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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 October 2005, 22:44 GMT 23:44 UK
Group D: West African affair
Compiled by Farayi Mungazi

NIGERIA

Nickname: Super Eagles
Coach: Austin Eguavoen
Captain: Jay-Jay Okocha
Cup record: Winners 1980 & 1994; Qualified 14 times

Whoever coined the expression about shooting oneself in the foot must have had Nigeria's footballers in mind, for the Super Eagles are often the architects of their own misery.

This is a team with the ability to excite but they also have the ability to crumble like the Berlin Wall.

With mind-boggling regularity, they press the self-destruct button during major tournaments, and there is no guarantee that Egypt 2006 will be different.

That Nigeria have some of the most gifted players in the world is beyond dispute, but many of them have got super-sized egos which undermine the team's unity and morale.

So the million-dollar question is: which Nigeria will turn up in Egypt, the one that can brush opponents aside with ease or a team that will push the self-destruct button again?

Coach Austin Eguavoen knows exactly what to expect if his team fails to win Nigeria's third African title. Even in a country of more than 120 million people, there will be no hiding place.

World Cup failure means that Nigeria's Super Eagles have had their wings clipped and will want to take out their frustrations on the continent in Egypt.

Obafemi Martins
Martins is Nigeria's key man in his first Nations Cup tournament
Key players: It used to be Jay-Jay Okocha, maybe one day it will be John Mikel Obi, but for now it is most definitely Obafemi Martins.

The Inter Milan striker has the power and guile to break down any defence in addition to having the ability to create goals from nowhere, and score them from anywhere.

Tellingly, this will be the last throw of the dice at international football for Okocha - a Nations Cup winner with the Super Eagles in 1994.

The 32-year-old midfielder is still capable of magic spells when inspired and could well bow out of international football with an almighty bang!

Verdict: If all is well within their ranks, the Super Eagles will soar to great heights. But as we know from experience though, where Nigeria are concerned, that is one big 'if'.


GHANA

Nickname: Black Stars
Coach: Ratomir Dujkovic
Captain: Stephen Appiah
Cup record: Winners 1963, 65, 78 & 82; Qualified 15 times

They were down, they were out, and missing the last Nations Cup finals made them very much yesterday's team.

But the Black Stars are back in business, their tails firmly up after qualifying for their first World Cup finals.

The Ghanaians go to Egypt with realistic hopes of winning their fifth Nations Cup title.

Their opening clash with Nigeria immediately caught the eye following the draw and pundits and fans alike await that game with baited breath.

Although Ghana's Nations Cup pedigree is beyond dispute, they have been waiting an awfully long time for Nations Cup title number five - 24 years to be precise.

That said, there has been much to admire from the Black Stars of late, not least their new-found self-belief, which helped secure a maiden World Cup appearance.

Ghana's campaign was showing signs of faltering when the Serbian Ratomir Dujkovic became their fourth coach on the road to Germany/Egypt 2006.

With Stephen Appiah and Michael Essien in fine form, they beat South Africa away from home in June and then won their last two matches to finish top of their qualifying group.

Key players: With Essien, Africa's most expensive footballer, absent through injury captain Stephen Appiah will need to live up to his reputation as arguably the most effective midfielder on the continent.

Ghana's Stephen Appiah
Stephen Appiah will captain Ghana at the Nations Cup in Egypt

He has the ability to find acres of space in even the most congested midfields and will carry the burden of ensuring Ghana's survival in the 'group of death.'

He can expect a lot of help from the nimble-footed Matthew Amoah, scorer of some key goals in the qualifying campaign.

Verdict: Having experienced far more downs than ups in recent years, the team seems to have finally come together, thanks largely to the astute management of Dujkovic.

The Serbian has given the Black Stars a renewed sense of purpose but the biggest question seems to be whether or not the strikers have enough goals in them to carry Ghana beyond the group stage.

Dujkovic now faces the hardest task - guiding his team to their fifth Nations Cup title. He may have to be content this time around with a quarter-final appearance.


SENEGAL

Senegal
Nickname: Teranga Lions
Coach: Abdoulaye Sarr
Captain: Ferdinand Coly
Cup record: Qualified 10 times

For a squad as decent and highly experienced as the Teranga Lions, missing out on a World Cup place was a huge disaster, especially after their exploits in the 2002 finals.

The Senegalese were no doubt the success story of Japan/Korea but they seem to have fallen victim to the complacency they so famously exploited against France.

This is why few have talked about them being a factor at Egypt 2006, but the truth is that they do have what it takes to make it to the quarter-finals at the very least.

Like Nigeria and Ghana, Senegal are not exactly short of experience because they possess players who have waged battle against the best in the world.

In fact, the current team represents an upgrade from the 2002 version and their supporters would be delighted if the players can come close to replicating their excellent performances of four years ago.

Key players: No player splits public opinion quite like El Hadji Diouf - the striker who was banned for four matches after abusing a referee during the last Nations Cup.

El Hadji Diouf
El Hadji Diouf's ability in front of goal will be crucial for Senegal
He may be as popular as a plague of smallpox to many, but the volatile striker's value to Senegal's Nations Cup cause is beyond doubt.

Diouf's ability to find the back of the net might make the difference in Egypt.

Henri Camara weighed in with seven goals during the qualifiers, so he will share the load upfront with Diouf.

Pape Boupa Diop is another of Senegal's big players. Literally.

Nicknamed 'the Wardrobe' because of his massive frame, Diop is a much-admired midfielder who can do a lot of damage if given the freedom of the ground.

Verdict: How far will Senegal go? Not many will be surprised if they are on the first plane home but it would be unwise to write them off completely.

You can never say the Teranga Lions are not a contender to win the Nations Cup. The bottom line is that they will have to play out of their skins to deny both Ghana and Nigeria.


ZIMBABWE

Nickname: Warriors
Coach: Charles Mhlauri
Captain: Peter Ndlovu
Cup record: Qualified twice

After picking up their group's wooden spoon in the 2004 finals, surely Zimbabwe cannot do any worse in Egypt.

Well, actually they can. So spare a thought for the Warriors.

Not many of their supporters would have been jumping for joy when they were drawn in the so-called group of death.

For the second successive Nations Cup, the Warriors have been caged in a pool containing three heavyweights all with credible chances of winning the title.

In their maiden Nations Cup, Zimbabwe were eliminated in the first round, but not before being involved in a high-scoring thriller against mighty Cameroon.

In Charles Mhlauri, the Warriors have a thoroughly modern coach - he has got his own website! Check it out at: www.charlesmhlauri.com.

Like the majority of his players, Mhlauri is a bit of a novice at this level, but he will have to extract the best from his squad in Egypt. It is a big ask.

For the Warriors, just reaching their second Nations Cup finals is a massive coup. However, the fact that most of Mhlauri's squad play their club football in South Africa encapsulates the task he faces in Egypt.

The Warriors will be on a steep learning curve in Group D, against three established sides. Egypt 2006 should, therefore, be no more than an exercise in gaining experience.

His team lacks the depth of quality to really trouble any of their three opponents, so there will be little shame if, as expected, they finish bottom of the pile.

Benjani Mwaruwari
Benjani Mwaruwari is set for his first Nations Cup tournament
Key Players: Peter Ndlovu may have lost a few yards of pace in the twilight of his career but he is still Zimbabwe's talisman.

The 32-year-old is gifted with a fine appreciation of the whereabouts of his team-mates and his experience will be vital in a side populated with players from South Africa's Premier League.

France-based striker Benjani Mwaruwari missed Tunisia 2004 through injury. The 27-year-old will no doubt be keen to shine in his first Nations Cup finals.

Verdict: Surely, even the most optimistic Zimbabwean does not expect the Warriors to knock over three giants on their way to lifting the most coveted prize in African football.

The Warriors do not have enough quality to make the second round and are destined to struggle against the gravitational pull of Group D. In other words, earliest possible flight home.


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