IT’S Day 2 of the African Cup of Nations and our international football expert Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) has analysed the two Group B games.
Zambia v DR Congo | Sunday 16.00 | Eurosport
The small town of Ebebiyín in the north-east of Equatorial Guinea plays host to both of Group B’s fixtures on Sunday, the first of which has left the bookmakers scratching their heads. Zambia take on DR Congo in a wide-open pool and a wide-open betting heat too.
Looking at Zambia first, the Copper-head Bullets stunned the world when winning the 2012 Nations Cup. But 12 months later they exited the competition at the first hurdle. In fact, in seven of their last eight appearances, they’ve been on the first flight home.
Following a failed World Cup qualification bid head Honour Janza has rung the changes as he begins a long-term quest to get Zambia back to the World Cup finals. The new-look squad is young and inexperienced but hungry for success – 13 players are aged 24 of under.
And the Copper-headed Bullets arrive in better form than they did ahead of their 2012 triumph. Fans are also being encouraged by another lucky omen – during that successful campaign, Zambia played all five of their Nations Cup games in Equatorial Guinea en route to the final.
But I’ve plenty of reservations about the current crop. The youthful nature of the group can be used as a positive or negative, depending which way you’re inclined. But there’s a feeling more powerful opponents could overrun them.
Janza’s side are also struggling to fire in attack; only six goals were scored during qualifying, three of which came against minnows Niger at home. Whilst in defence, Henry Nyambe’s injury suffered in a fatal car crash has hit them hard.
Can DR Congo take advantage? I certainly wouldn’t rule them out. But without beating around the bush, we haven’t got a clue which DR Congo will show their face. The Leopards have flitted between brilliant and awful over the past 12 months.
Florent Ibenge’s side do carry a goal threat though. Dynamo Kiev forward Dieumerci Mbokani is back in the fold and in Yannick Bolasie and tiny Cedric Mabwarti, DR Congo can blow any team away, on their day.
Consistency has often been the issue for the Leopards but a 4-3 win over Ivory Coast in Abidjan showed what’s possible from this squad. Jeremy Bokila and Junior Kabananga are bustling forwards who will require close attention but if there’s one obvious weakness, it’s that the Leopards could be too top-heavy.
Central defence is an area of strength but Ibenge’s men are often undone by their attack-minded midfield whilst legendary goalkeeper Robert Kidiaba is always an accident waiting to happen.
So having looked at the strengths and weaknesses of both sides, I was chuffed to see Paddy Power mark up DR Congo at even-money in the Draw No Bet market. Opening games are always risky and often it’s best to take a watching brief in the first round of fixtures but something tells me we could be in for a treat from the Leopards.
I’m also keen on BetVictor’s 6/5 that Both Teams Score. It’s proved a winner in four of DR Congo’s five previous games, all of which have come against testing opposition.
Zambia v DR Congo – DR Congo draw no bet (1/1 Paddy Power)
Zambia v DR Congo – Both Teams To Score (6/5 BetVictor)