GROUP B: An All-West African Affair


The group will be played at the coastal city of Sekondi-Takoradi on the Gulf of Guinea at the brand-new Sekondi Stadium.

And it’s a tough one to call. Nigeria and the Ivory Coast may seem overwhelming favourites to progress, but Mali in particular have build a formidable squad over the last few years that includes La Liga stars Fredi Kanoute and Mahamadou Diarra.

Nigeria’s chances have been helped enormously by having a first-choice squad devoid of injury or club vs country problems. The fact that they open the group against Ivory Coast will count in their favour in terms of knowing what they have to do in the remaining matches.

The Super Eagles have never lost to Benin in eight matches, and just once – in 1960 – to Mali in their seven encounters, so will be hopeful of having the upper hand in the group.

The Ivory Coast – beaten finalists in 2006 – will have grown in stature following their 2006 World Cup appearance in Germany, where they left the tournament with their reputation in tact.

The Ivorians’ form has been sketchy of late, having won just twice in their last six games, albeit a 6-1 hammering of Qatar in Doha and 2-0 away to Kuwait. But they too have the upper hand over their rivals, having lost just two of 21 encounters against Mali, and one of 11 against Benin.

Mali look the most likely side to upset the top two seeded teams in the group. Fourth-place finishes in 2002 and 2004 prove they know how to maneuver their way out of a group, and a good win in their opener against Benin should give them confidence going into their next two fixtures.

But Benin might have other ideas. The pair were grouped together in the qualifiers and the Squirrels held Mali in both their fixtures (0-0 and 1-1), results which went a long way to them reaching the finals.

That being said, they have failed to ever beat the Malians in international football.

THE FIXTURES21/1/08 - Nigeria vs Ivory Coast 21/1/08 - Mali vs Benin 25/1/08 - Ivory Coast vs Benin 25/1/08 - Nigeria vs Mali 29/1/08 - Nigeria vs Benin 29/1/08 - Ivory Coast vs Mali

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