Group A preview

Hosts Ghana, along with Guniea, Morocco and Namibia fight it out in Group A.

    Ghana's Michael Essien will be the driving force in midfield for hosts the Black Stars [GALLO/GETTY]

    The 'Black Stars' have had a lean time in the Cup over the past 26 years, broken only by a runners-up finish after losing a marathon penalty shootout against Ivory Coast in the goalless 1992 final.
     
    The hosts appear to have an easy group to navigate, but are then likely to face Ivory Coast, Mali or Nigeria in the quarter-finals.
     
    The loss of Ghana's influential midfielder and captain Stephen Appiah through injury is a huge blow, but French coach Claude le Roy believes the home crowd advantage can compensate.
     
    The Black Stars are likely to rely heavily on English Premier League midfielders Michael Essien of Chelsea and Sulley Muntari of Portsmouth, along with striker Asamoah Gyan.
     
    Ghana's squad also includes Marseille midfielder Andre 'Dede' Ayew, son of three-time African Footballer of the Year 'Pele'.
     
    Guinea
     

    Guinea midfielder Pascal Feindouno has
    all the tricks and more [GALLO/GETTY]

    Fifa world rank: 33
     
    Coach: Robert Nouzaret
     
    Player to watch: Pascal Feindouno
     
    Best Africa Cup finish: Runners-up 1976
     
    Guinea make their ninth appearance at the Africa Cup of Nations finals, and will be looking to improve on two quarter-finals exits in the past two tournaments.
     
    'Syli Nationale', or 'National Elephant', finished runners-up to Morocco in Ethiopia in 1976, but three first round exits followed in their next three appearances.
     
    The West Africans will be driven forward by Saint Etienne midfielder Pascal Feindouno who is an excellent all-round player, with many pundits believing he could easily make it in the leagues of England, Italy or Spain.
     
    French coach Robert Nouzaret succeeded compatriot Patrice Neveu last year and transformed Guinea from strugglers to table toppers in Cup of Nations qualifiers.
     
    With hosts Ghana favoured to top Group A, the clash between Guinea and Morocco in Accra on January 24 could determine who advances to the quarters.
     
    Morocco
     

    Youssef Hadji is the brother of former African
    Player of the Year, Mustapha [GALLO/GETTY]

    Fifa world rank: 39
     
    Coach: Henri Michel
     
    Player to watch: Youssef Hadji
     
    Best Africa Cup finish: Champions 1976
     
    Morocco rank among the great underachievers of the African Nations Cup despite winning the tournament in 1976 and finishing runners-up in 2004.
     
    The 'Atlas Lions' have made three first-round exits in the last four Cups and not only failed to win a match, but also failed to score in Egypt two years ago.
     
    Morocco's tournament win in 1976 was the sole occasion when the African football showcase was decided by a mini-league, and Morocco finished with five points from two wins and a draw, one point more than Guinea, who they snatched a late draw from in the final match.
     
    Youssef Hadji, younger brother of 1998 African Footballer of the Year Mustapha, is an attacking midfielder who plies his trade with French club Nancy.
     
    The speedy midfielder, along with striker Marouane Chamakh, will be key players in Morocco's push to get out of the group stage.
     
    Namibia
     

    Midfielder Collin Benjamin, centre, is
    Namibia's star player [GALLO/GETTY]

    Fifa world rank: 114
     
    Coach: Arie Schans
     
    Player to watch: Collin Benjamin
     
    Best Africa Cup finish: First round 1998
     
    The 'Brave Warriors' will need to be as courageous as ever if they are to shake off the tag of the 'no-hopers' of the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations.
     
    Namibia finished ahead of the Democratic Republic of Congo and emerging force Libya for Group 10 qualifying honours, handing them just their second Cup finals appearance.
     
    However their preparations were upset when ailing Zambian Ben Bamfuchile was forced to quit as coach less than two months before the tournament, and when Bamfuchile later died, Dutch coach Arie Schans was left in charge.
     
    The highest profile Namibian is 29-year-old midfielder Collin Benjamin who plays for German club Hamburg, but the Bundesliga player will do it tough to get his side out of the group stage for the first time.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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