Abedi Pele tips Ghana for glory
The legendary Abedi Pele has tipped his native Ghana to win this year's CAF Africa Cup of Nations, which begins on Sunday, on home soil. The former Marseille player believes the Black Stars can overcome the loss of injured captain Stephen Appiah and equal Egypt's record of winning the biennial tournament a fifth time.
"Ghana can go all the way because they are playing in front
of their fans and the loss of Appiah will be overcome as Michael
Essien, Laryea Kingston and Sulley Muntari are great
midfielders," declared the man voted African Footballer of the
Year three consecutive times during the 1990s. "I also have
high hopes for another midfielder, Ahmed Barruso, who played for
Roma against Manchester United in the Champions League,"
Pele considers Group B rivals Côte d'Ivoire and Nigeria the biggest threats to Ghana, a west Africa country that won two of the previous three Africa Cup of Nations tournaments it hosted but has not conquered the continent for 26 years.
"If Ghana slip then I fancy Ivory Coast or Nigeria to lift the trophy. The only worry I have about the Ivorians is all their stars want to be in the starting line-up, while there are great players in the Nigerian squad."
Pele won the competition as a 17-year-old in 1982, coming on as a substitute to help Ghana edge hosts Libya 7-6 on penalties in the first African final settled by a shootout. While acknowledging Guinea have some great France-based players like midfielder Pascal Feindouno, he favours Ghana and Morocco to reach the knockout phase from Accra-based Group A.
"I do not like the term 'group of death' because in football you win, draw or lose," he said referring to Sekondi-based Group B, where Benin, Côte d'Ivoire, Mali and Nigeria will challenge for two quarter-finals slots. "This is a great group. Ivory Coast have the best team on paper but Nigeria have found successors to Stephen Keshi and Rashidi Yekini and Mali possess wonderful footballers like Frederic Kanoute."
The former playmaker, whose career took him to Benin, France, Italy, Germany and the Middle East, also believes that Group C dark horses Zambia could upset title holders Egypt and four-time champions Cameroon. "I saw Zambia humiliate hosts South Africa in a qualifier and they can defeat anyone in Ghana if they show the same form. Cameroon stars like Rigobert Song are growing old but the team remains dangerous and Egypt are always a threat."
Pele fancies Senegal and South Africa to finish above 2004 champions Tunisia and Angola in Group D, potentially the most open of the four first-round mini-leagues. "Senegal lack the strength of the 2002 team that reached the Nations Cup final and the World Cup, but have good players capable of causing surprises," he said.
"South Africa are building a team for the future and I hope they will continue using their local-based players in Ghana. Bafana Bafana possess the hunger to do well. Angola are a strong team who adopt a very different approach to the rest of Africa. They use a kick-and-run style which is strange and very dangerous, but I believe Senegal and South Africa will go through."