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Group C: Nigeria, Zambia and the return of Ethiopia

29122012C-Joseph-MusondaThe group C of the 2013 Africa Nations Cup has Zambia, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Ethiopia. Nigeria and Zambia are familiar foes but 1962 champions Ethiopia said winning the title in South Africa is their dream

 Nigeria

Next year’s Africa Nations Cup will be Nigeria’s 17th appearance at the tournament proper after they sensationally failed to qualify for the 2012 edition in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea last year.

They have won the tournament twice, on home soil in 1980 and then in Tunisia in 1994.

They were also beaten finalists in 1984, 1988, 1990 as well as 2000, which they co-hosted with Ghana.

To qualify for the 2013 AFCON, they eliminated Rwanda and Liberia.

The Super Eagles dispatched of the Lone Star of Liberia 6-1 in the return leg of a final qualifier in Calabar and thus head to South Africa on an 8-3 aggregate.

Such a comprehensive result has restored some public confidence in the team after they failed to qualify last year for this year’s competition.

However, partly as a result of this failure they are not among the top seeds for the 2013 tournament meaning they could clash with the likes of hosts South Africa, perennial rivals Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and defending champions Zambia as early as the first round of this championship.

Former international skipper Stephen Keshi took over the team from Samson Siasia in November and has since worked with mainly players from the Nigeria Premier League.

As a result of this new focus, the likes of Gabriel Reuben, Papa Idris, Umar Zango (Kano Pillars), Ejike Uzoenyi (Enugu Rangers), Henry Uche, Uche Kalu (Enyimba), Juwon Oshaniwa (Sharks), Godfrey Oboabona (Sunshine Stars) and Azubuike Egwuekwe, Chigozie Agbim, Sunday Mba (Warri Wolves) have become part of the national team.

However, only a handful of these players figured in the thumping of Liberia in Calabar as their Europe-based counterparts seized the chance to press for places in the final squad to South Africa 2013.

It will be very interesting to see the mix of NPL stars and their Europe-based colleagues for the forthcoming competition especially as for the 2008 and 2010 editions, no player from the domestic league made the final cut.

Zambia

The African champions head to the South Africa-hosted tournament hoping to emulate Ghana, Egypt and Cameroon and retain their title.

Zambia, like the other 16 finalists, enjoyed first and second round byes for the 2013 qualifiers.

However, Zambia found their work cut out for them before ensuring their 16th tournament appearance and fifth successive outing.

Zambia, silver medallists in 1974 and 1994, managed to beat Uganda 1-0 in the first leg at home in Ndola on September 8, but lost 1-0 on October 13 in Kampala to force a post-match penalties decider that they won via a dramatic 9-8  shootout.

Captain and striker Christopher Katongo of Henan Jianye in China will be the defending champions’ key man in January.

Katongo is currently Zambia’s international top scorer this year on five goals.

However, midfielder Rainford Kalaba of TP Mazembe in DR Congo is proving to be the team’s driving force as evident when he was absent in their stuttering display away to Uganda in the return leg that he missed due to a groin injury.

Meanwhile, this will be Zambia’s French-born coach Herve Renard’s third successive Africa Cup with Zambia after a quarterfinal finish in 2010 and gold in 2012.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia make a grand return to the big stage of the Africa Nations Cup after a 31-year absence.

The Walya Antelopes’ last Africa Cup appearance came in 1982 in Libya.

At that tournament, the 1962 African champions failed to progress out of the group stage where they finished bottom with one point and no win from the three Group B matches.

Meanwhile, Ethiopia qualified in dramatic fashion for January’s finals, after beating 2012 quarterfinalists and highly fancied neighbours Sudan 2-0 on October 14 in Addis Ababa to qualify on away goals rule after a 5-5 aggregate score-line.

Coach Sewnet Bishaw’s side’s journey to South Africa began in the second qualifying round where they knocked out 2008 and 2010 finalists Benin 1-1 on aggregate, after a scoreless draw in the first leg in Addis Ababa.

His team comprises mostly of home-based players from record 25-time league champions Saint George.

Ethiopia’s most notable player is ex-Saint George striker Fikru Tefera who also played in South Africa for SuperSport United and Orlando Pirates.

Tefera currently campaigns at Vietnam club Thanh Hoa.

Egyptian-based striker Saladin Said of Wadi Degla FC is the other notable player to look out for in South Africa next January.

Burkina Faso

The Burkina Faso national football team, nicknamed Les Etalons (The Stallions), will be making their ninth appearance at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, having qualified as Upper Volta prior to 1984.

Their best finish was back in 1998 where they ended in fourth place during the tournament which they hosted; however, their recent performances have seen them failing to get past the group stage in five consecutive attempts between 2000 and 2012.

As a result Belgian coach Paul Put was given the reins in March 2012, taking over from Paulo Duarte, as they look to improve their record in the competition.

The 56-year-old started his coaching career with Belgian sides Geel, Lokeren and Lierse, before he was banned for three years by the Royal Belgian Football Association for his alleged involvement in a match-fixing scandal. From there he coached the Gambia national team between 2007 and 2011, before he was appointed to lead the Stallions.

The Burkinabe will be counting on star striker Moumouni Dagano, who currently plays for Al-Sailiya Sport Club in Qatar, and is the country’s top goal scorer of all time.

They also have a number of top players who ply their trade in the Ligue 1 in France like FC Lorient forward Alain Traore, Stade Rennais midfielder Jonathan Pitroipa, as well as Lyon defender Bakary Kone, who will all be expected to bring their international experience to help the side reach the knockout stages in South Africa.

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