African Nations' Cup: Venables set for South African post as Nigeria rely on youth

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No matter what the 69-year-old Romanian achieves in Egypt over the next couple of weeks, his tenure will be one of the shortest of any international manager. "I can confirm that Ted will not be coaching Bafana Bafana after the tournament," the South African FA chief executive, Raymond Hack, said. "A new coach will be appointed, probably by the end of February." So even if South Africa repeat the success of 1996, when they won the cup, they will still dispense with their manager.

In African football, politics and corruption are never far from the surface. Dumitru must realise what goes around comes around. When the national captain, Aaron Mokoena of Blackburn, was in midair to join his team in the Johannesburg training camp on 3 January, Dumitru held a vote among the players in which he asked them to come up with a new captain. They decided upon Sibusiso Zuma, who plays in the Bundesliga.

On his arrival, Mokoena and Dumitru publicly embraced; in the car on the way to the team hotel, the Romanian broke the news and they have not spoken again - apart from a highly personal war of words in the media, with Mokoena declaring he will never play for his country while the present manager is there.

He will not have to wait long. On Thursday, the fax rang in Hack's Safa office and Terry Venables' application came sliding out. Venables, holidaying in the Maldives, is deadly serious, and the big lure is that South Africa will host the 2010 World Cup, so there is no need to worry about qualifying.

Safa are believed to be offering a four-year contract, but they have had 12 managers in 13 years so there are short odds that the new man will not see the end of it. "The applications haven't been from Mickey Mouse people; Lothar Matthäus and [former Republic of Ireland manager] Brian Kerr have been among them," Hack said.

Venables is using the former Chelsea player Richard Gomes as his go-between. "I recently had a long meeting with Terry about South African football and 2010, and he indicated his interest in coaching Bafana and asked me to represent him," said Gomes. "He could bring in someone like Lucas Radebe [they were together at Leeds]."

So, not only will Dumitru be out of a job in a couple of weeks, but Safa even advertised the post before a ball has been kicked in the African Nations' Cup.

The tournament is huge in continental terms. Sixteen teams who have qualified from the play-offs will converge on Egypt, with the hosts looking to win it for the fifth time. But they are not the players on everyone's lips.

Ranked 23rd in the world (though they did not qualify for Germany 2006), Cameroon are Africa's highest-rated side, and with Barcelona's striker Samuel Eto'o their most likely source of goals, the "Indomitable Lions" are worthy favourites.

While World Cup qualification threw up some staggering results - Angola, Togo, Tunisia, Ghana and the Ivory Coast will all be in Germany, at the expense of Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa - it seems fair to suggest that things will revert to normal in Egypt. Ghana are without Chelsea's injured Michael Essien, and the pocket battleship forms such an integral part of their side that it is difficult to see them getting through a group that includes a rejuvenated Nigeria and Senegal.

It is hard to believe El Hadji Diouf is still only 24, but the Bolton striker might finally make the headlines for the right reasons. He is said to be the most popular footballer in Africa, but at the last Nations' Cup he was given a three-match ban for fighting after Senegal lost to Tunisia in the quarter-finals. The hosts went on to win, and could again make a strong impression.

Chelsea's Didier Drogba will fire the Ivory Coast attack, but his team may need more than his goals and theatrics to emerge from a group which includes Egypt and Morocco.

For the Nigerians, the Italian-based striker Obafemi Martins, Stephen Makinwa and Obinna Nsofor will make their Nations' Cup debuts along with new midfield talent Christian Obodo, Sani Kaita and the much sought-after John Obi Mikel. Middlesbrough's striker Aiyegbeni Yakubu will not be missed, say the critics.

But it is the Marseille left-back Taye Taiwoo, another who has made a seamless transition from Nigeria's youth teams to the senior side, who is spoken about in the most glowing of terms.

BUILDING BLOCKS OF THE PYRAMID

GROUP A: Egypt, Ivory Coast, Libya, Morocco

GROUP B: Angola, Cameroon, DR Congo, Togo

GROUP C: Guinea, South Africa, Tunisia, Zambia

GROUP D: Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Zimbabwe

Top two in each group qualify

Friday 20 January: Egypt v Libya, Cairo International (5pm)

Saturday 21 January: Morocco v Ivory Coast, Cairo International (12pm) Cameroon v Angola, Cairo Academy (3.15pm) Togo v DR Congo, Cairo Academy (6pm)

FOUR TO WATCH

Didier Drogba, Ivory Coast

The Ivory Coast's sudden rise to international prominence can be attributed partly to the 27-year-old Chelsea striker. His country failed to reach the last Nations' Cup and not long before that, Drogba was a nowhere man in the lower reaches of French football. Then came his explosive form for Marseille and Jose Mourinho brought him for £24m in July 2004. As captain of his country he also bears a great responsibility.

Radhi Jaidi, Tunisia

The tall centre-half is a vital part of Tunisia's efforts to retain the cup they won on home soil two years ago, and will surely play in a second consecutive World Cup. Sam Allardyce acquired the 30-year-old on a free transfer in 2004. With his strength and occasional goals he has featured prominently in their attempt to qualify again for Europe.

Emmanuel Adebayor, Togo

Togo winning their Nations' Cup group also meant they qualified for their first World Cup, pipping Senegal, a great surprise. But the tiny West African country is a growing force, with 11 goals from the Monaco striker Emmanuel Adebayor, 22 next month, a huge reason why. And the reason why Arsenal paid £7m for him.

Stephen Appiah, Ghana

The absence through injury of the Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien will leave a hole in the Black Stars' team that Appiah, 25, can fill. He moved to Serie A aged 17, had two seasons with Juventus but is now with Fenerbahce. Consistency in Egypt and, neatly, against Italy at the World Cup could see him back among Europe's élite.

Conrad Leach

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