By Andrew Robinson
The African Cup of Nations kicks off tomorrow and represents the last shot the golden generation of Ivory Coast players have to win the tournament.
Familiar names from the Premier League and beyond like Didier Drogba, Aroune Kone, Didier Zokora, the Toure brothers and Salomon Kalou should have claimed at least one African Cup of Nations by now and were beaten in the final last year, with Drogba missing a penalty.
The Elephants are 13/8 favourites with Paddy Power to take their first tournament win since 1992. Unsurprisingly, Drogba has been playing down their favourites tag , but they go into the event as the team to beat. But who else can beat them?
Arguably Ghana have players with similar quality of the Ivory Coast, but the likes of Kevin Prince Boateng, Michael Essien and the Ayew brothers are all missing this year’s tournament. That leaves former Premier League men Asamoah Gyan and John Pantsil as the leading players in the squad.
The Black Stars will need to get Gyan firing if they are to add to their four previous victories, the last of which came in 1982. They performed well at the 2010 World Cup and will be looking to stamp their mark in South Africa once again.
Nigeria have a rich history in tournament football, but have been going through a barren spell in recent years, which resulted in them failing to qualify for last year’s event.
Their last African Cup of Nations win was back in 1996, something they’ll want to change this time around. Chelsea’s Victor Moses is undoubtedly their star man and will be looking to bring his form for the Blues to South Africa for the Super Eagles.
The hosts of this year’s event will be hoping for a turnaround in their African Cup of Nations form. Bafana Bafana have not won a single game in the tournament since 2004. Coach Gordon Igesund thinks they could have a chance of claiming a tournament victory on home soil, with a little bit of luck of course and said:
Hopefully, things go well for us and we get a bit of a roll going, especially with the support we are going to get behind us, 90,000 people in the [National] Stadium.
Siphiwe Tshabalala, the man who opening the 2010 World Cup with a wonder strike, is their star man and will be looking to strike again.
The fact that last year’s winners are so far down the betting shows just how much of a surprise their win was last time around.
Manager Herve Renard is looking to make it two-out-of-two for the nation and will be relying on his captain Chris Katongo to drive his side forward. They have a tough assignment in Group C alongside Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Ethiopia.
Morocco are looking for just their second African Cup of Nations title in South Africa this time around. Adel Taarabt won’t be there, so the side will be relying on Younes Belhanda to provide some magic.
The playmaker was named Ligue 1’s Best Young Player after helping Montpellier to the French title. Last year, Morocco failed to make it out of a group containing Gabon and Equatorial Guinea and they’ll be looking to do better this time around.
Mali will be looking to build on the third place they secured at the last African Nations Cup. The Eagles squad includes the likes of Momo Sissoko, Samba Sow and Seydou Keita and is in with a shout of surprising some.
They will be confident of a place in the knockout stages and could even go on to lift their first trophy.
Algeria are in a tough group with favourites Ivory Coast, Tunisia and Togo, and will do well to progress to the knockout stages. Sofiane Feghouli is the man to watch in the Algerian squad.
He was named Algeria’s Footballer of the Year for 2012 and will play a crucial part in the success or failure of Vahid Halilhodzic’s men in South Africa.
Sami Trabelsi’s side go into the tournament in the same group as the Ivory Coast and will be looking to spring an upset or two. They have history in the event, securing a runners-up spot in 1996 and going one step further in 2004 when they lifted the trophy. They are the last team with a fighting chance of winning the event.
A key to their success is the performance of Issam Jemaa, who is the nation’s top scorer with 32 goals and is playing in his fifth consecutive Nations Cup.
The Sable Antelopes made it to the quarter-finals in the 2010 tournament and were involved in the most exciting game in the tournament’s history in 2010; a 4-4 draw with Mali, where they conceded four goals in the final 11 minutes.
Former Manchester United man Manucho is their star man and will be key to their fortunes.
Burkina Faso have only reached the second stage of the tournament once, when they hosted the event in 1998. Their key man is Marseille midfielder Charles Kabore, who was instrumental in his side’s 2010 French title win.
The five remaining teams in the event include Congo DR, Togo, Cape Verde, Niger and Ethiopia, whose prices range from 66/1 to 150/1 and are not expected to trouble the big boys.