African Cup of Nations: Group-by-group preview
A closer look at the teams and star players taking part in South Africa
The 2013 African Cup of Nations gets underway this Saturday when hosts South Africa take on Cape Verde at the National Stadium in Johannesburg.
Ahead of that match, we take a group-by-group look at the teams involved...
Host nation South Africa will be hoping to add to their single African Cup of Nations win, in what will be there eighth appearance at the championships. The last time the Bafana Bafana hosted the competition they won it back in 1996, defeating Tunisia 2-0 in the final, courtesy of two goals from former Wolverhampton Wanderers man Mark Williams who had a brief stint at the club. However, the hosts will be without star man Stephen Pienaar who retired from international football just three months prior to this tournament.
Their biggest rivals in Group A will be the highly rated Moroccans who were runners up in 2004 but have seen a resurgence of form under coach Rachid Taoussi. They had to overcome a 2-0 deficit away leg to Mozambique in the final qualifying match, in which they won the home leg 4-0 to qualify. Coach Taoussi has a number of current top flight, European personnel at his disposal which includes Karim El Ahmadi of Aston Villa, Udinese defender Mehdi Benatia and former Tottenham hotspur, now current Fiorentina striker, Mounir El Hamadaoui.
Cape Verde will compete in their first African Cup of Nations finals, having managed to dismantle giants Cameroon 3-2 on aggregate during qualification. Winger Ryan Mendes is their wildcard, who could potentially disrupt a few defences in the group. At 22, Mendes scored three goals during qualifying and his club performances for french team Le Havre were recognised by Lille who he signed for in 2012.
The final side to make up Group A are Angola. They have been twice quarter-finalists in the competition but never any further. Their main goal threat will come from former Manchester United striker Manucho who has an impressive record of 21 goals in 38 matches for the Angolans. If they are to proceed into the quarter-finals once more, he will have to be on top form.
Ghana go into Group B as widely tipped favourites to win their group and are serious contenders to win the tournamnet. The 'Black Stars' have a pool of talent available at their disposal including the likes of Asamoah Gyan, John Pantsil, John Mensah who all have Premier League experience as well as Derek Boateng who is on the verge of a move to Fulham. However, star men, Michael Essien, Sulley Muntari and Andre Ayew have all been axed from the squad.
Fighting for second are likely to be Mali and Congo DR. Both sides have an abundance of pace and power in their sides. Mali have Premier league duo Modibo Maiga and Samba Diakite, from West ham and QPR respectively, are in their final 23 man squad but an injury to former captain and Fulham midfielder Mahamadou Diarra will be a blow. Despite not playing for over two-years, former Liverpool and Juventus ace Momo Sissoko did make the 23 man cut. Congo will be resting their hopes of success on maverick captain Tresor Mputu, he was once banned for 12 months for physically assaulting a referee, playing for Congo.
Niger qualified for their first finals last year and will be hoping to go one better this time out and make it out of the group stage.
Nigeria dominate group C on paper but this is a very open group in reality. They are SIX-times AFCON finalists but have only won it twice. They have Chelsea team mates John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses in their 23 man squad as well as former Everton defender Joseph Yobo. Coach Stephen Keshi took over the 'Super Eagles' in 2011 after failing to qualify for the 2012 tournament. Keshi has implemented a mixture of young local talent to older experienced players to create the perfect mix which are hopeful to be crowned champions yet again.
Zambia are the current holders of the trophy after beating the Ivory Coast in a thrilling 8-7 penalty shoot-out win. They only just squeezed into the finals this year with yet another penalty shoot-out victory, this time being run to the wire by Uganda. Emmanuel Mayuka, 21, currently plays for Premier League outfit Southampton where he has made eight appearances, six coming off the bench. If they are to win concessive titles, he will have to shine.
Ethiopia and Burkina Faso make up Group C, hoping to make a name for themselves at the tournament. Neither side have any real AFCON pedigree of late, although Ethopia did win the title in 1962. Adane Girma of Ethiopia was the man who held his nerve in the last minute of a qualifier against Benin, with a penalty which bought their ticket to South Africa. Burkina's best result in this competition is fourth place back in 1998; they have an array of young talent that will be on show at the championships.
Arguably the hardest of all the groups, Group D will be hoping to spice up this year's tournament. Côte d'Ivoire will be looking to go one better than last year and win their second ever championships. The Ivorians go into the tournament firm favourites with the bookmakers at just 7/4 to win the title. All eyes will be on Didier Drogba who has 50 goals for his country, the AFCON being one of the only trophies he has never won.
Togo come into the competition with the news that Tottenham Hotspur striker Emmanuel Adebayor will be joining up with the team before the start of the campaign. His participation has left a bitter taste in the mouth of his his club manger Andre Villas-Boas according to reports but Togo will be delighted their main man will be available.
Both one time winners Algeria and Tunisia will be hoping to grab at least a place in the quarters and will both feel they have enough in their squads to progress. Algeria will be looking at their star studied midfield that includes Valencia's mercurial playmaker Sofiane Feghouli. He will be hoping to combine with former Fulham and Watford winger Hamed Bouazza and Nottingham Forest ace Adlene Guedioura.
Tunisia coach Sami Trabelsi has heaped pressure on himself by dropping Atletico Madrid midfielder Kader Oueslati from his squad. Tunisia have gone through a total of seven managers in the last four years.
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