Preview: 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, Group D


The final group to kickoff at South Africa 2013 has the continent’s two top-rated teams, though there’s a clear favorite to finish first in group F. As always, Cote d’Ivoire was the pick going into Africa’s confederation championship, but with Algeria and Tunisia in their group, the perpetual picks have two capable North African hurdles ahead of a knockout round appearance.

Togo rounds out a quartet that’s been curiously labeled a group of death, one that begins play on Tuesday.

GROUP D: Cote d’Ivoire, Tunisia, Algeria, Togo


World rank: 14; CAF rank: 1; Best finish: Champions in 1992.

They’re the favorite on name value alone, but oh, what a set of names. Les Elephants have the two best players in Africa, talent that makes them obvious favorites. Their results, however, have never matched their reputation, and although Sabri Lamouchi’s team is again touted by the casual fan to take home Africa’s championship, their often excessively casual play has left them title-less over the last two decades.

History: Egypt has seven titles. Ghana and Cameroon have four titles. Even Congo DR has won twice. How has Cote d’Ivoire only won one title in 28 previous editions of this tournament?

It’s not that they haven’t had success in the absolute sense. The Ivorians have finished in the top three seven times, but with three semifinal appearances in the last four tournaments, the Elephants have become Africa’s nearly men, each tournament representing their next chance to not break through.

Players: Sorry Robin van Persie, but Yaya Touré was the English Premier League’s best player last season. While this year he hasn’t replicated the dominant form he showed in 2011-12, he is still Africa’s best player. If he plays for Cote d’Ivoire like he did for Manchester City, Cote d’Ivoire will win this competition.

Then there’s Drogba. He’s 34, been in China for seven months, but Didier Drogba (Shanghai Shenhua) may still be one of the most dangerous players in the world. If he plays like he did in March through May (in Champions League), Cote d’Ivoire will win this competition. (Yes, there are a lot of ways the Ivorians win this competition.)

Then there’s Gervinho (Arsenal), Cheick Tioté (Newcastle), Siaka Tiéné (Paris Saint-Germain), Emmanuel Eboué (Galatasaray), Didier Zokora (Trabzonspor, Turkey), along with a host of other players that would help the Ivorians survive in most of the big European leagues. On paper, they are the best team in this tournament.

How they’ll play: This is a broken record. It comes up in almost every snapshot, and it speaks to the lack of cohesion in these teams. It also explains why, beyond Africa, talented teams like Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria, and these Ivorians have had limited success in international competitions …

But the midfield will by the key for the Ivorians. Cote d’Ivoire has a great attack, solid defending, and excellent players in the middle, but the way that midfield plays is not enough to get the most out of Drogba, Gervinho, and Max Gradel (Saint Etienne) – the likely starters in Lamouchi’s 4-3-3.

That’s why this year might be different. Whereas in the past the big African teams have relied on the likes of John Obi Mikel, Michael Essien, and (lately) Alex Song to transcend their club roles and become more progressive players for their national teams, Yaya Touré — after years of being asked to do the same — has actually played and executed in more advanced positions for City. Now, instead of a team speculating a talented player can flip a switch for three weeks, Cote d’Ivoire has a basis to think this can actually work.

Outlook: This group won’t give the Ivorians any problem. If things go right, you’ll see steady improvement throughout there first two games (and cruise through the third), giving Les Elephants momentum and confidence they can carry into the final eight.


World rank: 53; CAF rank: 10; Best finish: Champions in 2004.

Hindsight has painted Tunisia’s 2012 run as surprising, the Eagles of Carthage pushing Ghana in the round of eight before losing in extra time. The evaluation shows how overlooked the North Africans have become. Consistent qualifiers and a decent bet to make it our of most groups, the Tunisians have become too predictable to be interesting. As a result, they tend to get overlooked.

History: Tunisia has qualified for 11-straight tournaments, getting out of their group eight times. In that time they’ve made three semifinals, two finals, and won the tournament at home in 2004.

Players: Aymen Abdennour (Toulouse) is the base of the team, the 23-year-old central defender key to the Tunisian back line. Veteran Wissem Ben Yahia (Mersin İdmanyurdu, Turkey) will shield the defense, with Oussama Darragi (Sion) and 22-year-old Youssef Msakni (Kuwait SC) creating in support of the team’s only consistent scoring threat: Issam Jemâa (Kuwait SC).

How they’ll play: A 4-3-3 will allow Msakni, Jemaa and Saber Khelifa (Evian, France) to exhibit a skillful attack that instinctively plays on the counter but is capable of more. The team’s pressing can be problematic for a continental style that’s used to getting time on the ball while approaching the attacking half. That stylistic difference makes Tunisia a difficult matchup for most teams, a difference that’s capable of getting results that transcend their base talent level.

Outlook: This might be the year Tunisia doesn’t advance, which would be no fault of their own. With both Cote d’Ivoire and Algeria in their group, they’ll need to pull one mild upset to get through. It could happen in game one, a match with Algeria that both sides concede would decide the second team out of this group.


World rank: 22; CAF rank: 2; Best finish: Champions in 1990.

After winning a fall 2009 playoff in Khartoum to advance to the World Cup past African champions Egypt, Algeria went into meltdown mode. They made the final four of Angola 2010 before imploding in the semis against the Pharoahs. At the World Cup, they were best known as the other team on the field during Landon Donovan’s goal.

After failing to qualify for Equatorial Guinea-Gabon in 2012, the Desert Foxes are back, with former Cote d’Ivoire head coach Vahid Halilhodžić trying to bring his heavy-handed stability to a team that was distracted by internal tensions.

History: Like Tunisia, Algeria has a consistent record of qualification, making 15 of the last 18 Cup of Nations. And like Tunisia, the only time they’ve taken home the trophy was when they hosted. That was one of only two times the Foxes have made the final.

Players: The Foxes have undergone a refactoring after their 2009 successes. Gone are players like Nadir Belhadj, Karim Matmour, Kader Ghezzal, Mourad Meghni, and Anthar Yahi – the core of Algeria’s previous team. Halilhodžić’s current team has nobody whose been capped more the 25 times (thanks in part to his omissions of Madjid Bougherra and Rafik Halliche).

Valencia attacker Sofiane Feghouli is the most dangerous man on the current team. He’ll be a problem for every left back he’s match up against this tournament. Veteran Marseille midfelder Foued Kadir will be tasked with finding him, while forward Islam Slimani (Belouizdad, Algeria) will need to take advantage of the chances Feghouli creates. Also expect contributions off the bench from Ryad Boudebouz (Sochaux, France).

At the back, Carl Medjani (Ajaccio, France), Djamel Mesbah (Milan), and Liassine Cadamuro (Real Sociedad) feature in one of the tournament’s better back lines, one that will be protected by Getafe’s Mehdi Lacen.

How they’ll play: Whereas before Algeria would shift between a 3-5-2 and 4-4-2, now the Halilhodžić has the team going between 4-4-2 and 4-3-3, with more of the latter thanks to players like Feghouli, Boudebouz and El Arbi Soudani (Vitoria Guimaraes, Portugal). Like other North African teams, they’ve tended to excessive rely on counter attacking in recent years. If you play off the Algerians, you’ll rarely hurt.

Outlook: Most are picking them to get out of this group, but it’s a tossup between them and Tunisia. The order of games might end up deciding who goes through, with Cote d’Ivoire’s (lack of) third game incentives potentially giving one team an advantage.


World rank: 110; CAF rank: 31; Best finish: Six group stage exits.

Their place in this group has led to many’s conclusion this is the group of death, but Togo’s reputation is based on the presence of one world class player. Beyond a potentially unstoppable striker, they aren’t much, and given that striker almost skipped the tournament, Didier Six is right to bemoan preparations disrupted by a compensation row.

History: Togo’s only qualified for seven tournaments (participating in six) and has never advanced beyond the group stage. With only one World Cup appearance (where they finished 30th), the Sparrow Hawks have no history of success at major tournaments.

Players: The one other player that has the talent to match the Ivorian duo is Emmanuel Adebayor (Tottenham). But until last week, it was unclear Togoan No. 9 was going to come to the tournament. At first it was reservations spurring from a 2010 Angolan rebel assault that kept the team out of that year’s championship. Then, it because a question over internal federation issues. Abedayor has been a consistently inconsistent presence for a team that depends on his talents.

Beyond Adebayor, it’s a pretty non-descript squad. Nine players are based in France, with Reims’ 34-year-old goalkeeper Kossi Agassa providing some needed experience. Defender Daré Nibombé (Boussu Dour, Belgium) is the team’s most-capped player with 67 appearances, while veteran Moustapha Salfiou is still a probable starter despite not having a club.

How they’ll play: Another 4-3-3 one that will both leave Emmanuel Adebayor isolated as well as stretch the defense enough to create room for his speed to exploit. His chances will be rare as Togo sees very little control of their matches.

Outlook: Some team has to finish last.


Tuesday, Jan. 22, 10:00 a.m. Eastern – Cote d’Ivoire versus Togo
Tuesday, Jan. 22, 1:00 p.m. Eastern – Tunisia versus Algeria
Saturday, Jan. 26, 10:00 a.m. Eastern – Cote d’Ivoire versus Tunisia
Saturday, Jan, 26, 1:00 p.m. Eastern – Algeria versus Togo
Wednesday, Jan. 30, 12:00 p.m. Eastern – Algeria versus Cote d’Ivoire
Wednesday, Jan. 30, 12:00 p.m. Eastern – Togo versus Tunisia

Wild guess order of finish:

1. Cote d’Ivoire (7 pts.)
2. Algeria (5 pts.)
3. Tunisia (4 pts.)
4. Togo (0 pts.)

Messi returns for Argentina qualifiers vs. Brazil, Colombia

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JUNE 26:  Lionel Messi #10 of Argentina takes the ball against the Chile during the Copa America Centenario Championship match at MetLife Stadium on June 26, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.Chile defeated Argentina 0-0 with the 4-2 win in the shootout.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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BUENOS AIRES (AP) — Having fully recovered from a groin injury, Barcelona star Lionel Messi was named on Friday in Argentina’s squad to face Brazil and Colombia in the next round of World Cup qualifiers.

Messi has been in fine form for Barcelona since coming back from his latest niggling injury, scoring four goals in two matches, including a superb hat trick against Manchester City in the Champions League on Wednesday.

He has not played for his country since scoring the winner in a 1-0 win against Uruguay on Sept. 1.

In his absence, Argentina drew 2-2 away to Peru and lost 1-0 at home to Paraguay, putting it in fifth place and out of the top four positions that ensure a direct spot for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Messi’s return will be in Belo Horizonte against leaders Brazil, which has won its four first matches under new coach Tite.

Five days later, Edgardo Bauza’s Argentina side hosts fourth-place Colombia.


Goalkeepers: Nahuel Guzman, (Tigres), Sergio Romero (Manchester United), Geronimo Rulli, (Real Sociedad).

Defenders: Martin Demichelis (Espanyol), Mateso Musacchio (Villarreal), Nicolas Otamendi (Manchester City), Ramiro Funes Mori (Everton), Gabriel Mercado, (Sevilla), Facundo Roncaglia (Celta Vigo), Emanuel Mas (San Lorenzo), Pablo Zabaleta, (Manchester City).

Midfielders: Javier Mascherano (Barcelona), Guido Pizarro (Tigres), Lucas Biglia (Lazio), Ever Banega (Inter Milan), Enzo Perez (Valencia), Nicolas Gaitan (Atletico Madrid), Angel Di Maria (Paris Saint-Germain), Julio Buffarini (Sao Paulo), Marcos Acuna (Racing Club).

Strikers: Angel Correa (Atletico Madrid), Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Gonzalo Higuain (Juventus), Paulo Dybala (Juventus), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City), Lucas Pratto (Atletico Mineiro).

Guardiola: Aguero, Kompany have nothing to worry about at Man City

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 15:  An injured Vincent Kompany of Manchester City (4) speaks to Sergio Aguero of Manchester City as he leaves the pitch during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg match between Manchester City FC and FC Dynamo Kyiv at the Etihad Stadium on March 15, 2016 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Both Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany have nothing to worry about regarding their place in the Manchester City squad, according to manager Pep Guardiola.

Neither was in the starting lineup for the Champions League loss to Barcelona, with Kompany not even in the 18. But according to Guardiola, he had his reasons for both.

“Vincent was not perfectly fit,” Guardiola said. “Sergio, I said after the game, was a tactical decision. If Sergio decides to leave it will be his decision.”

The former Barcelona manager played a striker-less formation against the La Liga giants, employing Kevin De Bruyne as a false 9. It failed, with Barcelona storming through en route to a 4-0 win, with Lionel Messi scoring a hat-trick.

Kompany has struggled with injuries the past two seasons, missing all of this season so far, half of last year, a healthy portion of the previous campaign with various injuries from hamstring problems to calf tweaks to groin pulls. According to Guardiola, it has left a permanent mark on the Belgian defender’s psyche.

“One day, in the training session, he said: ‘I didn’t feel like this [good],’” Guardiola said. “In that moment, when his head is not ready and with what happened in the last two years, it is better to stay out. I don’t want to put a lot of pressure about how many games we want him to play or set big, big targets. So it’s just try to train good and after a week of training no injuries, we’ll play a game, and after that another one. And after that we’ll see.”

Timmy Chandler, Frankfurt thrash Bobby Wood, Hamburg 3-0

SINSHEIM, GERMANY - AUGUST 01:  Coach Markus Gisdol of Hoffenheim reacts during the friendly match between 1899 Hoffenheim and AFC Bournemouth at Wirsol Rhein-Neckar-Arena on August 1, 2015 in Sinsheim, Germany.  (Photo by Daniel Kopatsch/Getty Images)
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Hamburg may have made a coaching change, but that didn’t change their immediate fortunes.

Bobby Wood and company fell to fellow USMNTer Timmy Chandler and Frankfurt 3-0 at Volksparkstadion. It was a rough home opener for new Hamburg manager Markus Gisdol, as former Fulham and Tottenham midfielder Lewis Holtby opened the scoring with an unfortunate own-goal after an ugly giveaway.

Things got worse as Dennis Diekmeier picked up his second yellow card shortly after halftime, and it was gravy from there for Frankfurt as Shani Tarashaj and Haris Seferovic bagged goals to secure the win.

Hamburg, a club that narrowly staved off relegation in a playoff last season, has just a measly two points through eight matches. They fired manager Bruno Labbadia after just a month, but it hasn’t gone much better for Gisdol as a road draw with Borussia Monchengladbach is the only salvageable result through three thus far.

Bobby Wood’s honeymoon start to the league season for Hamburg is long gone. He scored two goals in two games to start the year, but hasn’t hit the back of the net since.

Timmy Chandler, on the other hand, he’s played the full 90 minutes in every game for Frankfurt since the opener, assisting a goal in the 2-2 draw with Bayern Munich last weekend. He’s helped Frankfurt move to fourth in the league, three points behind Bayern and Koln and Red Bull Leipzig between them (what?!).

Jose Mourinho says Chelsea can’t “delete” him from its history

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 20:  Jose Mourinho the manager of Manchester United looks on during the UEFA Europa League Group A match between Manchester United FC and Fenerbahce SK at Old Trafford on October 20, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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With Manchester United set to visit Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, the Special One will be returning to his former stomping grounds, a place where he spent six tumultuous seasons spread across two separate reigns.

While Jose Mourinho insisted he has “no hard feelings” for his former club and the way things ended, but did not mince words the subject of his former boss came up.

While Mourinho insisted he has “respect” for Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, telling Sky Sports, “We were never friends. We were never close to each other. So he is just a person that I keep very respected.”

Mourinho also said that, even if The Blues wanted to, “They couldn’t delete me from Chelsea history. They belong to my history too. No bad feelings,” Mourinho told Sky Sports. The owner, he decided to sack me…the fans, they have no power. They show day by day, match after match, that they wanted me, but in this profile of club, the fans have no power. In some clubs, especially in some Latin countries, the format of the club, the fans have real power on the board and with the president and owners, but here they have no power so Mr Abramovich decided to sack me, but I left with not one bad word about anyone or anybody at the club.”

The 53-year-old said the titles he won at Chelsea were proof that “I did my job.” He finished by saying that no matter the treatment from fans, he will always hold Chelsea as he does all his other stops. “From me, you are not going to have, ever, a bad word about any one of my previous clubs,” Mourinho said. “I keep always a very good feeling. It doesn’t matter what is going to happen. But, it is my nature. It is my job. It is my new club. On Sunday I will go there to try and do my job.”