GROUP D: A lottery


Senegal, who have been on something of a slide since their 2002 World Cup heroics in South Korea and Japan, have seen a resurgence in 2007 and go into this tournament as many people’s favourites.

And star striker El-Hadji Diouf believes his side can compete, if they keep their recent level of performance up.

"Everybody knows that Senegal is always amongst the favourites in this competition," he says. "This time, I think that if we play the way we did during the qualifiers, we have a chance. We have been to a final, semi-final and hopefully this year we can go all the way.”

But even he is finding it difficult to pick a winner.

"There is Senegal, Ghana, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Angola, Nigeria, Mali, and Guinea. I think this is the hardest African Nations Cup ever to win because every team has good players," he says.

The Lions of Teranga will have to get out of Group D first, however, though they face two great unknowns in Tunisia and South Africa.

The Tunisians, a traditional powerhouse of African soccer and winners of this competition on home soil in 2004, are going through something of a transition, as long-serving coach Roger Lemerre tries to bed in some fresh young talent.

Indeed, the Carthage Eagles had to rely on a ‘best runners-up’ spot just to qualify for Ghana, after being outclassed by Sudan in their qualification group. And recent friendly results have not been too clever either, including a 2-1 home defeat to Zambia on January 6.

The likes of experienced campaigners such as Hatem Trabelsi, Ali Boumnijel and Riadh Bouazizi will not be in Ghana, but that provides an opportunity to the likes of young goalkeeper Hamdi Kasraoui and striker Mohamed Armine Chermiti.

The word that perhaps best describes the Tunisian squad is ‘potential’, but whether they will be able to turn that potential into a winning combination remains to be seen.

A side in a similar boat is South Africa, whose eyes are already firmly fixed building towards the 2010 World Cup.

While fans back home might have dreams of lifting a second continental title, coach Carlos Alberto Parreira has spoken time and again of the experience his young group of players will get in Ghana being the most important feature of their trip.

But this team does have the ability to surprise, with some genuine match-winners in the group and a defence that has been frugal in Parreira’s reign, barring the disastrous Nations Cup qualifier against Zambia in September when they shipped three poor goals.

What is perhaps counting in their favour is that nobody expects them to get out of their group, let alone advance to the latter stages of the knockout rounds, but with a wily old campaigner like Parreira in charge, South Africa have the ability to surprise.

Angola make up the fourth team in Group D and the 2006 World Cup finalists will be confident within themselves of making it past the first round for the first time in their history.

The side, coached by the Portuguese Luís Oliveira Gonçalves, are a delight to watch on attack, and scored the most goals of all African teams in their qualifiers – 16 in six matches.

They have the pedigree to go far in the tournament, and their World Cup experience in Germany will certainly help with any ‘big tournament nerves’.

GROUP D FIXTURES23/1/08 - Tunisia v Senegal23/1/08 - South Africa v Angola27/1/08 - Senegal v Angola27/1/08 - Tunisia v South Africa31/1/08 - Senegal v South Africa31/1/08 - Tunisia v Angola