FAVOURITES TO WIN their first AFCON in 20 years and why shouldn’t they be – the Elephants were runners-up last time out and with Egypt absent, it seems their tournament to lose.
The so-called ‘golden generation’ has underachieved in the past however, and for the likes of captain Didier Drogba this could be a last chance at becoming continental champions.
All but one of their squad earns a living in European football and there are several household names in there.
The Toures, Yaya and Kolo, Newcastle’s tough-tackling Cheick Tiote, Gervinho, Salomon Kalou and Drogba could all be in Francois Zahoui’s starting XI when they face Sudan on Sunday, while you will be familiar with former English-based players such as Didier Zokora, Emmanuel Eboue and Max Gradel.
Barring a horrendous flop, Ivory Coast, who are 18th in the FIFA rankings, will be finalists in Liberville on February 12.
Player to watch: Seydou Doumbia (CSKA Moscow)
It says a lot about the strength of this squad that Doumbia may begin the competition on the bench. The 24-year-old shone in the Ivorian domestic league, Japan and Switzerland before earning a move to CSKA Moscow.
He has scored 24 goals in 30 appearances this season and trails Lionel Messi and Mario Gomez by one as the top marksman in this year’s Champions League.
Check out his goals in the Russian Premier League this season:
YouTube credit: MrKoshak007
Outright betting: 6/4
Best previous performance: Champions in 1992
Shocked everyone by qualifying for the World Cup in 2006 and made it to the quarters of the last two AFCON finals.
Hosted it in 2010 when the attack on the Togolese squad’s bus marred what happened on the pitch and led to Emmanuel Adebayor and his team-mates pulling out after three were killed.
Former player Lito Vidigal now manages the Sable Antelopes and much of their squad, including ex-Manchester United striker Manucho and captain Kali, are seasoned campaigners.
Will be expected to take second spot in the group but game against Burkina Faso will be a big one.
Nickname: Sable Antelopes
Player to watch: Djalma (FC Porto)
A 24-year-old striker who signed for the Portuguese champions from Maritimo at the beginning of the season and has recently broken into the first team.
Outright betting: 40/1
Best previous performance: Quarter-finals in 2008 and 2010
Burkina Faso were the subject of a Court of Arbitration for Sport case when Namibia claimed they had fielded an ineligible player in Cameroon-born full-back Herve Zengue.
The accusation was rejected and they progressed but have since dropped the Terek Grozny player and Ivory Coast native Stephane Agbre.
They failed to register a goal two years ago and their best past performance came on home soil back in 1998 but they are vastly improved and possess Lyon defender Bakary Kone, Rennes winger Jonathan Pitroipa and fellow French-based player Alain Traore in attack.
Traore’s 16-year-old brother Bertrand, who plays for Chelsea, was also a surprise inclusion.
Their past achievements in competitions on foreign soil don’t make for good reading but they will aim to battle it out with Angola for the second qualification place.
Player to watch: Alain Traore (Auxerre)
Will lead the line for the Stallions and should be full of confidence, having scored seven goals for Auxerre this term. He also put away four goals in qualifying and is capable of creating chances for his team-mates too.
Outright betting: 25/1
Best previous performance: Semi-finals in 1998
Two civil wars and the situation in Darfur have ravaged this country in recent times, but in 2008 they returned to the competition for the first time since 1976.
The Nile Crocodiles were beaten three times four years ago and will have it all to do over the next couple of weeks if they don’t want to suffer a similar fate.
Sudan are unique in that they are the only team out of the 16 competing to bring a squad made up of entirely of domestically-based players to Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. Ten come from Al Merreikh while another nine play with Al Hilal.
Unlikely that they can finish anywhere but bottom of Group B.
Nickname: Nile Crocodiles
Player to watch: Haitham Mustafa (Al-Hilal)
The attacking midfielder was reportedly tracked by Everton as a youngster but nothing ever materialised. At 34, he captains club and country and is the most experienced and well-recognised player in Sudanese football. He’s got a decent long throw on him too.
Outright betting: 60/1
Best previous performance: Winners in 1970