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2017 Africa Cup of Nations: A look at Group A

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JOHANNESBURG (AP) A look at the teams and key players in Group A at the Africa Cup of Nations:


Gabon gets to stage the African Cup for the second time in five years, hoping that home advantage will help carry the team to at least the semifinals this time. As co-host in 2012, Gabon topped its group and did it by playing some compelling soccer. An agonizing loss in a penalty shootout in the quarterfinals cut short the euphoria. Gabon has slipped down the world rankings since then and a couple of results last year, including a 4-1 hammering by Ivory Coast, signaled that this team may also struggle to get to the semifinals for the first time. But home crowds can be a powerful motivator and Gabon has Africa’s top tournament all to itself for the next three weeks as the sole host.

Key player: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

No doubt Gabon’s standout player, the 27-year-old Borussia Dortmund striker is the top scorer in Germany’s Bundesliga with 16 goals in 15 games this season. The burning question will be: Can his teammates provide Aubameyang with the help he needs?

Best result: Quarterfinals, 1996 and 2012.


Burkina Faso surprisingly made the 2013 final, narrowly losing to Nigeria. That team was led by the attacking duo of Aristide Bance and Jonathan Pitroipa, who are still regulars. But Burkina Faso has always had an up-and-down time at the African Cup and consistency has never been its strength. Two years after being within touching distance of the title, Burkina Faso was eliminated in the group stage at the last African Cup without winning a game.

Key player: Bertrand Traore

Although Bance and Pitroipa are important to Burkina Faso, maybe this tournament will be a coming-of-age for Chelsea’s Bertrand Traore. The 21-year-old creative midfielder, now on loan at Dutch club Ajax, first played for Burkina Faso’s national team at the age of 15, a sign of serious talent.

Best result: Runner-up, 2013.


Roger Milla’s hip-wiggling celebration and Cameroon players dancing their way into the quarterfinals of the 1990 World Cup – the first African team to do that – is now a very distant memory. Cameroon failed to even qualify for the Cup of Nations in 2012 and 2013 and left the last tournament, which was meant to be a glorious comeback, without winning a game. Cameroon also embarrassed itself at the last two World Cups, losing all six of its games. There were signs of a turnaround, with Cameroon unbeaten in competitive games last year, only for more problems to emerge in the lead-up to this tournament when eight players, including Premier League-based defenders Joel Matip and Allan Nyom, and striker Eric Maxim Choupo Moting, decided they didn’t want to play at the tournament. It doesn’t bode well.

Key player: Benjamin Moukandjo

The new captain has the task of uniting the Cameroon team. If he strikes up a profitable partnership with Vincent Aboubakar, Cameroon might start winning back some pride.

Best result: Winner, 1984, 1988, 2000 and 2002.


One of the stories of the tournament, even before a ball is kicked. Guinea-Bissau qualified for the African Cup for the first time ever, allowing players at clubs in the second division in Romania and third division in Portugal to brush shoulders with world-class stars like Aubameyang. Guinea Bissau, a little dot of a country on the far west coast of Africa, only had its first shot at qualifying for the African Cup in 1994.

Key player: The team

There are no stars in this team. Captain Bocundji Ca, a midfielder with second-tier French club Stade Riems, said it best in a recent interview with a local radio station: “We attack and defend together.”

Best result: Debut.

Watch Live: West Brom v. Liverpool

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West Bromwich Albion host Liverpool on Saturday at the Hawthorns (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as the Premier League’s bottom team aim to pull off another shock win to keep their faint survival hopes alive.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE

The Baggies won 1-0 at Manchester United last time to delay their impending relegation as well as hand Manchester City the title and interim boss Darren Moore will want to grab another big win as the Baggies aim to try and pull off the greatest of escapes. Anything other than a win could see West Brom relegated this weekend.

As for Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp‘s men have cemented their spot in the top four and will have one eye on a big week of European action.

In team news West Brom have Jonny Evans back fit and on the bench but are unchanged from the win at Man United, while Liverpool rest several players ahead of their UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg against Roma.

Andrew Robertson, Roberto Firmino, Alexander-Arnold and Oxlade-Chamberlain are all on the bench with Joe Gomez returning to the starting lineup.

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West Brom

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VIDEO: Sporting KC’s Medranda scores wonder goal in win over Vancouver

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Sporting KC showed again on Friday night why they’re the rightful leaders at the top of the Western Conference, pulling four points ahead of the LA Galaxy and the Vancouver Whitecaps with a dominating 6-0 win over the Whitecaps at home.

Scottish forward Johnny Russell bagged a hat-trick in the game, all by the 48th minute, but the highlight of the night came off the foot of 24-year-old Jimmy Medranda. The Colombian scored an absolute worldie from a ridiculous angle, taking the space given to him outside the top-left corner of the box and sailing it over the head of Vancouver goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic and into the back of the net.

It was, of course, massively beneficial to Sporting KC that Vancouver went two men down in the 40th minute after a huge skirmish that saw Yordy Reyna and Efrain Juarez both sent off. Reyna earned his marching orders for throwing Russell to the ground, while Juarez reportedly used unacceptable language.

Still, KC was already up 3-0 when the incident occurred, and credit must go to teams that take advantage of what has been handed to them. Sporting KC certainly did that as Russell becomes the first Scotsman to score an MLS hat-trick since Colorado’s John Spencer in 2001, and Medranda’s wonder goal sealed the deal past the half-hour mark.

Jurgen Klopp already wants a piece of Man City next season

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Manchester City may have run away with the Premier League title this year, but Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp can’t wait for a clean slate to try and challenge City’s title defense next season.

The Reds are into the Champions League semifinals and also looking to finish the Premier League season strong in a battle for positioning in the top four, but when asked about next year, Klopp was giddy.

“Of course I don’t fear the challenge,” Klopp said in his prematch press conference ahead of Liverpool’s Premier League visit to West Brom on Saturday morning.

The German made it clear he wants a piece of Manchester City next season. “This year, if City plays a normal season – which they didn’t do – then it would have been really close until the end because we are now all close together.”

“United is four points ahead [of Liverpool], Tottenham is two points behind. It’s a real fight for these positions. All big six pretty much delivered this year but City delivered the best. We will see. It’s difficult to deal with success as it is difficult to deal with other things in football but I’m pretty sure they will be strong again.”

Liverpool is one of only two teams to beat City in league play this year, with Manchester United being the other. Klopp and company torched the City back line in a wild 4-3 victory that ended City’s 22-match unbeaten run. Ultimately, though, Klopp knows they have to look at the entire season as a whole to best the defending champs next year, not just their matches against each other.

“It’s not important how good City will be, it’s about how we can get all the other points, plus the points we got so far again,” he said. “That’s the job to do. That is why it is always possible that it is closer. But are they able to dominate? They don’t have a limit to spending and all that stuff so I don’t know.”

VIDEO: Goalkeeper sends Memphis Depay flying with skillful touch

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Former Manchester United attacker Memphis Depay has one of the brightest spots for Lyon this season that sees them battling with Monaco and Marseille for 2nd place behind a dominant PSG. He has scored 15 goals and assisted 11 others this Ligue 1 campaign, adding to his tally just four minutes into Friday’s 5-2 win over Dijon, the sixth win in a row for the club that pulled them within a point of Monaco.

However, there was a moment to forget for Depay in the victory as well.

With the score still at 1-1 in the 19th minute, Depay was sent high up the pitch to press Dijon goalkeeper Baptiste Reynet, owner of the leakiest net of the Ligue 1 season. Nevertheless, sometimes the underdog prevails, and that’s what happened as Depay flung himself at the ball to put Reynet under pressure.

One silky touch by the netminder was all it took for Depay to end up on his backside.

The 24-year-old Dutch winger has had a fantastic season and one that could potentially propel him back to the biggest stage and a bigger paycheck, but for now, we can all poke fun at his misery in the moment.