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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.

Boyd brace enough for USMNT v. Guyana

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Tyler Boyd scored a pair of goals including the 1,000th in United States men’s national team history as Gregg Berhalter’s USMNT opened its Gold Cup run with a somewhat misleading 4-0 defeat of Guyana in Minnesota late Tuesday.

Paul Arriola had a goal, an assist, and a shot that took two deflections including one off of Gyasi Zardes’ face in the win.

Weston McKennie had an assist in an impactful performance before leaving with injury in the second half. USMNT boss Gregg Berhalter said the injury was a cramp. Let’s hope so.

Next up for the USMNT is a Saturday match-up with Trinidad and Tobago in Cleveland. Guyana will meet Panama, who beat T&T 2-0 on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Player ratings | 3 things ]

The United States had plenty of possession to start, and Christian Pulisic was looking lively. Though positioned centrally in the formation, he often drifted to the left to get the ball and work toward the middle.

It was Guyana who nearly struck for an opener against the run of play, lashing over the goal off a short corner. Gyasi Zardes thought he’d forced a goal moments later, but the offside flag was up.

Weston McKennie played a gorgeous through ball into Tyler Boyd, and Boyd sent a promising pass to the middle of the box only to see a shot blocked by the packed-in defense. Then Pulisic was stopped point-blank by Akel Clarke.

McKennie then set up Arriola for the opener, with the DC United man slapping the side of his right foot through the ball to sent it around Clarke and into the goal.

Boyd the stung a shot wide of the far post after missing with a low drive earlier in the match. Clarke then made an outstanding save on a Nick Lima drive — again set up in part by McKennie — before Boyd hit a ball into outer space.

A nervy moment early in the second half gave way to relief, as Boyd struck with vigor off a delightful ball from Michael Bradley. This was a “Bradley in his AS Roma prime” long ball, and Boyd delivered with a fine low strike.

Zardes then made it 3-0 with a header he knew little about:

Berhalter would soon remove Pulisic and Bradley, and then an injury forced his hand on the third substitution.

That one could echo deep into the tournament if it’s anything more than precaution, with McKennie exiting the field.

Boyd then scored another terrific goal. It looked even better than his first until replays revealed a significant deflection en route to the scoreboard.

Zardes later cued up Boyd for a chance at the hat trick, but the Kiwi-born attacked hit his shot into the outside of the goal. He could’ve had five goals.

3 things from USMNT’s win v. Guyana

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Injuries, early inefficiency, and a newcomer making a statement were the biggest talking points of the United States men’s national team’s first match of the 2019 Gold Cup.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

Christian Pulisic was back, but not on the score sheet, and was able to be rested over the final half hour or so, and the USMNT scored its 1000th goal in program history.

[ MORE: Player ratings ]

Beyond that, here’s what we’re thinking after the 4-0 win.

Ouch, ouch, stop that, ouch: Injury worries

Weston McKennie started slow but eventually played a series of sensational passes en route to an assist on the night.

His industry moving forward and backward were remarkable on the night, but Schalke’s Swiss army knife had to leave the match with a leg injury with a quarter hour to play.

That’s a problem for a side which also saw Tyler Boyd pull up following his bid for a hat trick and is also without Tyler Adams, Sebastian Lletget, and Duane Holmes in the midfield alone.

John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin are also missing from a U.S. side hoping to make a serious bid for another final at the Gold Cup.

Berhalter said the injury that cost McKennie the final 16 minutes was a cramp. Let’s hope so.

Tyler Boyd shoots his shot

No, he’s not the Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver.

Yes, he’s inspiring a bit of hope for the American Outlaws.

The New Zealand-born 24-year-old likes to shoot, and boy did he in bagging a brace on Wednesday.

Capped five times by New Zealand but now cap-tied to the USMNT by participating in this match, Boyd scored twice and could’ve probably scored two or three more on the day.

The son of an Kiwi father and American mother, Boyd delivered the goods in front of both of them in Minnesota.

“It’s for my family,” Boyd said on Fox after the game. “I’m really proud to be able to represent this country. To do it on this stage is an honor and a blessing. Just a dream come true. It’s been years and years and years of work. It’s been my dream since (I was) a kid. I don’t have the words to describe it.”

Boyd was injured — more on that later — but it looked like it could’ve been minor. His creativity and desire for the ball will be needed moving forward, as he was a fine complement to Paul Arriola in industry and desire.

It still wasn’t good enough

Do not forget that Guyana is the 177th ranked team in the FIFA rankings  — a lofty 166th in EloRatings — and the Yanks simply didn’t have the quality or understanding to pile up the goals.

The Guyanese held the U.S. in check for the first half hour before Weston McKennie and Paul Arriola teamed up for a classy goal, and Bradley’s link up with Tyler Boyd for the second was even better.

But Zardes’ goal was a blocked shot that unknowingly pinged off his pace to the point that the American striker appeared dazed for the duration of the celebration. And Boyd’s good-looking second goal took a turn off a Guyanese defender on the way into the net.

As it stands, this looks like a team that wouldn’t beat Panama and might struggle against anyone should Pulisic go down (and especially if McKennie stays down).

USMNT player ratings from defeat of Guyana

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The United States men’s national team was solid, but not particularly impressive in its 4-0 defeat of Guyana early Wednesday to start its Gold Cup.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]

There were stars in this one, with Weston McKennie and Tyler Boyd finding their strides, but still a lot of question marks (in some ways due to the competition).

Let’s get into it. As always, “6” is the baseline for ratings: a passable performance.

Starting XI

Zack Steffen — 6 — Had very little to do, even in possession, as expected.

Nick Lima — 6 — Looking comfortable moving forward and was aggressive in defense.

Walker Zimmerman — 7 — Passed the ball well, but like his goalkeeper and fellow defenders, was largely untested.

Aaron Long — 6 — A step up from his nightmare against Venezuela.

Tim Ream — 6 — An okay cog in the back three after a rough pair of friendly losses.

Michael Bradley (Off 63′) — 6 — For the first 20 minutes, it was clear this was his first match in a month. But his game improved, capped by a remarkable assist to Boyd for the 1,000th goal in USMNT history. Fitting.

Weston McKennie (Off 74′) — 7 — A slow start, but on the night not only assisted a goal but played three or four world-class touch passes. Gregg Berhalter said the injury that cost him the final 16 minutes was a cramp. Let’s hope so.

Paul Arriola — 8 — His aggression and ambition paid off, as he rebounded from some questionable performances to get a goal and set up two others (*thou

Christian Pulisic (Off 63′) — 7 — Instantly the most dangerous player on the field, would’ve likely had a couple assists with a capable finisher up top.

Tyler Boyd — 8.5 — The former New Zealand international made a lot of fans tonight, scoring two goals, and was in position to score four or even five.

Gyasi Zardes — 5 — Credit the motor, but look forward to Jozy Altidore being back at full fitness.

Substitutions

Wil Trapp (On 63′) — 6 — Better than his miserable pair of friendlies.

Cristian Roldan (On 63′) — 6 — Looked more lively in attack, but given the opposition that’s not terribly impressive.

Djordje Mihailovic (On 74′) — N/A —

Tyler Boyd scores 1,000th goal in USMNT history (video)

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The 700th game in USMNT history has birthed the 999th and 1,000th goals in program history.

The Yanks led Guyana 1-0 at halftime of their 2019 Gold Cup debut on a Paul Arriola goal set up by Weston McKennie when they hit their milestone.

Fittingly, the goal was produced by a vintage ball from one of the program’s all-timers.

[ LIVE: Latest Gold Cup scores, stats, lineups ]

Michael Bradley swept a delightful diagonal ball to a seemingly offside Tyler Boyd, who scored his first goal for the USMNT via a low driven shot across the goal and into the side netting.

The first goal came on Aug. 20, 1916 from a fella named C.H. Spalding, who later played baseball for the Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Senators.

The 1,000th came via a New Zealand-born dual national who played last season in Turkey on loan from a Portuguese club.