Afcon Group A Preview: Hosts Equatorial Guinea face tough test to progress

Having agreed to stage the tournament after Morocco withdrew, the squad has been left with the need to adapt to a new head coach just days before the finals begin

Equatorial Guinea saved the day by stepping in as hosts of the Africa Cup of Nations, but their preparations have been far from ideal.

Having agreed to stage this year’s Afcon after Morocco pulled out due to Ebola fears, they changed head coach with the competition just days away: Andoni Goikoetxea was fired without explanation and replaced by the women’s national team coach Esteban Becker.

The favourites – Congo and Gabon

Congo have Frenchman Claude Le Roy at the helm and will be hoping his impressive record in seven previous Afcon competitions will provide them with the experience they need to go deep into the tournament.

Le Roy has only failed to take his team to the last eight once.

Congo last won the tournament in 1972 but will be confident of at least progressing from a relatively weak Group A after impressing in a tough qualifying pool that also included South Africa, Sudan and Nigeria.

Meanwhile, Gabon qualified from a difficult group including Burkina Faso, Angola and Lesotho, and will hope to at least match their run to the quarter-finals in 2012.

The outsiders – Equatorial Guinea and Burkina Faso

Equatorial Guinea’s coaching disarray makes their task even harder, despite the fact they will enjoy home advantage.

Burkina Faso enjoyed a fairytale run to the final in the 2013 Afcon where they were finally beaten by Nigeria.

But they find themselves in a pool that contains their qualifying group conquerors Gabon and a Congo side under the stewardship of the wily Afcon fox Le Roy.

Despite almost qualifying for the World Cup Finals in Brazil and their 2013 Afcon heroics, this tournament may prove a bridge too far for Burkina.

Star Player – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon)

Lightning-quick forward Aubameyang, of Borussia Dortmund, is the undoubted star of Gabon’s team.

Aubameyang scored both of his nation’s goals in their 2-0 win over Burkina Faso during qualifying and will undoubtedly be a handful for defenders throughout the tournament.

Crunch match – Gabon vs Congo

January 21’s clash between the favourites to progress from Group A is likely to decide who wins the pool and therefore takes on the runners-up from Group B.

Matches

January 17, 2015 – Equatorial Guinea vs Congo, Bata / Burkina Faso vs Gabon, Bata

January 21, 2015 – Equatorial Guinea vs Burkina Faso, Bata / Gabon vs Congo, Bata

January 25, 2015 – Gabon vs Equatorial Guinea, Bata / Congo vs Burkina Faso, Ebebiyin