Group B preview

Benin, Ivory Coast, Mali and Nigeria have been drawn in the 'Group of Death'.

    Benin star Razak Omotoyossi will be trying to get the Squirrels out of the 'Group of Death' [GALLO/GETTY]

    If Group B is the proverbial 'Group of Death' at the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations, then Benin could be in for three funerals during the first round, with a last-place burial likely shortly after.
     
    With Benin's 'Squirrels' up against the might of Ivory Coast's 'Elephants', Mali's 'Eagles', and Nigeria's 'Super Eagles', even a battle of the team mascots would likely see Benin suffer greatly.
     
    Reinhard Fabisch's side will be making just their second appearance at the Cup after debuting four years ago in Tunisia with three losses, one goal scored and eight conceded.
     
    Dreams of a better showing in Ghana this time around suffered a severe blow when the tiny west Africa nation were drawn in the said 'Group of Death'.
     
    Razack Omotoyossi, the rising star of Benin football at just 22-years-old, burst on to the scene with two goals in the 4-1 thrashing of Togo last year and believes playing beside Sweden legend Henrik Larsson at Swedish club Helsingborg has been pivotal to his success.
     
    Omotoyossi is seekeing a move to the big show that is the English Premier League, and plans to put himself at the front of the shop window with some good performances in Ghana.
     
    Ivory Coast
     

    Didier Drogba is a usual suspect in the 
    Ivory Coast forward line [GALLO/GETTY]

    Fifa world rank: 38
     
    Coach: Gerard Gili
     
    Player to watch: Didier Drogba
     
    Best Africa Cup finish: Champions 1992
     
    Ivory Coast have plenty of soul searching to do ahead of this year's Africa Cup of Nations as they exorcise the demons of losing the 2006 final to home side Egypt in a penalty shoot-out.
     
    To add to that, the last time the biennial competition was staged in Ghana eight years ago, the 'Elephants' were also in the 'Group of Death', that time with Cameroon, Ghana and Togo.
     
    All teams finished on four points after the group stage, and the Ivorians made a humiliating first round exit on head-to-head record and goal difference.
     
    Furious at the results, the military rulers back home ordered the team into a camp for several days where players were drilled in the importance of national pride.
     
    This time around, Ivory Coast are once again one of the teams to beat, with a star-studded line up including Arsenal defenders Emmanuel Eboue and Kolo Toure, emerging Barcelona midfielder Yaya Toure and Chelsea strikers Salomon Kalou and reigning African Footballer of the Year Didier Drogba.
     
    An unfortunate set back for the Elephants is that coach Uli Stielike will miss the tournament after his son lapsed into a coma ahead of the Cup, with experienced Frenchman Gerard Gili, coach of the Ivorian team that qualified for the 2008 Beijing Games, taking over.
     
    Mali
     

    Striker Frederic Kanoute, centre, will lead Mali
    from the front in Group B [GALLO/GETTY]

    Fifa world rank: 47
     
    Coach: Jean-Francois Jodar
     
    Player to watch: Frederic Kanoute
     
    Best Africa Cup finish: Runners-up 1972
     
    Mali have only played at four Nations Cup tournaments, but each time they have reached the final four. The 'Eagles' were runners-up in 1972, semi-finalists in 1992 and in 2002 as hosts, and again in 2004.
     
    If the Malians can progress from this group, another top-four finish could be on the cards for a team that boasts 2007 African Footballer of the Year finalists Mahamadou Diarra and Frederic Kanoute.
     
    Both key players are currently at clubs in the Spanish La Liga, with midfielder Diarra playing for Real Madrid while Kanoute is a key figure for back-to-back Uefa Cup title holders Sevilla.
     
    Kanoute, a devout Muslim, endeared himself to fellow believers last month by spending $700,000 to buy a mosque earmarked for demolition in the southern Spanish city.
     
    Jean-Francois Jodar, a 58-year-old former France defender, took over as head coach of Mali after a disastrous 2006 World Cup-African Nations Cup qualifying campaign, and navigating this year's 'Group of Death' will be his biggest challenge yet.
     
    Nigeria
     

    Nigerian striker Nwankwo Kanu does his best
    impression of a Super Eagle [GALLO/GETTY]

    Fifa world rank: 19
     
    Coach: Berti Vogts
     
    Player to watch: Nwankwo Kanu
     
    Best Africa Cup finish: Champions 1980, 1994
     
    Nigeria are the hard-luck story of recent Africa Cups, having collected the bronze medal at the past three editions of the biennial competition.
     
    In their last three semi-finals, the 'Super Eagles' slumped 2-1 to emerging Senegal after extra time in Mali in 2002, lost a penalty shootout against hosts Tunisia at the following tournament, and a solitary goal gave Ivory Coast victory in Egypt two years ago.
     
    If Nigeria manage to get out of the 'Group of Death', a possible quarter-final showdown with Ghana, who embarrassed the Super Eagles 4-1 last year in a London friendly, awaits.
     
    Coach Berti Vogts, 1974 World Cup winner with West Germany, is under extreme pressure to succeed where many local and foreign coaches have failed, with Nigerian Football Association officials saying there can be no excuses for disappointment in Ghana.
     
    Nwankwo Kanu, Portsmouth striker, has been a part of club sides that have won the European Champions League, Uefa Cup, English Premiership and FA Cup, but he is yet to get his hands on an African Cup winners' medal.
     
    Kanu, used by Nigeria as a link between midfield and attack in a flexible 4-3-3 system, will be looking to rectify that in Ghana.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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