Well here we are, AFCON 2017 is just one, yes one, day away. I’ve got to admit I’m buzzing right now and I can feel you all are too. You are all buzzing right? Please tell me you’re buzzing? If you’re not yet you will be as I introduce the final group.
Welcome to Group D and what a group we have.
To kick off we start with Ghana. Who knew they are coached by the one and only Avram Grant? The Black Stars have a strong squad with Premier League players Daniel Amartey of Leicester and West Ham’s Andre Ayew featuring. Their star player and captain is Asamoah Gyan of Al Ahli. He is a former Sunderland striker, you may remember, before the money became too big to ignore in the Middle East. Young talent Ebenezer Ofori of AIK will be hoping to push the four times winners through the group. I, for one, will be hoping Ebenezer Ofori will become a star of AFCON as he is another headline maker in his name alone. I see it now. “Ebenezer Good.” If only we had a player called Charlie. What happened to the Shamen? One last thing on The Black Stars. Avram Grant likes a laugh or two as we know, but taking Barnsley defender Andy Yiadom is surely a joke, right? Sorry Andy.
Trying to take advantage of that weak point will be Egypt. The seven times AFCON winners will be looking for safe passage through the group and can call on some quality players in their squad. Stoke City youngster Ramadan Sobhi will be hoping to make an impact, as well as Ahmed Elmohamady of Hull City. With Mohamed Elneny of Arsenal in the middle of the park, The Pharaohs should comfortably make it out the group. Add in AS Roma star Mohamed Salah and coach Hector Cuper will be quietly confident. Let’s hope it’s the new and improved Salah, not the one who apparently turned up for Chelsea every now and then. Also keep an eye out for keeper Essam El Hadary of WadiDegla. He could become the oldest player in AFCON history if he plays and at 93 it’s a big if. Ok, he’s 43 but even so, those of us around this age know that after playing 90 minutes of football nowadays makes us feel 93 years old a day later. El Hadary, I feel your pain.
Next up are Mali. Now when I think of Mali I think of Frederic Kanoute. He was a prolific goalscorer with elegance and grace. Mali really could do with him now, because with Ghana and Egypt in their group they will struggle. Even with Crystal Palace’s Bakary Sako in the squad, they will struggle. They can rely on Troyes defender Mahamodou N’Diaye and have two potential stars to look out for, and yes you heard it here first. Rostov’s Moussa Doumbia and left back Molla Wague of Udinese both could make a big impact, or, now that I’ve mentioned them, have a disaster of a campaign. The one thing that The Eagles do have is their infamous physical and combative style. Which basically means they will kick lumps out of anyone who has the ball and pretty much anyone who doesn’t.
Last but by no means least we have Uganda. Now if ever there was a team who would be the whipping boys of the tournament this is them. Having not qualified since 1978, this is a great achievement for The Cranes. The one player to watch is Standard Liege forward Faruk Miya who will be hoping to make an impact in a difficult group. But with no star players of note even a point would be seen as an achievement. One thing is for sure. The Uganda parliament are firmly behind the team. After the government sent the team off with $540,176, which was well short of the $2m wanted by the Uganda Football Association, the kind members of Parliament had a whip round and collected $58,451. I can’t ever see Theresa May putting her hand in her pocket for the England team to have a few pints down the local. But this is the crazy world of AFCON that we live in.
So my final predictions for the group. It’s an easy task, this one. Ghana to top the group with Egypt a very close second. Mali to kick everyone in sight, have the most red and yellow cards in the tournament, and make the most fouls of any team that has ever graced AFCON and finish third. This leaves little Uganda to spend their extra pocket money on some nice souvenirs in Gabon and go out the tournament with a whimper and finish bottom. It’s a harsh world Uganda and with the Ugandan FA facing financial crisis it will only get worse.
So putting that dampener to one side, let’s bring it on.
AFCON 2017 is now just hours away from starting. I have a big digital clock up on my wall counting down every hour, every minute, every second. I can now tell you are all with me and after four days of build up this is it. Welcome to the AFCON ride people, it’s going be a crazy three weeks and believe me anything, quite literally, can happen. So get out your vuvuzelas, start practising your witchcraft and if you must sacrifice a goat make it clean because AFCON 2017 is here!
Disclaimer: Lee Spencer does not condone the sacrificing of goats, sheep or any other farm yard animal. Unless it brings your team success, then sharpen the knives.