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Africa Cup of Nations: Not all tournament openers are boring
There is something special about the opening game of a major international football tournament, something that will leave an indelible mark on the players who represent South Africa and Cape Verde in the Africa Cup of Nations curtain raiser.
Opening matches are different to the ones that follow later in the competition so it is a good idea to make oneself aware of the trends surrounding these high-profile games before working out which way to bet on the first match in the 29th edition of the African soccer championship.
Host nations have featured in every one of the 28 opening games in Africa Cup of Nations history, although one must note that the first three tournaments – contested in 1957, 1959 and 1962 – did not have a group phase and went straight to the semi-finals. However, one will include those matches because they were definable first games of those events.
Eight-seven goals have been scored in Africa Cup of Nations opening matches, which equates to a relatively high average of 3.11 goals per game. Home teams have won 17 of those 28 matches, with six draws and five losses registered by the host side. However, home teams have lost four of the last five opening games and that tally really ought to read five of the last five. Angola was 4-0 ahead with 11 minutes remaining of its match versus Mali before the Eagles pulled off one of the most remarkable comebacks, scoring four goals – two of them in stoppage time – to salvage with a 4-4 draw from the marquee fixture.
Africa Cup of Nations opening matches have a tendency to go over the 2.5 total goals line as well. The over would have collected 18 times out of 28, including on four of the last five occasions. So much for African pitches being harder on which to control the ball, construct movements and score goals. Most opening games in the tournament are entertaining affairs with more than a couple of goals.
Without conducting a professional survey it is impossible to know for sure but one would guess that most football punters have a view about opening matches of tournaments being dull and, consequently, low on goalmouth action. That would be because they are most familiar with the opening games of the UEFA European Championship and the FIFA World Cup.
Since 1980, when UEFA changed the format of its European Championship to include a group phase, there have been nine opening matches. Not one of them has produced more than three goals, with the average being 1.89. Under punters would have got the chocolates seven times out of nine.
And since 1950, when FIFA revised the format of its World Cup to include a group phase, there have been 16 opening games featuring a total of 29 goals at an average of 1.81. Under punters would have collected winnings on 11 occasions, including eight times in a row from 1966 to 1994 inclusive.
The events of recent UEFA European Championship and FIFA World Cup tournaments are, quite possibly, clouding the judgement of bookmakers and punters assessing Saturday’s Africa Cup of Nations match between Bafana Bafana and the Blue Sharks at Johannesburg’s First National Bank Stadium.
Bookmakers are going out of their way to lay the over, with more than two goals trading at well over even money. Either they think that South Africa and Cape Verde will struggle to score goals on the big stage or that punters will want to be with the under at any price based on incomplete knowledge banks. Do not worry about which one it is: just back the over at what seem to be remarkably generous odds.
Most football punters will back Bafana Bafana to become the 18th Africa Cup of Nations host to kick off with a win, with bookmakers quoting them at odds of around 4-7 to get the job done against the Blue Sharks from off Africa’s west coast.
A note of caution, though: South Africa owes its place in the Africa Cup of Nations to its hosting duties – Bafana Bafana would have struggled to beat a decent side over two legs – and Cape Verde is, believe it or not, the highest ranked team in a group completed by Angola and Morocco.
According to FIFA’s pre-Africa Cup of Nations world ranking, the Blue Sharks are the 69th-best side on the planet and the 14th-best team on the African continent. Internationally, South Africa is ranked 87th, while Angola’s Sable Antelopes are 84th and Morocco’s Lions of the Atlas are 74th. It will be a sad day if African sides tone down their nicknames.
Cape Verde qualified for its first Africa Cup of Nations tournament by beating four-time champion Cameroon 3-2 on aggregate. The Blue Sharks beat the Indomitable Lions 2-0 in their home first leg and extended their lead to 3-0 in Yaounde before conceding 22nd- and 94th-minute goals.
One does not doubt that South Africa deserves to be the favourite for the Africa Cup of Nations opening game but bookmakers are affording them way much respect. Either lay Bafana Bafana or steer clear of the match betting market.
Sixteen teams will vie for the Africa Cup of Nations title over the next few weeks, with bookmakers not looking past Cote d’Ivoire for the most likely winner. The Elephants are trading at less than 2-1 to win their second championship despite having a terrible record in major tournaments.