Keepers hold Africa Cup key

2015-01-15 10:23
Andre Arendse (File)

Johannesburg - Strikers win games but goalkeepers win Africa Cup of Nations tournaments, says former champion Andre Arendse ahead of the 2015 finals that kick-off Saturday in Equatorial Guinea.

He was part of the South Africa side that took maximum advantage of playing hosts to defeat Tunisia in the 1996 final.

Now 47, Arendse divides his time between analysing domestic and international football for pan-African TV channel SuperSport and coaching at top-flight club Bidvest Wits.

"I am a firm believer in the strikers-goalkeepers theory," says the tall, pencil-slim Cape Town-born former star in an interview with AFP.

His opinion is backed by facts with legendary shot-stopper Essam Al-Hadary a key component when Egypt won a record three consecutive titles between 2006 and 2010.

Nigerian Vincent Enyeama, currently the best goalkeeper in Africa, played a major role in the unexpected success of his country at the last Africa Cup two years ago.

And Zambian Kennedy Mweene kept three consecutive clean sheets in the knockout stages of the 2012 tournament, won against all the odds by his nation.

If Arendse is correct, one-time champions Algeria and Tunisia are potential winners in Equatorial Guinea as both boast outstanding goalkeepers.

Rais Mbolhi from American Major League Soccer outfit Philadelphia Union excelled at the World Cup last year when Algeria reached the last-16 for the first time.

Tunisian Aymen Mathlouthi is a vastly experienced campaigner for the Carthage Eagles and his club, eight-time African title winners Etoile Sahel.

Mweene from South African giants Mamelodi Sundowns remains the first choice for Zambia, but his form has dipped since the trophy-winning campaign.

Among young shot-stoppers, Cameroonian Joseph Ondua of the Barcelona youth squad comes to central Africa with a rapidly growing reputation.

South African Brilliant Khuzwayo is another rising star, claiming a squad place on the back of consistently superb form for runaway league leaders Kaizer Chiefs.

But such is the competition for places in the on-form Bafana Bafana (The Boys) squad that he is not guaranteed a starting spot with Belgium-based Darren Keet also a strong contender.

Keet succeeded Senzo Meyiwa who was murdered last October after playing a major role in their campoaign having kept four consecutive clean sheets in Cup of Nations qualifiers.

Arendse places a collective will to win ahead of individualism when developing a recipe for Cup of Nations success.

And he stresses that countries who win their first group game at the biennial African football showcase receive a huge confidence boost.

Again, Cup of Nations facts support the grand old man of South African football, who made a brief, emergency return to top-tier football aged 45 two years ago.

Of the last 14 African champions, 12 won their opening mini-league game and the other two drew. Overall, 21 of 29 Cup of Nations title-holders kicked off with a victory.

"You feel so confident after a winning start," said Arendse, "You are full of enthusiasm, energy and belief, and the second game cannot come quickly enough.

"Pride spreads like a wildfire through the squad. A convincing opening-match triumph over Cameroon in 1996 played an immense role in our ultimate success."

South Africa, transformed since the mid-2014 arrival of coach Ephraim 'Shakes' Mashaba, are among six countries Arendse believes can win the February 8 final.

His other potential champions are Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Tunisia - all previous recipients of the ultimate African national team trophy.

Arendse says Algeria and Tunisia "tick all the boxes" while Ghana and Ivory Coast boast stars like Andre Ayew, Asamoah Gyan, 2014 African Footballer of the Year Yaya Toure and new Manchester City recruit Wilfried Bony.

He admires how Cameroon recovered from a disastrous 2014 World Cup and feels South Africa will be serious contenders if they solve some defensive problems.

Among the other 10 competitors, Arendse has a soft spot for Cape Verde. "I love this team - they are a tiny nation and have made amazing progress in recent years."

Read more on:    afcon 2015  |  andre arendse  |  soccer

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