JOHANNESBURG: Angola and Morocco will try to put bad Africa Cup of Nations memories behind them Saturday when they clash in the second half of an opening-day double-header at the 2013 tournament.
Both countries went to the last edition a year ago in Gabon/Equatorial Guinea with a bottom-line target of a top-two group finish and a place in the knockout phase.
Neither succeeded, with Angola pipped on goal difference by Sudan for second place behind Ivory Coast, and Morocco beating only Niger to come third behind Gabon and Tunisia.
It was a major setback for the Angolan Black Antelopes after two successive quarter-final appearances and confirmation of the poor form of the Moroccan Atlas Lions after equally early exits from the 2006 and 2008 editions.
Morocco lifted the Africa Cup for the only time in 1976 – the last tournament in which a mini-league format was used to determine the champions – while Angola have never gone beyond the round of eight.
The popular perception is that Group A is a three-team race between Angola, Morocco and hosts South Africa, who tackle debutants Cape Verde Islands in the tournament opener at Soccer City stadium three hours earlier.
So a win for the Antelopes or the Lions would put them in a strong position after just one game to survive the first-round cull in the 22-day African football showcase.
Moroccan hopes of a successful tournament hinge heavily on Younes Belhanda, the playmaker from French champions Montpellier and a top-five finisher in the 2012 BBC African Footballer of the Year public poll.
“We have no right to fail this time round. We have a debt to the Moroccan people after what happened at the last tournament,” admitted the midfielder who was part of the disgraced 2012 squad.
Eric Gerets, a strict Belgian with coaching success in Europe and the Middle East, took Morocco to the last tournament and was later fired after losing a 2013 qualifier in Mozambique.
Rachid Taoussi took charge, orchestrated a handsome return-match win over the Mozambicans and ignored English Premier League pair Adel Taarabt and Marouane Chamakh plus former captain Houssine Kharja for South Africa.
Talented QPR midfielder Taarabt paid the price for snubbing the coach when he travelled to London, Chamakh has had litte game time at Arsenal before being loaned to West Ham, and Taoussi and Kharja never got along.
Former Manchester United striker Manucho skippers Angola and the lanky forward now playing for Spanish outfit Real Valladolid is a key figure for the Antelopes.
He proved his worth last October by scoring twice within five minutes of the kick-off in a 2-0 win over Zimbabwe that squeezed his country through on away goals to a fifth consecutive Cup of Nations.
Angola are guided by greying Uruguayan Gustavo Ferrin, the coach who developed many of the stars who took his country to fourth place at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. -AFP
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