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Pressure on World Cup finalists
by Paul Kennedy, January 6th, 2010 7AM
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[AFRICA CUP OF NATIONS] Whether the Africa Cup of Nations, which kicks off Sunday in Angola, is a blessing or a curse for the five World Cup finalists taking part in the tournament won't be known for several weeks. The January competition gives teams a month of team-building to jumpstart their World Cup preparations. A poor showing in Angola, on the other hand, will almost certainly trigger a major shakeup. Soccer America begins its Angola '10 countdown with a look at Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria. Tomorrow: U.S. opponent Algeria.

CAMEROON. The Indomitable Lions finished second two years ago, losing Egypt in the final after eliminating host Ghana in the semifinals. Their most recent titles date back to 2000 and 2002, both won on penalty kicks. They open against Gabon, which they beat twice last summer to turn around their floundering World Cup qualifying campaign.

Group D opponents: Gabon, Zambia, Tunisia.

What to look for: Cameroon won its previous four African titles with a Frenchman in charge, and Paul Le Guen will look to build upon the success he's had since taking over the Lions last summer.

Goalie Carlos Idriss Kameni, defender Geremi Njitap and Samuel Eto'o -- all holdovers from the 2000 Olympic gold-medal team -- give Cameroon plenty of experience.

Cameroon Roster:
Goalkeepers: Carlos Kameni (Espanyol, Spain), Souleymanou Hamidou (Kayserispor, Turkey), Guy N'dy Assembe (Valenciennes, France).
Defenders: Rigobert Song (Trabzonspor, Turkey), Geremi (Newcastle United, England), Henri Bedimo (Chateauroux, France), Andre Bikey (Burnley, England), Benout Assou-Ekoto (Tottenham, England).
Midfielders: Aurelien Chedjou (Lille, France), Nicolas N'Koulou (Monaco, France), Alexandre Song (Arsenal, England), Jean Makoun (Lyon, France), Stephane M'Bia (Marseille, France), Georges Mandjeck (Kaiserslautern, Germany), Joel Matip (Schalke, Germany), Eyong Enoh (Ajax, Netherlands). Landry N'Guemo (Celtic, Scotland), Achille Emana (Real Betis, Spain), Somen Tchoyi (Red Bull Salzburg, Austria).
Forwards: Paul Alo'o (Nancy, France), Pierre Webo (Real Mallorca, Spain), Mohammadou Idrissou (Freiburg, Germany), Samuel Eto'o (Inter Milan, Italy).


GHANA. The Black Stars, the only African team to advance to the second round of the 2006 World Cup, are a team in transition. Veterans Stephen Appiah, John Paintsil and John Mensah are all out with injuries, and Serbian coach Milovan Rajevac kicked Sulley Muntari off the team.

Group B opponents:
Togo, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso.

What to look for:
With the late additions of Ransford Osei and Jonathan Mensah for veterans for Paintsil and and John Mensah, that makes eight players from Ghana's 2009 Under-20 World Cup championship team who are in Angola.

The player to watch is Dominic Adiyiah, winner of the Golden Ball at the U-20 finals.

Ghana Roster:
Goalkeepers: Richard Kingson (Wigan, England), Daniel Agyei (Liberty), Philemon McCarthy (Hearts of Oak).
Defenders: Jonathan Mensah (Udinese, Italy), Hans Sarpei (Bayer Leverkusen, Germany), Samuel Inkoom (Basel, Switzerland), Eric Addo (Roda JC, Netherlands), Isaac Vorsah (Hoffenheim, Germany), John Mensah (Sunderland, England), Lee Addy (Bechem Chelsea), Harrison Afful (Esperance, Tunisia).
Midfielders: Ibrahim Ayew (Zamalek, Egypt), Michael Essien (Chelsea, England), Anthony Annan (Rosenberg, Norway), Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu (Sampdoria, Italy), Opoku Agyemang (Al-Sadd, Qatar), Kwadwo Asamoah (Udinese, Italy), Moussa Nary (Auxerre, France), Andre Ayew (Arles, France).
Forwards: Matthew Amoah (NAC, Netherlands), Asamoah Gyan (Rennes, France), Dominic Adiyiah (AC Milan, Italy), Haminu Draman (Lok. Moscow, Russia), Ransford Osei (FC Twente, Netherlands).


IVORY COAST. The Elephants are the favorites like they were two years ago when they cruised into the semifinals before being crushed by eventual champion, Egypt, 4-1. They certainly have the most big names with such stars as the Chelsea pair of  Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou and brothers Yaya and Kolo Toure.

Group B opponents:
Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo.

What to look for:
Bosnian coach Vahid Halilhodzic and Drogba have warned about putting too much into Ivory Coast's status as the favorite.

"We will treat every opponent with respect, humility and seriousness," said Drogba. "There is no room for complacency like in Ghana. No game is won in advance."

Halilhodzic is concerned about Drogba's fitness, criticizing the English Premier League for its heavy end-of-year calendar.

Ivory Coast Roster:
Goalkeepers: Boubacar Barry (Lokeren, Belgium), Aristide Zogbo (Maccabi Netanya, Israel), Vincent Angban (ASEC Mimosas).
Defenders: Kolo Toure (Man. City, England), Emmanuel Eboue (Arsenal, England), Guy Demel (Hamburg, Germany), Souleymane Bamba (Hibernian, Scotland), Benjamin Angoua (Honved, Hungary) Arthur Boka (VfB Stuttgart, Germany), Aboudalye Meite (West Brom, England), Siaka Tiene (Valenciennes, France).
Midfielders: Yaya Toure (Barcelona, Spain), Didier Zokora (Sevilla, Spain), Emmanuel Kone (International Curtea de Arges, Romania), Cheik Tiote (FC Twente, Netherlands), Emerse Fae (Nice, France), Jean-Jacques Gosso (Monaco, France), Abdul Kader Keita (Galatasaray, Turkey).
Forwards:  Didier Drogba (Chelsea, England), Salomon Kalou (Chelsea, England), Bakari Kone (Marseille, France), Aruna Dindane (Portsmouth, England), Gervinho (Lille, France).


NIGERIA. The Super Eagles haven't won the Africa Cup of Nations since 1994, and the pressure on Coach Shaibu Amodu will be immense. Of the coaches of the five World Cup teams in Angola, Amodu is the most likely to go if things don't go well.

Group C opponents:
Egypt, Benin, Mozambique.

What to look for:
John Obi Mikel is more of a destroyer than a playmaker with Chelsea, but the 22-year-old will need to fulfill the latter role for the Eagles, whose problems in qualifying were due in part to their spotty central midfield play.

Nigeria Roster:

Goalkeepers: Vincent Enyeama (Hapoel Tel Aviv, Israel) Bamidele Aiyenugba (Bnei Yehuda, Israel) Austin Ejide (unattached)
Defenders: Joseph Yobo (Everton, England), Danny Shittu (Bolton, England), Obinna Nwaneri  Yusuf Mohammed (both FC Sion, Switzerland) Taye Taiwo (Marseille, France) Elderson Echiejile (Rennes, France), Chidi Odiah (CSKA Moscow, Russia), Onyekachi Apam (Nice, France).
Midfielders: Nwankwo Kanu (Portsmouth, England), John Obi Mikel (Chelsea, England), Dickson Etuhu (Fulham, England) Sani Kaita (Lokomotiv Moscow, Russia) Yusuf Atanda Ayila (Dynamo Kiev, Ukraine), Oluwaseyi George Olofinjana (Hull, England), Kalu Uche (Almeria, Spain).
Strikers: Yakubu Aiyegbeni (Everton, England), Osaze Odemwingie (Lokomotiv Moscow, Russia), Michael Eneramo (Esperance, Tunisia), Obinna Nsofor (Malaga, Spain), Obafemi Martins (Wolfsburg, Germany).


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