The group stage has finished with the biggest surprise being the elimination of Senegal and Morocco. The quarter-finals will take place over the weekend. The tournament favorites are Ivory Coast and Ghana.
Such incredible emotions and a wonderful game! In the group stage there were 60 goals with an average of 2.5 goals per game. The games were decided in the final moments or even in stoppage time.
Host nation Equatorial Guinea and Zambia qualified from group A. The biggest shock was Senegal being knocked out, as they were one of the favorites for Orange ACN 2012 but lost all of their group stage games. The host team has been criticized for exclusively selecting naturalized players, none of whom were born in the country. Everything, however, is within the rules.
In group B the Ivory Coast progressed without any trouble, but did not set the tournament alight. It was unknown who would finish as runners-up in group B until the very end. Ivory Coast qualified in first place with Sudan as runners-up as they conceded one goal less than Angola. Sudan’s achievement is the greater as nobody gave them any hope – the entire team is made up exclusively of players from their domestic league.
In group C Gabon (the co-host) and Tunisia came out on top of a fiercely contested group. The best game of this tournament between Gabon and Morocco will go down in the history of the championships. There was no shortage of dramatic twists in the action – Alfred Hitchcock would have been proud of such a script – the ground was shaking at kick off and the suspense was gripping from the start. Gabon provided a shock by winning 3-2 against Morocco who were the favorites. First Gabon went a goal down, then they went 2-1 ahead in the space of two minutes before a penalty in the last minute for Morocco made it 2-2. Then suddenly, in the 94th minute, a wonderful last-gasp free kick sealed both an historic victory and qualification for Gabon at the same time.
In group D, Africa Cup of Nations debutants Botswana lost all their matches (including a 6-1 defeat against Guinea) despite giving it their best effort. Ghana and Mali qualified from the group.
In the upcoming quarter-finals.
Zambia will play Sudan and the Ivory Coast will play Equatorial Guinea on Saturday. Zambia and Ivory Coast are the favorites, although we can expect the matches to be fiercely contested. Sudan have shown that they have to be taken seriously, and Equatorial Guinea can count on support from their 12th man – the supporters. On Sunday Gabon will play Mali and Ghana will play Tunisia.
Who are the favorites? Ivory Coast and Ghana, certainly. Ghana are a solid team who won their group without any problems. They also went furthest out of all the African teams at the World Cup and were unlucky to lose in the quarter-final (failing to convert a penalty before the end of normal time in a match with Uruguay). For Ivory Coast it is also the last chance for the so-called golden generation to win the title – although many are already over 30. Despite all the players playing for the top European clubs (mainly in England), they have so far failed as a national team on the big stage.
As a backdrop to the competition to be the best team, there is the race for the golden boot. So far, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Gabon (with 3 goals), has the best chance although many players are hot on his heels.
By Marek WAJDA.