International friendlies: Ivory Coast rise, South Africa struggle

Posted by Firdose Moonda

Defending African Nations' Cup [ANC] champions Zambia and continental powerhouses Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Ghana sounded warning calls ahead of January's tournament with victories in their international friendlies on Wednesday, while there was also an upset win for Togo. The trio of North African sides - Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia - were all defeated and 2013 ANC hosts South Africa failed to get it together, again.

Bafana Bafana will be the most concerned of the sides with a triple worry looming over them. Most glaringly, their defeat despite dominating possession and being presented with more chances showed up the country's problems in offence yet again.

The aftermath resulted in coach Gordon Igesund hinting at disunity in the ranks and a lack of preparation time when he said: "I've had the team for three months - five games and eight training sessions, which is very difficult. We are not a team yet." And off the field, the behaviour of their fans painted the country in a poor light as stones were thrown at the Zambian team bus when they left the ground.

Goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene, who plays his club football at Free State Stars and is a much-loved figure, reportedly required stitches to the head after being hit. All this does not bode well for South Africa ahead of a tournament they have been instructed by the football association to make the semi-finals for. Add to that that Igesund has not managed to convince Steven Pienaar to come out of international retirement and the situation may get even worse for the country.

Only two months remain to prepare for the tournament which kicks off on January 19. By contrast, Zambia celebrated their Nelson Mandela Challenge win with much gusto on the Soccer City pitch.

Their result was not as convincing as Nigeria's, though. In the first football match to be played at the Miami Marlins Baseball team's home, they entertained in front of goal and netted three times to beat Venezuela 3-1. The South Americans had two goals disallowed - one for an offside and the other for a handling issue - but the highlight of the 90 minutes was Nosa Igiebor's 30-metre shot that beat Dani Hernandez in goal.

Ivory Coast went one better. Not only were they able to keep a clean sheet but they extended their unbeaten run to 22 matches [including the ANC final against Zambia which they lost on penalties] in Austria. Goals from Didier Ya Konan, Didier Drogba and Lacina Traore gave them a 3-0 win as they warmed up for what could be Drogba's last appearance in the tournament next year. The Ivorians remain one of the favourites and last lost a match against Poland in 2010.

Ghana's Black Stars are also expected to light up the South African sky although their victory over minnows Cape Verde may prove more of a boost for the island nation. Mubarak Wakasu's second half goal separated the two teams in Portugal. Cape Verde asked plenty of questions of the Ghanaian defence but could not get too much past Lee Addy and Jerry Akaminko. They will make their first appearance in the tournament next year and are grouped with the hosts - who they may start to view as easily pluckable victims.

In fact, Cape Verde could even fancy themselves against Morocco who were disappointing in their outing against Togo. They could not break through a stubborn defence or wrest possession from the Togolese who had Emmanuel Adebayor to thank for their win. The lack of penetration from Morocco became evident when their home crowd began to cheer on Togo and boo the Atlas Lions. For Togo, the decision to play Morocco was strategic. They are grouped with Algeria and Tunisia in the ANC and wanted to get a feel for a North African style of play.

They will also be delighted by the results of both their opponents, who lost their friendlies. Ten-man Tunisia were beaten in the sixth minute of injury time by Switzerland despite creating more chances and Algeria lost 1-0 to Bosnia.

The other interesting result, although it will not have any impact on the ANC, was Gabon's holding of Portugal to a 2-all draw. Gabon co-hosted this year's tournament but failed to qualify for the 2013 edition. They faced a Portuguese side without the injured Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani or Raul Meireles but will still be satisfied with a valiant effort.

Two other African sides in action were Egypt and Cameroon and both had nothing to report from their matches. They played out goalless draws against Albania and Georgia respectively.

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