In Group C of the Africa Cup of Nations, title holders Ivory Coast have been paired with DR Congo, Morocco, and Togo.
Having won the last tournament, they’ll be looking to retain their title. In the 2015 tournament, they drew with Guinea, and Mali, but beat Cameroon to qualify for the next round. In the knockout stage, they beat Algeria and DR Congo before going on to win the tournament by beating Ghana on penalties in the final to win the tournament for the first time since 1992.
Their manager is Michel Dussuyer. He’s been managing the title holders since 2015 and has experience in Africa having took charge of Guinea on three separate occasions (between 2002-2004, 2010-2013, and 2014-2015) and Benin between 2008 and 2010. Although this will be his second time managing in the tournament, he did work as an assistant coach under former manager Henri Michel at the 2010 edition.
If I were to pick a key player, it would have to be former Chelsea player Salomon Kalou simply because of his experience, he has 83 caps for his country and will be appearing at his sixth Cup of Nations.
One to Watch
There are quite a few players to watch out for in this side such as Eric Bailly and Wilfried Zaha. Zaha will be making his debut for the national in this tournament, so my “one to watch” would be Zaha.
Having won the tournament back in 1968 and 1974, they’ll be raring to add a third crown this time around.
They got to the semi-finals last time out but lost out to eventual winners Ivory Coast. Despite drawing all their group matches, their results was enough to see them qualify for the next round as they had a better head-to-head record than Cape Verde. They then went on to meet their neighbours, Congo, whom they beat to reach the semi-finals.
Their manager is Florent Ibengé. He led them to the African Nations Championship (not to be confused with the Africa Cup of Nations) title only last year and is currently combining his national job with his club role at AS Vita Club. His first taste of management came in China back in 2012 where he briefly took charge of Shanghai Shenhua but he is not leading his country in his second Africa Cup of Nations.
Chancel Mbemba is key to this side as he is a solid player. Having been low on confidence this season, a national call up is just what he needs. Ability wise, he’s a good defender (as I’ve been told by TFF Newcastle’s Jack Pattison). Expect Mbemba to rock up in a tuxedo.
One to Watch
I’d put Elia Meschak as a “one to watch” as he could be a huge talent in the future. Given that he’s 20-years old, he has bags of potential. His international record extremely impressive aswell. He has five goals in eight caps for his country.
Having only won the tournament once (1976), they will be vying to win the tournament for the first time in 41 years.
Their last tournament was the 2013 edition which saw them fail to qualify for the next round, despite having the same record as Cape Verde with two matches gone. A goal towards stoppage from South Africa in their final group match saw them miss out. This time round, they’ll be seeking redemption. Hervé Renard will be overseeing the tournament with his side, just as he did with Ivory Coast, and Zambia and won the tournament with both sides. Could he make it third time lucky?
Having only played eight times in the league for Southampton, Sofiane Boufal hasn’t shown his full potential but having seen his statistics along with his attributes of strength and dribbling, which would be useful when going on the attack, I have picked him out at the key player. He is also very capable of putting a good delivery into the box, which could come into use when trying to score from a corner, or free-kick. His only goal in the league this season came against Middlesbrough but expect him to assert his influence on games by delivering crosses into the box.
The last time Togo participated in this tournament was back in 2013. That year, they reached the quarter-finals. Getting to the knockout round was difficult for them as they lost their first match to Ivory Coast. They beat Algeria in their next game and had a little help from Ivory Coast who beat Tunisia. Their final group game was against Tunisia, whom, they edged out on goal difference after a 0-0 draw. They agonisingly lost out to eventual runners-up Burkina Faso in extra-time in the next round. What could they be capable of this round?
Their manager is Claude Le Roy who has experience in Africa which dates back to 1985-1988 when he oversaw Cameroon. He has since then managed Senegal (1989-1992), Cameroon again (1998), DR Congo (2004-2006) & (2011-2013), Ghana (2006-2008), and Congo (2013-2015.)
Seeing that Emmanuel Adebayor has been included in the squad, his experience will be key to the side and given that he’s a free agent, he’ll be considered one one to watch for a host of who’ll be racing for his signature. I feel he could be their equivalent of Hal Robson-Kanu, given that he’s in a similar situation to what Robson-Kanu was in at Euro 2016. He went into the tournament as a free agent but his strong performances capped off by a wonderful goal against Belgium, which included a Cruyff turn, saw Premier League side West Brom snap him up.
I reckon Ivory Coast will go through as group winners as I believe they’ll be raring to avoid an embarrassment which would see them fail to qualify for the next round. Should the two-time champions fail to qualify for the next round, that’ll no doubt hand other teams an initiative. Do I see them not qualifying? I highly doubt it.
As group runners-up, I see either Togo or Morocco qualifying, as I don’t think DR Congo have what it takes to reach the next round. Whilst Morocco did win in 1976, Togo qualified for the quarter finals more recently in 2013, so on that fact, I would go for Togo to edge out Morocco.
Whilst I don’t think DR Congo will qualify from group, I believe they would still have a say in proceedings. I picture them making it difficult for Ivory Coast like a side who are in a relegation battle and need to beat a side that are battling for a league title.
So, that’s my preview. Which two sides do you think will qualify for the next round? Will there be a shock on the cards? Who will be top scorer of the group? Let us know on Twitter @OfficailTFF