Key game: Angola v Mali, 10 January
One to watch: Mustapha Yatabare, (Mali). Young striker who plays in French second tier. Scored in recent victory over Angola. Being tracked by West Brom and Birmingham
Efan Ekoku’s verdict: Home advantage can take them so far, but apart from Manucho, Angola don’t have enough big players to make a lasting impact. I used to play with Stephen Keshi, Mali’s coach, and he knows the African scene well. His side are very well organised; Keita and Diarra, the two Spanish based midfielders, are very good players, as is Kanoute. I’ve been tipping them for the last couple of tournaments but they keep letting me down! They have good players, but most play in France and Belgium and not in the top European leagues, so they lack that hardened edge. They should win the group though.
Ivory Coast 9-4
Burkina Faso 40-1
Key game: Ivory Coast v Ghana, 15 January
One to watch: Gervinho, (Ivory Coast). Top scorer in the French league, spearheading Lille’s surprise title challenge. An appealing 28-1 to be tournament’s top scorer
Ekoku’s verdict: This is a West African dogfight, a fantastic group. We all know about the Ivory Coast, but this is probably the last chance for this group of players. They have gone into the last three tournaments as favourites, but failed to deliver. They have all the players, but they will need to be at their best to finish ahead of Ghana, who have been the best team in Africa over the last 18 months. The problem for Ghana is injury: they are missing key players in Muntari, Pantsil and Appiah. They have good strikers and have freshened up their squad with players from the side that won the Under-20 World Cup. They can go far. Togo, if they play, and Burkina Faso may end up as whipping boys.
Key game: Egypt v Nigeria, 12 January
One to watch: Mohamed Aboutrika, (Egypt). Intelligent playmaker - literally, he has a degree in philosophy - at heart of Egypt’s back-to-back triumphs. Lays genuine claim to being the continent’s best player
Ekoku’s verdict: A two-horse race. On the face of it there is nothing wrong with Nigeria’s squad, but my concern is that, unlike Ghana, they have not fast-tracked enough younger players into the squad quickly enough. It is same old, same old for Nigeria - not enough leadership on and off the pitch.
There is not enough quality in the coaching staff and the lack of organisation takes the edge off things on the pitch. Their approach is far too conservative. As ever they are also lop-sided between attacking talent and the defence and that is likely to prove their downfall again. Egypt are the team to beat.
The coach Hassan Shehata has been given free rein to run the team and has made them very hard to beat. They have won in West Africa before and there is no reason why they can’t do it again. Egypt against Nigeria is the first game in the group and the winner will be confident of going far. The impressive thing about the Pharaohs is their ability to switch between a tight or open game. They are the best team in the competition
Key game: Cameroon v Tunisia, 21 January
One to watch: Stephane Mbia, (Cameroon). Marseilles paid Rennes £10m for the midfield creator last summer, but he is said to harbour ambitions of playing in the Premier League
Ekoku’s verdict: Tunisia have got the World Cup to look forward to, but it is Cameroon who are the team to watch here. They have the best squad they have had for sometime. Paul Le Guen has revitalised them, that self-belief is back. But do they still have the appetite? Their only problem is the squad looks a little long in the tooth, Bassong should have gone instead of Rigobert Song for a start.
At the Nations Cup you can usually see within a game who are going to be the ones to watch, so we will find out soon enough just how good they are.Reuse content