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Who will shine at Africa’s biggest football party?

Text by Yann BUXEDA

Latest update : 2012-01-22

On the eve of the Africa Cup of Nations 2012, FRANCE 24 gives you a cheat sheet to the tournament’s four groups and the likely winners of the first round.

Senegal, a favourite among equals

Senegal's "Lions of Teranga"

GROUP A: Equatorial Guinea, Zambia, Senegal, Libya

Group A is expected to get a lot of attention at this year’s Africa Cup of Nations, not just because there is no clearly dominant country in the pool, but because it includes Libya –a country just emerging from the months-long war that overthrew long-time leader Muammer Gaddafi.

Senegal did not qualify for the tournament’s 2010 edition, but is nevertheless Group A’s favorite. Led by coach Amara Traore, the team has a potentially explosive offense in forwards Mamadou Niang and Moussa Sow, and an experienced defense. Zambia and Libya also have good chances of advancing to the second round.

Zambia is back

The Libyans lack technical prowess, but they could make up for weak links in their roster by rallying around this unique moment in their country’s history. Team Libya also gained experience and confidence from participating in the 2006 Africa Cup.

For Zambia, the key to success will be overcoming the absence of star players William Njobvu in the midfield and Jacob Mulenga. The team can still draw on a strong and disciplined cast of players from its national football league. The team’s experience is an advantage: Zambia is making its 14th Africa Cup appearance since 1974 and has played in three semi-finals and two finals during that time. Equatorial Guinea is the Cup’s co-host but is slightly outclassed in Group A.


Coasting for the Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast's "Elephants"

GROUP B: Ivory Coast, Angola, Burkina Faso, Sudan

Ivory Coast is the obvious favourite in Group B. With a handful of Premier League stars, which includes forward Didier Drogba, wing man Salomon Kalou and Gervinho, the Ivorian “Elephants” should coast to the second round. Observers are predicting that most of the Ivory Coast’s second-string will have some playing time in the first round.

Picking Group B’s second-best team is not easy. With an illustrious past, and after years of absence from the tournament, Sudan has something to prove. It returned to the Africa Cup in 2008, and will look to affirm itself with very physical play.

Underdogs

Burkina Faso, absent from two of the last three editions of the Cup, knows it will struggle to get past the first round. Matching the country’s 1998 performance, in which it finished fourth in the competition, seems like an impossible dream.

Angola, host of the 2010 Africa Cup, is hoping for big performances from its local league footballers and native coach Lito Vidigal –a former defenseman. However, their chances of advancing are slim.


First for Morocco

Morocco's "Atlas Lions"

GROUP C: Gabon, Morocco, Tunisia, Niger

Without being the clear favourite of Group B, Morocco seems to have an edge over its three first-round rivals. Led by Belgian coach Eric Gerets, the “Atlas Lions” want to be the kings of the tournament. Midfielder Younes Belhanda, off to a stellar season in Montpellier, could help Morocco achieve such a lofty expectation.

This year’s team Gabon could also achieve great things on its home turf. Franco-German coach Gernot Rohr and his troops have even announced their objective upfront: reach the Cup’s quarter-finals.

Tunisia on the outside

After struggling to qualify for the tournament, Tunisia arrives at the Africa Cup steeped in uncertainty. The “Eagles of Carthage” have revealed momentary bursts of potential under coach Sami Trabelsi, but their ability to win in the long-term is doubtful.

Tunisia may still clinch a ticket to the second round, but it will be difficult to get past Cup co-host Gabon. Observers don’t expect much from Niger.


Ghana ahead

Fans of Ghana's "Black Stars"

GROUP D: Ghana, Mali, Guinea, Botswana

Ghana arrives at the Africa Cup of Nations as the undisputed favourite and should have no trouble conquering Group D. Turbo-powered by the Ayew brothers, the “Black Stars” of Ghana seem poised to perform at least as well as they did in 2010, when they made it to the Cup’s quarter-finals.

In Ghana’s wake, Mali should ride a wave to the second round. Injuries have deflated coach Alain Giresse’s team, but exciting new players have brought new life to team Mali.

Guinea hungry for fourth helping

Having reached the Cup’s quarter-finals in 2004, 2006 and 2008, Guinea wants to revive its golden era. Absent from the contest in 2010, Guinea will tussle with Mali for second place in Group D.

For Botswana, the Africa Cup will be little more than an opportunity to dance with the big boys and gain experience. This is the team’s very first appearance in the continent’s big football party.

Date created : 2012-01-20

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