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AFCON: Bolasie & Appiah Ready For Action

14 January 2015

The Africa Cup of Nations kicks off this weekend and with Yannick Bolasie and Kwesi Appiah featuring in the tournament, there should be plenty to interest Palace fans over the coming weeks.

After fears that the continental showpiece could be postponed due to the spread of Ebola, Morocco pulled out of their hosting duties and Equatorial Guinea stepped in at short notice to stage the competition. This led to Marouane Chamakh's side being kicked out, ending the Eagles striker's hopes of lifting the trophy in his homeland.

As well as Morocco, perennial African powerhouses Nigeria, Angola and Egypt all failed to qualify for the 16-team tournament, which runs from Saturday until the 8th February.

This means there is a fairly open field of teams looking to taste AFCON glory, and after helping his side scrape their way into the finals as the best third-placed side in qualifying, Bolasie will be hoping his Democratic Republic of Congo side can spring a few surprises.

They have plenty of pedigree in the competition, having won it twice under their previous guise as Zaire, and they have a decent young squad to cause teams problems. Youssouf Mulumbu and Gabriel Zakuani will be well-known to English fans, but Nottingham Forest's Britt Assombalonga has rejected a call-up. However Dieumerci Mbokani of Dynamo Kiev is capable of finding the back of the net having scored 16 goals in 28 games in Ukraine, and winger Jeremy Bolika is one to watch. Bolasie himself has scored three times in his last two appearances for The Leopards.

However DR Congo will face stiff competition to progress to the knockout stages, having been drawn alongside Zambia, Tunisia and Cape Verde in Group B. Tunisia are probably favourites to top the group despite not being the force they were 10 years ago when they won the trophy, and Zambia have qualified for their fourth tournament in a row.

Cape Verde could be the dark horses of the whole tournament through, having got through to the quarter-finals two years ago and topping their group in qualification. They reached as high as 27 in the FIFA world rankings a year ago and are tipped for good things again this time round.

If Bolasie though thinks that he's in for a tough ride to get through to the last eight, then spare a thought for Appiah. His Ghana side have been handed a fiendishly difficult pool including Algeria, Senegal and South Africa which will see two of the tournament's biggest sides guaranteed to be eliminated at the group stage.   

The Black Stars are slowly seeing their big names fall out of favour after their zenith at the 2010 World Cup, with Michael Essien, Kevin Prince-Boateng and Sulley Muntari missing from Avram Grant's squad. However they do still boast goal machine Asamoah Gyan up top, and brothers Andre and Jordan Ayew boast plenty of experience and talent.

However Algeria are the continent's top-ranked team, and made the knockout stages of the World Cup last year before falling to eventual winners Germany after extra-time. There is no place in the squad for Adlene Guedioura who has been upstaged by Tottenham's Nabil Bentelab, but they breezed through qualifying by winning their first five games.

Senegal should go far. Newcastle United's Papiss Cisse and Stoke City's Mame Biram Diouf will forge a strong strike-force, with also sees Demba Ba notable by his absence, and Southampton Saido Mane could also play a key role if he shakes off injury. South Africa meanwhile are a young side and may struggle in this group of death with ex-Eagle Kagisho Dikgacoi who is injured.

Group A is by far the widest open of the four, with Equatorial Guinea only qualifying by default thanks to their capability of hosting the tournament with a couple of months notice, but have been handed a favourable draw alongside Congo, Burkina Faso and Gabon.

They and Gabon reached the quarter-finals in 2012 when they were co-hosts but the hosts this time round aren't expected to pull up any trees after being expelled from qualification by fielding in ineligible player, but powerful striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang could fire Gabon into the knockout stages. 

Congo made it through via a tough qualifying group that contained South Africa and Nigeria to qualify for their first tournament in 41 years so should find this pool little trouble, and Burkina Faso could make it through having nearly won the tournament last time round but lost to Nigeria in the final.

Cameroon and the Ivory Coast are the biggest draws in Group D and would be expected to advance to the final eight at the expense of Mali and Guinea. The Ivory Coast probably boast the strongest, most recognisable squad in the competition despite losing Didier Drogba through retirement, but any side that has Yaya Toure, Wilfried Bony, Chieck Tiote and Gervinho should make the latter stages.

Having been drawn alongside the Ivory Coast in qualifying and remaining unbeaten against them, Cameroon will be looking to top the group after disappointing in the World Cup. The goals of Porto's Vincent Aboubakar should help fill the void left by Samuel Eto'o and Stephane Mbia is still pulling the strings in midfield.

Mali will have a good chance though of edging ahead of one of the powerhouses of African football as they have finished in third position in the last two tournaments, and Guinea managed to make it through despite not playing any games at home due to the Ebola outbreak, but may find this group a step too far.

Bolasie's games:
Sunday 18th January: Zambia v DR Congo DR – 7pm
Thursday 22nd January: Cape Verde v DR Congo DR – 7pm
Monday 26th January: DR Congo v Tunisia – 6pm

Appiah's games:
Monday 19th January: Ghana v Senegal – 4pm
Friday 23rd January: Ghana v Algeria – 4pm
Tuesday 27th January: South Africa v Ghana– 6pm

Saturday 31st January and Sunday 1st February

Wednesday 4th February and Thursday 5th February

Saturday 7th February – 7pm

Sunday 8th February – 7pm

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