By Chris Lehourites
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
MALABO, Equatorial Guinea _ The first Group B match at the African Cup of Nations will be the only game of the opening round with two home-grown coaches.
Congo will take on 2012 champion Zambia on Sunday, with Jean Florent Ibenge going up against Honour Janza in the city of Ebebiyin.
Janza took over as coach of Zambia last year from Patrice Beaumelle, the long-time assistant of Herve Renard. It was Renard who led Zambia to the continental title three years ago, when the African Cup was co-hosted by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, with Janza as an assistant.
“(It’s) an opportunity for a local coach to show what he has learned in the last five years associated with Herve Renard and company,” Zambian football federation president Kalusha Bwalya said soon after the appointment.
The only other of the 16 teams at this year’s African Cup of Nations to have a native coach is South Africa with Ephraim Mashaba. Renard is now coach of Ivory Coast.
African teams often employ Europeans as coach, and this year’s tournament has 11 of them leading squads. The two remaining coaches are Esteban Becker, an Argentine with host Equatorial Guinea, and Avram Grant, the former Chelsea manager from Israel who is leading Ghana.
Zambia and Congo are considered to be the outsiders in Group B, with both Cape Verde and Tunisia expected to advance to the quarterfinals.
Cape Verde became the smallest nation ever to qualify for the African tournament in 2013, and then went on to the quarterfinals. The team has gotten stronger since, winning four of its six qualifying matches to become the first to guarantee its place at the 2015 tournament.
The toughest test for Cape Verde should come in the first match against Tunisia, a team unbeaten in qualifying but missing two injured forwards, Fakhreddine Ben Youssef and Saber Khalifa.
But the other issue facing all four teams in Group B is the venue. Ebebiyin is located in the northeastern corner of Equatorial Guinea, on the border with Gabon and Cameroon. It is one of the two host cities that is untested, the other being Mongomo.
Both Malabo, the capital, and Bata, the country’s biggest city, were used as venues during the co-hosted 2012 tournament. But Equatorial Guinea stepped in at late notice to host this year’s event after Morocco was stripped of hosting rights.