PORT ELIZABETH, SOUTH AFRICA – The second game of the day at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth is Niger’s match against DR Congo. Niger lost their opening game to Sahelian neighbours Mali 1-0, while DR Congo, playing in their first finals since 2006, fought back superbly to claim a 2-2 draw with second-favourites Ghana. Niger, who were nobodies in African football just three years ago, are playing at their second consecutive Cup of Nations, although they have lost all four matches so far. With Ghana in their last game, the Ménas realistically need to win this evening.
DRC, nicknamed ‘The Leopards’, are the favourites to win tonight at top odds of 4/5 (bet £5 to win £4) with Ladbrokes, while a draw can be backed at 13/5 with BetVictor. A Niger win is much longer at 9/2 with Betfred. Niger are eliminated if they lose, but they will take heart from the fact that they held a much more experienced Mali at bay for 84 minutes.
After their opening day defeat Niger are the outsiders for the tournament at 400/1 with Paddy Power. They are 7/1 with Ladbrokes to qualify from the group. DRC, despite showing some real quality against Ghana, were only trimmed down to 40/1 to be victorious in the final with Paddy Power. I’m all over the 11/8 with Ladbrokes about Claude Leroy’s team qualifying for the knockout stage.
The Congolese side has two British-based players in the squad: the captain is West Brom’s midfield powerhouse Youssouf Mulumbu, while Peterborough United’s Gabriel Zakuani is also in the 23. They are an attacking side; Niger are defensive. Much of the squad is based domestically and the only real goalscoring threat for them is former CSKA Moscow striker Moussa Maâzou. Niger qualifed for the AFCON on the back of a superb home record in Niamey. Away from home they struggled, and their approach is summed up by the fact that manager Gernot Rohr has said a point from any of their group matches would represent a success.
We’ll start with the over/under markets where I’m backing a very low-scoring game. Under 2.5 goals looks guaranteed at 8/13 with bet365, while Ladbrokes’s 2/1 on under 1.5 goals is a riskier, if more rewarding option in this market. DRC are a very tempting 6/5 with Ladbrokes to keep a clean sheet.
To the correct score market, where there is plenty to be said in favour of backing the 1-0 win for DRC at 11/2 with BetVictor, who supply all the best prices in this market. If you think it will be a bit more comfortable, 2-0 is 15/2. 0-0 is a better value option at 8/1 than the 7/1 on 1-1, while Nigerien wins are available at as long as 13/1 on 1-0 and 33/1 on 2-0.
Dieumerci Mbokani scored his side’s equaliser against Ghana (albeit a penalty), but he is having a great season at Anderlecht, who sit atop the Belgian league. I’m all aboard the 6/1 with bet365 on Mbokani bagging the opener. He is 2/1 to score anytime, but I’m happy to leave that alone. This could be the kind of tournament, like Euro 2012, where no striker stands out, so I think 14/1 with bet365 on Mbokani winning the Top Goalscorer award is an excellent bet. He may only need two or three more. Lomana LuaLua (yes, the one who played for Newcastle) now plies his trade at Karabükspor in Turkey and will partner Mbokani in attack. He is 8/1 with Coral to score first.
Moussa Maâzou is Niger’s talisman and only real reliable goalscorer and is reasonable value at 9/1 with bet365 to break the deadlock in Port Elizabeth tonight. Modibo Sidibé played up with Maâzou against Mali and is 14/1 with the same firm to open the scoring.