Africa Cup of Nations Group B: Big things expected of Bolasie in DR Congo tournament debut

Sam Crocker weighs up the prospects of former champs Zambia, strikerless Tunisia, a Cape Verde side on the rise and an attack-happy DR Congo...

Zambia

FACT FILE

  • Nickname: The Bullets
  • Captain: Rainford Kalaba
  • FIFA ranking: 50
  • Honours: AFCON 2012

Strengths
Manager Honour Janza has crafted an awkward, defensively-strong side who are willing to gnaw their way to victory, with the likes of Stopilla Sunzu retaining his place from the continent-toppling side of 2012. Nathan Sinkala, meanwhile, plays a vital role in shielding the defence. Captain Rainford Kalaba is one to watch out for, with the midfielder's fine form for club side TP Mazembe likely to be an important factor in any success that comes Zambia's way.

Weaknesses
With concentration set on their strong defence, Zambia tend to struggle at the other end, and found it difficult against fairly weak opposition.

Southampton's Emmanuel Mayuka is due to feature for his country once again, though not quite in the same prolific way that he has produced for his country before, with lack of game time at St Mary's undoubtedly restricting his rhythm.

Expectations
In a group that's tough to call, quite what Zambia expect of themselves is difficult to say. Returning to part of the scene where they won the tournament in 2012, with Equatorial Guinea co-hosting then with Gabon, it may spur them on to repeat such feats. On the face of it, however, you can see them not making it out of the group this time.

Did you know?
The man who led them to the AFCON 2012 title, Herve Renard, will manage Ivory Coast at this tournament – the team Zambia beat in the 2012 final.

Verdict
Group stage exit. With a number of sides that could potentially cause them trouble, it doesn't appear Zambia have enough about them to make it out alive.

Tunisia

FACT FILE

  • Nickname: Eagles of Carthage
  • Captain: Yassine Chikhaoui
  • FIFA ranking: 22
  • Honours: AFCON 2004

Strengths
Getting back to the basics after a difficult few years, manager Georges Leekens has instilled a strong, difficult-to-beat team built upon defensive discipline that makes them the obvious choice as group winners. In qualifying they racked up 14 points despite only scoring six goals. Playing five at the back, with full-backs Hamza Mathlouthi and Ali Maaloul bombing on to provide support for the offensive line, the attacking midfield position is where Tunisia really carry their wealth. Youssef Msakni (Lekhwiya), Wahbi Khazri (Bordeaux) and Yaccine Chikhaoui (Zurich, pictured) have an excellent array of creativity between them, and are likely to cause havoc among opposition backlines.

Weaknesses
It was already an issue before, but a late injury crisis leaves their forward line decimated, and with no obvious candidate to lead the attack. Fears over who will score the goals have been compounded by Saber Khalifa and Fakhreddine Ben Youssef picking up injuries, adding to the complex nature of this group. Options available to fill in for these two are sparse, and while Tunisia might have plenty of creative talent in attacking midfield, a difficult tournament could await if they have nobody good enough to carve out chances for.

Expectations
Tough times in the recent past means it would be understandable if Tunisia went out in the quarter-finals. While a good qualification suggests that the Carthage Eagles are returning to something vaguely representing their best, quite whether those at the Tunisian FA will be expecting fireworks remains to be seen. Having not won the competition since 2004 when they hosted it, it's unlikely that fans will be getting too excited – and that's not considering the terrible record that North African teams have in tournaments held in West Africa.

Did you know?
Three of Tunisia's four wins in qualifying came as a result of goals in the 80th minute or later. 

Verdict
They should win the group, but whether they overcome the likely advancers from Group A – Burkina Faso and Gabon – in the quarter-finals remains to be seen.

Cape Verde

FACT FILE

  • Nickname: Blue Sharks
  • Captain: Marco Soares
  • FIFA ranking: 40
  • Honours: None

Strengths
Despite an impressive run to the quarter-finals in 2013, Cape Verde are still a fairly unknown quantity. With no real star players, their strong team ethic and consistency since that tournament makes them an intriguing prospect, having romped through their qualification group to reach Equatorial Guinea. Many of the key members of the 2013 team will play this time around too.

Weaknesses
Despite being relatively free-flowing and offensively minded, Cape Verde have a habit of struggling to score from open play.

While their set-pieces tend to yield results, when they come up against strong defences in this group, this could be tested.

Expectations
A run to the quarter-final should be expected. Having not been troubled by Zambia during qualifying, fans will want their team to go on another run out of the group stage and continue the upward trend.

Did you know?
Cape Verde were the first team to qualify for AFCON 2015, after winning three of their first four games. 

Verdict
Quarter-finals. The group shouldn't trouble them too much overall, and it's likely that they'll be able to overcome whoever they meet from Group A in the knockouts.

DR Congo

Strengths
Going forward is where DR Congo have the most clout. The talented duo of Jeremy Bokila and Junior Kabananga up front will be grabbing the goals, with Yannick Bolasie and Neeksens Kebano helping out. behind. West Brom's Youssouf Mulumbu is an assured presence in midfield. A 4-3 win over Ivory Coast in Abidjan was the highlight of qualification.

FACT FILE

  • Nickname: The Leopards
  • Captain: Youssouf Mulumbu
  • FIFA ranking: 57
  • Honours: AFCON 1968, 1974

Weaknesses
Congo will be let down defensively, if anywhere. Despite the likes of Cedric Mongongu and impressive Anderlecht man Chancel Mbemba, they have proved porous at the best of times, and with the powers of bum-hopping goalkeeper Robert Kidiaba at an all-time low, it creates massive pressure on the forward line to counter this.

Expectations
Having qualified through the most tenuous route possible – as the best third-placed team – just being here may be as good as it gets for DR Congo. With a number of domestically-based players, people are rooting for them to get out of the group, but they are aware of their limitations.

Did you know?
Congolese manager Florent Ibenge is a trained economist. Not that it'll help him much here. 

OTHER GROUPS

Verdict
Group stage exit. They're so hit and miss that it's unlikely enough will go right for the Leopards to advance.

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