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18/01/2008 No.11
rendspotting Football
Dan Roebuck
Friday January 18, 2008
  Precedent suggests west is best in Africa but hosts look vulnerable

With host nations having won seven of the past 15 African Cup of Nations, bookmakers have gone for the safety-first option in the outright market this time. Ghana, freely available at 7-2, head the betting with every firm, but Claude Le Roy's team are not the value bet to win the tournament for the first time since 1982. Expectations have proved too much for them in the past and, although they have a talented squad, it may pay punters to look elsewhere for the winners of the competition, which begins on Sunday..


Ghana will almost certainly make it beyond the group stage and Boyle Sports is perhaps taking a chance by offering a standout 5-6 about the Black Stars winning their section - some firms go as short as 4-7. However, the lack of a prolific striker could be their downfall. Junior Agogo may have scored 10 goals in 22 League One appearances for Nottingham Forest this season but is he really good enough to be Ghana's front-line striker? He is a 25-1 shot to be the tournament's top goalscorer, and none of Ghana's other Europe-based forwards - Asamoah Gyan (20-1, Bet365), Baffour Gyan (14-1, Coral) and Quincy Owusu-Abeyie (33-1, general) - can be classed as a regular goalscorer or starter for his club side.

A team bursting with striking options are the 4-1 (general) shots Ivory Coast, who include the irrepressible Didier Drogba. The Chelsea forward scored his 30th international goal in a friendly against Kuwait last weekend and is 6-1 (Blue Square and Coral) to win the Golden Boot and 9-4 (Paddy Power) to be the Premier League's top scorer of the tournament. But there are factors that count against the Ivorians, including the late replacement of Uli Stielike with Gérard Gili as coach after the German resigned to be with his ill son. Coupled with the lack of an experienced goalkeeper and a less than straightforward group, which includes 7-1 (Coral) Nigeria and 18-1 (Bet365) Mali, these issues put me off backing the 2006 runners-up.

Indeed, Mali may be worth a speculative wager at 5-1 (Sky Bet) to win Group B if Freddie Kanouté (16-1 with Paddy Power to end the tournament with the most goals) gets enough supply from midfield. Ivory Coast are 6-5 (Bet365) to top the section, with Nigeria 15-8 (Coral).

A better, if more conservative, bet is to back Mali to qualify from the group at 10-11 (Stan James) because Nigeria are always likely to implode if things do not go their way. Six of the top 10 in Paddy Power's Missing in Action market, ie which player will be the first to report late back for Premier League duty, are Nigerian.

As Kevin Pullein explains below, it is best to back a west African side when the tournament is being staged there and, although Ghana and Ivory Coast are deservedly the top two in the market, Cameroon, at 6-1 (general), may be the value alternative. If they gain some momentum they are strong enough to win. In Samuel Eto'o (6-1 with Ladbrokes to win the Golden Boot) they have a world-class striker who has scored six times in seven appearances for Barcelona since returning from injury. Moreover, Otto Pfister has the best goalkeeper in the competition in Carlos Kameni. Given the propensity for the final to be won on penalties (three of the past four) the Espanyol No1 may emerge as the hero.

Cameroon are 8-11 (Ladbrokes and VC Bet) to win a group containing the defending champions Egypt (6-4, general, to win the group and 16-1, Paddy Power, to win the tournament), Zambia (16-1 and 80-1, general) and Sudan (33-1 and 200-1, general). The odds suggest Egypt are the biggest danger to the Indomitable Lions but they struggled to qualify and are poor south of the Sahara, and with Mohamed Barakat and Mido absent through injury they may fail to make the knockout stages, which can be backed at 3-1 (Stan James).

Mali to qualify for the knockout stages at 10-11 (Stan James) *****
Egypt to fail to qualify for the knockout stages at 3-1 (Stan James) ***
Cameroon, each-way, to win the tournament at 6-1 (general) *
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