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Mboma leads Cameroon's Nations Cup charge

© Reuters 2002

By Mark Gleeson

BAMAKO, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Cameroon striker Patrick Mboma has recovered from a stomach bug and is expected to lead his country's continuing charge in defence of their African Nations Cup title in Mali on Friday. The Italian-based forward scored with a stunning long-range drive against the Democratic Republic of Congo in Cameroon's opening Group C game in Sikasso at the weekend to hand his team the perfect start in a tournament that has been sluggish in delivering goals.

Mboma, 31, trained with his team mates on the eve of Friday's next assignment against the Ivory Coast after a day spent in bed suffering from diarrhoea when he should have been celebrating news of the birth of his child. Friday also sees two matches in Bamako with Liberia due to meet Algeria in Group A at the March 26 stadium and Tunisia and Egypt clashing in a key north African derby at the Modibo Keita stadium.

Liberian players have again threatened a strike if not paid their tournament appearance fee but there have been conflicting reports about whether this will jeopardise the staging of this game.

Egypt and World Cup finalists Tunisia both had slow starts in Group D and need to show improved form to keep alive their respective hopes of a place in the quarter-finals.

Mboma, voted Africa's Footballer of the Year in 2000, is again the pivot of Cameroon's attack as they seek to virtually ensure a quarter-final place with a second successive win.

The Ivorians suffered a disappointing goalless draw in their opening game against Togo on Monday, unable to get past an inspired performance from opposing goalkeeper Kossi Agassa.

Former coach Martin Gbonke Tia has criticised a lack of commitment from the side's large European-based contingent, who he said were pulling out of tackles for fear of suffering injury. But the Ivorians do pose potentially the toughest challenge to Cameroon in Group C, particularly with the in-form Marseille striker Ibrahima Bakayoko.

Liberia's team continue to train ahead of their match against Algeria but several players told reporters during the week the side would threaten a strike if not paid the US$15,000 per player sought as an appearance fee for the tournament.

The team staged a stoppage in the week before the start of the tournament but came within three minutes of winning the opening game of the tournament last Saturday against hosts Mali, conceding a late equaliser in a 1-1 draw. Officials have admitted, however, that the on-going row over money has dented morale in the team ranks. "You could see it in the first match. The players felt frustrated and couldn't express themselves properly," said one team official.

World Cup finalists Tunisia received a blast from their own coach Henri Michel on Tuesday after a dour start in their first match against Zambia in Bamako on Monday, which ended goalless.

Now they are also struggling to get midfielder Hassen Gabsi fit for the game. The Italian-based player said his troublesome ankle continued to make his availability for Friday's game uncertain.

Egypt were beaten by Senegal on Sunday in a match where they looked the better team but were too cautious in their approach. A second successive defeat would end any hopes the four-time winners have of extending the record run of African Nations Cup triumphs.

Reports provided by

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