MONGOMO, Equatorial Guinea (Reuters) – At the outset of the African Nations Cup finals in Equatorial Guinea there were no favourites and after the first round of the tournament there is still a foggy outlook.
Not a single side advanced through the group phase with a 100 percent record, reflecting both the fact there was little to choose between the 16 teams.
Thirteen draws in 24 first-round matches over the opening 12 days spoke of evenly matched duels and a dearth of game-winning talent among the 368 players.
Not even a handful of established African stars like Yaya Toure, Seydou Keita and new pretenders like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Yacine Brahimi and Sadio Mane have been able to impose themselves on the competition.
The end of the group-phase round on Wednesday not only provided no clarity on the identity of potential champions but also left the quarter-final line-up incomplete.
Lots are to be drawn on Thursday – for only the third time in the tournament’s 58-year-history – to decide the runners-up berth in Group D after Wednesday’s matches proved inconclusive. Guinea and Mali ended dead level after drawing all three games 1-1. There are six former winners in the last eight with Tunisia the last of the surviving field to be crowned champions in 2004.
The Democratic Republic of Congo won the last of their two titles in 1974 and Ghana the last of their four in 1982. Ivory Coast’s sole success came in 1992, Algeria two years before that and Congo way back in 1972.
The Ivorians have earned the mantle of chokers in recent tournaments where they were regularly favourites only to fall disappointingly short.
This time, after a poor qualifying campaign, there is no burden of expectation, although they did send Cameroon home early after beating them 1-0 in Malabo on Wednesday.
Algeria, the top-ranked country on the continent, were the most prolific in front of goals with five in the first round but even then had an own goal and a goalkeeping howler, both against South Africa, among their tally.
Ghana’s fighting spirit allowed them to turn a desperate situation just 20 minutes from time into top place in Group C in a rare example of the rousing passion usually associated with African football.