With all of the 16 competing nations having played two Afcon games already, it seems an appropriate time to examine the fates and fortunes of the Premier League stars on show.
The Ivory Coast, proclaimed favourites before the tournament, have been slow to ignite, but their two performances have been fruitful, with a maximum six points supporting those that heralded the famed "Golden Generation" as Champions-elect.
Two Premier League stars have flourished in the Elephants’ two games to date, and both of will be keen to make a big impact on the latter rounds of the competition.
Gervinho, so disappointing in recent times in an Arsenal shirt, has come into his own with the national team. Perhaps relishing the familiar surroundings of the squad and the reduced pressure with playing so far from home, the winger has looked more much emboldened than the cowed figure that has disappointed so regularly recently.
Two goals so far, including the dramatic late winner against Togo, has set Gervinho apart as one of the players of the tournament to date. Ivorians will be hoping that his purple patch can continue for some time yet.
Yaya Toure’s impressive performances will come as less of a surprise to anyone who has even casually observed the English game over the last 12 months. After opening the scoring against Togo, Toure’s late, beautiful drive sealed the three points against Tunisia, thus ensuring the Elephants’ progress to the latter stages.
Midfield enforcer Cheick Tioté started the Ivorians’ second game against the Eagles of Carthage. The all-action Newcastle star may become as crucial component for the side as they progress and as challenges increase upon them.
With a supporting cast including the likes of former England-based stars Emmanuel Eboue, Didier Drogba, Zokora, Salomon Kalou and Sol Bamba, as well as Manchester City centre-back Kolo Toure, the Ivorian advance will be laced with familiar stars. Can this cosmopolitan contingent secure a momentous Afcon title for the West Africans?
Group A comes to a close today, as Morocco aim to keep the embers of their campaign alive against the hosts in Durban. The North Africans, tipped by many to impress, have failed to do just that in their two games to date. Uninspired against Angola, they failed to register a goal, while it took a late equaliser and a raft of changes against minnows Cape Verde to even confirm a point on Wednesday.
Two Premier League stars feature for the Atlas Lions, but neither has impressed in their opening fixtures. Oussama Assaidi has been one of a number of disappointing attacking options, while Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert will be hoping that midfield general Karim El Ahmadi can profit from Maroc’s poor form and return to aid his ailing Villains as soon as possible.
West Ham forward Modibo Maiga is part of the Mali squad that has endured a mixed start to the tournament, and now face a straight playoff against the Democratic Republic of Congo—featuring Albion star Youssouf Mulumbu, to see who qualifies for the second round. My personal preference would be for a Zairian advance, but whichever team is eliminated, they will surely look back with regret upon their underwhelming performances in Port Elizabeth on Thursday.
Finally, attention must turn to two West African nations with talismanic figures crucial to narratives at the summit of the Premier League. Togolese striker Emmanuel Adebayor enjoys almost God-like status in his native land, and has repaid the glory lavished upon him with commanding displays in his opening games. Whilst things didn’t go to plan against CIV, it was Adebayor’s opening goal that eventually proved decisive against Algeria—condemning the North Africans to elimination.
While Victor Moses has only played a peripheral role in the tournament so far, John Obi Mikel has had his moments in this competition. A sumptuous pass for Emmanuel Emenike to open the scoring against Zambia was a mark of his class, but a missed penalty in the early stages of that game might prove decisive. With Ethiopia to come, it’s not too late for Mikel to step up and be the midfield general that this young Naija side require.
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