Africa Cup of Nations Group C preview – Zambia, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia.
Star of the group: Hervé Renard, Zambia
It’s easy to forget that the Zambian team that lifted Africa’s premiere trophy in February 2012 were not flooded with star performers – indeed, the majority of that side were based locally, with others scattered in obscure locations across the globe.
The key figure in making the most of the unified assembly of Zambian talents was Renard, who meshed astute tactical awareness and humble man-management skills to produce an effective outfit. By promoting the team as the star, and fostering a trusting relationship with his players, the Frenchman pulled off a managerial masterclass to bring the cup back to Lusaka.
One to watch: Victor Moses, Nigeria
Moses has emerged as a crucial component of Nigeria’s frontline since making his international debut back in early 2012. Offering direct running, lightning pace and an eye for goal, he has all the attributes to be a quality performer.
The Lagos-born frontman is sure to relish the challenge that Africa’s finest will pose after an impressive start to his Chelsea career.
Key matchup: Zambia v Nigeria, 25 January, Nespruit
The Afcon holders take on one of the continent’s true heavyweights in a match that could well decide who tops the group, thus potentially avoiding the Cote d’Ivoire in the Quarter-finals.
2012 saw Zambia prove themselves as a group of players who thrive under pressure; a team for the big occasion. This game may see the Chipolopolo demonstrating their championship credentials once again.
For Stephen Keshi and Nigeria however, it will be considered a major test – it is one thing running riot over Liberia in Calabar, another completely to best the champions of Africa in an international spectacle.
Absent friend: Peter Odemwingie, Nigeria
Despite his terrific start to the season with West Bromwich Albion, Odemwingie has been deemed surplus to requirements by Keshi.
Trying to rationalise the omission of one of the nation’s finest players, some observers suggested that it was the striker’s attitude which had prompted the boss’s decision – speculation which was justified as the Uzbek-born frontman decided to publically lash out at the NFF following the squad’s announcement.
Whilst Odemwingie’s behaviour may have vindicated Keshi’s decision, the reality is that Nigeria will now be taking on the continent’s finest without one of their most naturally gifted players.
Nigeria and Zambia, with more quality and experience than their opposition, ought to qualify, whilst Burkina Faso and Ethiopia will contest the wooden spoon.