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Preview: 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, Group D

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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

COTE D’IVOIRE

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.

TUNISIA

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.

ALGERIA

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.

TOGO

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.

SCHEDULE

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.)

Former Arsenal midfielder Tomas Rosicky moves to Sparta

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PRAGUE (AP) After 15 years at Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal, Czech playmaker Tomas Rosicky is returning to his former club Sparta Prague.

Sparta announced the move on Tuesday. Details were to be announced at a news conference later in the day.

[ MORE: Latest transfer news

The 35-year-old Rosicky, whose career with Arsenal was marred by frequent injuries, finished his 10 years with the English Premier League club when his final contract expired after the season.

Considered one of the most talented Czech players in decades, he spent three seasons with Sparta before moving to Dortmund in 2001 for what was then a record transfer fee in the Bundesliga.

Rosicky played 105 internationals, and has yet to decide if he wants to continue with the national team.

Transfer Deadline Day: How to follow all the deals as they happen

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A record-breaking summer transfer window is slamming shut on Wednesday at 6 p.m. ET.

Premier League clubs have spent over $1.3 billion on new players this summer and a late flourish should considerably add to that amount in the next 24 hours or so.

[ MORE: Latest transfer news ]

With deals being done all the time right up until the window, Aug. 31 promises to be a lively day for all 20 Premier League teams.

Across our platforms we will have every base covered for you with a special three-hour Transfer Deadline Day show on NBCSN, transfer news as it happens on ProSoccerTalk and a Facebook live chat with PST’s Lead Writer and Editor Joe Prince-Wright in the final hours of the window.

Below you will find details on how to stay on top of all of the deals as another frantic Transfer Deadline Day is almost upon us.


Here is your lineup for Transfer Deadline Day:

  • You can stay up to date all day long and find out about the latest deals as they happen – Transfer news, live updates
  • Joe Prince-Wright will have a Facebook live to wrap up the deals on Deadline Day and discuss who needs what in the final hours – 3 p.m. ET, Watch live
  • Stream and watch a live Transfer Deadline Day show on NBCSN with the Premier League crew – 5-8 p.m. ET, Watch live

Sergio Aguero charged by FA, could miss Manchester derby

BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - APRIL 02:  Sergio Aguero of Manchester City during the Barclays Premier League match between A.F.C. Bournemouth and Manchester City at Vitality Stadium on April 2, 2016 in Bournemouth, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Sergio Aguero did not get away with it.

In the second half of Manchester City’s 3-1 win against West Ham United on Sunday Aguero appeared to elbow Winston Reid in the face in an off the ball incident.

As soon as that happened, perhaps Jose Mourinho made a call to his friends at the English Football Association…

The English FA believe it was intentional and Man City’s top scorer from last season has been handed a violent conduct charge which could lead to a retrospective ban.

That is likely to see Aguero, City’s main man up front, miss the Manchester derby against Manchester United on Sept. 10.

Ouch. Coupled with a calf injury, not a good few days for Aguero.

Here is the statement in full from the FA as Pep Guardiola has been dealt a huge problem ahead of his first Premier League showdown against arch rival Mourinho.

Sergio Aguero has been charged for an alleged act of violent conduct which was not seen by the match officials but caught on video.

The Manchester City forward was involved in an incident with West Ham United’s Winston Reid in the 76th minute of the game on Sunday [28 August 2016].

He has until 6pm on Wednesday 31 August to reply.

Off the ball incidents which are not seen at the time by the match officials are referred to a panel of three former elite match officials.

Each panel member will review the video footage independently of one another to determine whether they consider it a sending-off offence.

For retrospective action to be taken, and an FA charge to follow, the decision of the panel must be unanimous.

10 deals to look out for on Transfer Deadline Day

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 01: Wilfried Bony of Manchester City celebrates scoring the opening goal during the Capital One Cup Quarter Final match between Manchester City and Hull City at Etihad Stadium on December 1, 2015 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
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As the seconds tick away, Premier League teams will become more desperate.

[ MORE: Latest transfer news

The summer transfer window for PL clubs closes at 6 p.m. ET on Wednesday and there seems to be plenty of business still to be done by all 20 teams.

[ MORE: Wilshere to leave Arsenal? ]

Below is a look at the top 10 players to keep an eye on in the next 24 hours or so, as deals for them to move elsewhere already seem to be in motion.


  1. Jack Wilshere (Arsenal): English midfielder wants to head out on loan. Juventus, Roma are interested, plus several PL clubs. A mercurial talent who just needs to play regularly.
  2. Wilfried Bony (Manchester City): Out of the picture completely at City, Bony could head to West Ham, Stoke or Everton. Powerful striker who needs to regain confidence.
  3. Islam Slimani (Sporting Lisbon): Leicester have apparently had a huge bid rejected for the bustling Algerian striker, but should up their offer to bag him.
  4. Saido Berahino (West Brom): This guy is always around on Deadline Day and that’s the case again. Stoke City are now the main contenders with Palace signing Remy and Benteke.
  5. Adrien Silva (Sporting Lisbon): Portuguese national team midfielder has said he wants to join Leicester but Sporting aren’t keen on losing him. Has a $50 million release clause.
  6. Marcos Alonso (Fiorentina): Chelsea could be set to seal the signing of the left back. The versatile Spaniard is good on the ball and had previous PL spells with Bolton and Sunderland.
  7. Mamadou Sakho (Liverpool): Told to go out on loan by Jurgen Klopp, it is believed he turned down a move to Stoke. Could the French international arrive at West Brom?
  8. Samir Nasri (Manchester City): Pep Guardiola lambasted Nasri for being overweight during preseason and although he appeared as a sub last weekend, he could be off to Sevilla.
  9. Lamine Kone (Sunderland): Everton and Chelsea are said to be battling it out for center back who had an impressive finish to last season. Powerful center back, worth over $25 million.
  10. James McCarthy (Everton): Crystal Palace, Sunderland and Leicester are interested in McCarthy with Ronald Koeman not seeing the Republic of Ireland midfielder in his plans.