The Cup of Nations kicks off today in South Africa, and the opening match sees the hosts face Cape Verde (full fixture list - all times local, i.e. GMT+2). France is the best represented club country at the tournament, with 57 of the participants playing here (full squad list), so we thought we should pick out some of the key players, teams, and matches, with a French Ligue spin.
Group A – South Africa, Cape Verde, Angola, Morocco
Group A features nine France-based players, three for Cape Verde and six for Morocco. Cape Verde are playing in a CAN for the first time, and are not expected to progress, but Lille’s sparky winger Ryan Mendes should be worth looking out for. Morocco won the title back in 1976, and have since progressed to the knock-out stage five times, most recently in 2004 when they were runners up to Tunisia, and hopes are high that they can perform well this time. The squad includes Ahmed Kantari and Kamel Chafni from Brest, Younes Belhanda and Abdelhamid El-Kaoutari from Montpellier, Ajaccio’s Chahir Belghazouani and defender Zakaria Bergdich from Lens. Belhanda, whose participation was in doubt after picking up a knock in training, should be a key player for the Lions of Atlas; given his inconsistency for his club this season, fans will be crossing their fingers that he comes good for his country.
Morocco v Cape Verde is at 20.00 (all match times local) on Wednesday 23rd January.
Group B – Ghana, DR Congo, Mali, Niger
There is French representation in every team in Group B; DR Congo feature Cedric Mongongu of Evian in defence, Niger have Amadou Moutari of Lens in midfield, and Ghana have Evian pair Jonathan Mensah and Mohammed Rabiu, and John Boye from Rennes. However, Mali take the tricolore with fourteen members of their squad playing in Ligues 1 and 2 – key players will be Bordeaux’s Cheick Diabate, PSG’s Mohamed Sissoko, and defenders Adama Coulibaly (Auxerre) and Fousseini Diawara of Ajaccio.
Ghana v Mali is at 17.00 on Thursday 24th January – DR Congo v Mali in the last group game at 19.00 on Monday 28th January should also be worth a watch.
Group C – Zambia, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Burkina Faso
Only one team in Group C has players based in France, but with half a dozen of them, including some real talents, Burkina Faso should still hold the interest! Les Etalons have some great players to watch, Rennes’ Jonathan Pitroipa and Lorient’s Alain Traore amongst them; Lyon’s Bakary Kone will be needed in defence in a tough group featuring the defending champions, along with Marseille’s Charles Kabore in midfield.
Burkina Faso v Zambia is the last group game, at 19.00 on Tuesday 29th January.
Group D – Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, Tunisia, Algeria
The teams of Group D all feature French representatives, and in fact there are 23 of them overall – enough to make up a full squad! (At this point, naturally, I get sidetracked – see visual)
Tunisia have four France-based players, for whom Toulouse defender Aymen Abdennour could be the key man in another tough group; Algeria and Cote d’Ivoire both have five; Ajaccio defender Carl Medjani will be key for les Fennecs, and this could be a chance for Sochaux’s Ryad Boudebouz to shine, if they decide to inject some youth into midfield. Cote d’Ivoire, who won the CAN back in 1992 but despite always being one of the strongest squads, have failed to repeat that success, will be looking to old-stagers Siaka Tiene (PSG) and Saloman Kalou (still a Lille player, last time I looked) to put in good performances, although St Etienne’s Max Gradel might be kept out by the riches of the Ivorian selection. Finally, Togo have nine French representatives. Often described as ‘Emmanuel Adebayor plus ten others’, maybe the most important of those ‘others’ will be Reims goalkeeper Kossi Agassa, as this could be a goal-heavy group; Reims may not be doing brilliantly in Ligue 1, but that’s hardly Agassa’s fault – they have conceded 22 goals, only five teams have done better. Lorient’s Alaixys Romao could also be worth a watch in midfield.
Every game in this group has great potential, but the final game Algeria v Cote d’Ivoire at 19.00 on Wednesday 30th January could well be decisive; the opening game Cote d’Ivoire v Togo at 17.00 on Tuesday 22nd January will also show whether Cote d’Ivoire are going to go for it this time, or stick with the more defensive approach they relied on in CAN 2012.
We will be posting round-ups after each round of games, focussing on the France-based players – for more comprehensive information and coverage of the tournament, we recommend the wonderful Sandals for Goalposts (also on Twitter) – they have set up a league in the CAN Fantasy Football competition. Also, we are planning a ‘CAN-Tasy Football League’ during the tournament, to try to cheer up fans whose clubs have lost key players; your team’s players will win points based on their performance at the CAN – bookmark this link for the results dashboard (currently showing squad details only – and it’s a bit bright, sorry about that).