.

Fun times ahead at Selhurst Park.

Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an in-depth look at the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here.