Ivory Coast remains favorite but upsets still expected

Updated 01 February 2013
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Ivory Coast remains favorite but upsets still expected

NELSPRUIT, South Africa: Ivory Coast have emerged as clear favorites as the African Nations Cup enters its knockout stages but if past finals are anything to go by, the tournament remains ripe for more surprises.
Following 12 days of intense action across South Africa, half of the 16-team field — including defending champions Zambia — have been eliminated as the event’s recent tradition of unpredictability has continued.
The progress of dream weavers Cape Verde into the last eight is a fairytale result for one of the continent’s smallest countries, while Burkina Faso and Togo have also upstaged the bigger names to advance.
Burkina Faso finished ahead of Nigeria and eliminated Zambia in Group C while Togo, whose coach Didier Six labeled a “little team,” set aside preparations clouded by bickering over money to win a first-ever place in the knockout stages.
Those achievements have taken some of the spotlight off the Ivory Coast’s quest to finally deliver on the potential of what is often termed their “golden generation” and add to their sole success in the tournament 21 years ago.
The burden of expectation has proven too strong for the Ivorians in recent editions but they have also had to contend with opponents of similar quality. This year, however, the rest of the field is markedly inferior.
The pace of ‘The Elephants’ attack, the work rate of their midfield and the contribution that talented individuals can provide make it difficult to see them failing again.
Having to luxury of being able to leave star forward Didier Drogba on the bench is testimony to the depth at coach Sabri Lamouchi’s disposal.
Ghana showed their future potential by topping Group B but have a young side that has yet to be properly tested.
They are now handily placed to advance to the final in the bottom half of the draw, facing debutants Cape Verde on Saturday with a likely semi-final clash against either Burkina Faso or Togo next week.
Nigeria, another of the continent’s perennial contenders, are also in the throes of building for the future and will do well to advance any further than the quarterfinals.
Coach Stephen Keshi warned ahead of tournament that his side were far from the finished product but he was still panned by his country’s media as Nigeria stumbled into the last eight on the back of two late penalties against Ethiopia on Tuesday.
They next meet the Ivorians in the marquee quarterfinal in Rustenburg on Sunday.
As for the host nation, there was a collective sigh of relief rather than ecstatic celebration as they advanced from Group A, equalizing six minutes from the end of their final match against Morocco to avoid an embarrassing early exit.
“To be honest, we were under huge pressure, it would have been an absolute tragedy had we not qualified for the last eight,” coach Gordon Igesund said this week.
South Africa’s progression to a quarter-final against Mali on Saturday has at least ensured an increasing interest in the tournament as more casual conversations across the country focus on the Nations Cup.
There had been little excitement ahead of the event and attendances have followed the trend set at previous tournaments of home supporters ignoring all matches except those involving their team.
Not helping the cause is the fact that the first 24 matches have produced a paltry 49 goals, the second lowest return since the finals were expanded to 16 teams in 1996.


Manchester United inflict more semifinal misery on sorry Spurs

Updated 21 April 2018
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Manchester United inflict more semifinal misery on sorry Spurs

  • Manchester United come from behind to make FA Cup final.
  • Mauricio Pochettino yet to win a trophy as manager.

A third cup final with Manchester United for Jose Mourinho. More FA Cup semifinal misery for Tottenham.
While Mauricio Pochettino wins admiration for his style of football, the manager has yet to actually win a trophy in management.
A 2-1 collapse to United at Wembley Stadium on Saturday left Tottenham reeling from an eighth successive loss in the FA Cup semifinals.
Pochettino is responsible for two of the setbacks, having also fallen short against Chelsea last season.
At the stadium where Tottenham have been playing their home matches this season, Dele Alli's goal gave the 1991 FA Cup winners hope of turning around their miserable record in world football's oldest knockout competition.
But Alexis Sanchez leveled in the 24th minute and Ander Herrera struck the winner in the second half. It ensured Mourinho, who won the League Cup and Europa League in his first season at United, has a chance to also end this campaign with silverware against Chelsea or Southampton in the FA Cup final.
"We're getting used to being in finals," Herrera said. "This club is all about titles and finals."
While Mourinho has fallen short in the English Premier League behind newly crowned champion Manchester City, United are second and on course for their highest finish since Alex Ferguson retired in 2013.
Tottenham would settle with holding onto fourth place to secure a third season in a row in the Champions League.
Liverpool missed a chance to considerably stretch its advantage over Tottenham in one of Saturday's two league games. Juergen Klopp's side threw away a two-goal lead to draw with last-place West Bromwich Albion 2-2 and move only three points ahead of Tottenham.
Chelsea, who plays Southampton in the other FA Cup semifinal on Sunday, are five points behind Tottenham with four games remaining.

POGBA TRANSFORMED
When United fell behind to Tottenham, Paul Pogba was culpable.
A high ball was launched forward by Tottenham, a lethargic Pogba didn't try to break sweat in an attempt to prevent it reaching Eriksen. It allowed the Dane to whip in a cross for Alli to slide onto at the far post and strike past David De Gea in 11th minute
Had Harry Kane made a connection at the far post with Son Heung-min's cross three minutes later, Tottenham might have extended their lead.
Instead, United were able to draw level. Pogba made amends for his earlier inertia by dispossessing Mousa Dembele and delivering a cross that Sanchez headed past static goalkeeper Michel Vorm.
Sanchez did the hard work to create the winner in the 62nd, holding off Kieran Trippier and rolling the ball into the penalty area where Jesse Lingard teed up Herrera to shoot past Vorm.