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18/01/2008 No.33
Kevin Pullein
Friday January 18, 2008
  Bookies fret over cracking form of Britain's revitalised No1

One of the most important things a bettor needs to know about the African Cup of Nations is where it is being played. The 2008 tournament starts on Sunday in Ghana and on six of the past seven occasions when the tournament was staged in west Africa it was won by a country from west Africa.

In fact there is a well established pattern of countries from each region of the continent performing better in their own region than they do elsewhere. The figures which follow are from the last 22 Cup of Nations tournaments, those with a modern-style format, including preliminary groups.

Overall, 11 winners came from west Africa but seven of them occurred when the tournament was being staged there, and only four when it was being held elsewhere. Seven winners in total came from north Africa but as many as six of them occurred when the tournament was played in north Africa, only one when it was being staged in another region of the continent.

Not only have countries from west and north Africa tended to hog the trophy, they have also tended to hog the staging rights as well. Astonishingly, only one of the 26 tournaments has been staged in the half of the continent that falls below the equator - in 1996, when the hosts were South Africa.

In the past Fifa rankings were a useful indicator of which countries would do well. Between 1994 and 2006, 17 of the 28 groups at the finals were won by the country with the highest Fifa ranking - 61%. In Ghana, the highest ranked country in each group comes from west Africa - Guinea, Nigeria, Cameroon and Senegal.

However, two words of caution. First, the Fifa ranking process was changed after the last World Cup and since then the rankings have been a less reliable guide. And second, the hosts tend to do exceptionally well, as if they benefit from both a home-region and a home-country advantage. Ghana start in Group A against Guinea. Eleven of the 26 previous hosts and co-hosts have won the tournament, a success rate of 42%. Kevin Pullein is football tipster for the Racing Post

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