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African Cup of Nations 2012

359 posts in this topic

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Equatorial Guinea v Libya, GpA, 18:30

Senegal v Zambia, GpA, 21:00

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Ivory Coast v Sudan, GpB, 16:00

Burkina Faso v Angola, GpB, 19:00

Monday, 23 January 2012

Gabon v Niger, GpC, 16:00

Morocco v Tunisia, GpC, 19:00

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Ghana v Botswana, GpD, 16:00

Mali v Guinea, GpD, 19:00

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Libya v Zambia, GpA, 16:00

Equatorial Guinea v Senegal, GpA, 19:00

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Sudan v Angola, GpB, 16:00

Ivory Coast v Burkina Faso, GpB, 19:00

Friday, 27 January 2012

Niger v Tunisia, GpC, 16:00

Gabon v Morocco, GpC, 19:00

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Botswana v Guinea, GpD, 16:00

Ghana v Mali, GpD, 19:00

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Equatorial Guinea v Zambia, GpA, 18:00

Libya v Senegal, GpA, 18:00

Monday, 30 January 2012

Ivory Coast v Angola, GpB, 18:00

Sudan v Burkina Faso, GpB, 18:00

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Gabon v Tunisia, GpC, 18:00

Niger v Morocco, GpC, 18:00

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Botswana v Mali, GpD, 18:00

Ghana v Guinea, GpD, 18:00

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Winner Group A v Runner-up Group B, QF, 16:00

Winner Group B v Runner-up Group A, QF, 19:00

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Winner Group C v Runner-up Group D, QF, 16:00

Winner Group D v Runner-up Group C, QF, 19:00

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Winner Q/F 1 v Winner Q/F 4, SF, 16:00

Winner Q/F 2 v Winner Q/F 3, SF, 19:00

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Loser SF1 v Loser SF2, 3rd, 19:00

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Winners SF1 v Winners SF2, F, 19:00

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African Nations Cup: Group A

With three countries taking their continental bow and a host of established powers failing to qualify, the stage is set for the 2012 African Nations Cup to be one of the most intriguing editions of the tournament to date. Just five previous champions - Ghana, Ivory Coast, Morocco, Tunisia and Sudan - are competing this time around, and there are some significant names among the absentees. Three of the competition's four most successful sides will not be present in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, with reigning champions and seven-time winners Egypt, as well as Cameroon and Nigeria, failing to make it to the biennial showpiece.

With the football fraternity having turned their attention to Africa for the 2010 World Cup - and with hearts and minds won, most notably by the exploits of Ghana's Black Stars - there will be more of a global focus on this year's Nations Cup than ever before. Clubs the world over will be sending their scouts to Central Africa in hope of unearthing one of the many hidden gems lurking on a continent teeming with talent.

Here, ESPNsoccernet supplies a comprehensive guide to the contenders and pretenders for this year's African football crown.

Group A: Equatorial Guinea | Zambia | Senegal | Libya

Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D |

EQUATORIAL GUINEA

Coach: Gílson Paulo

Captain: Rodolfo Bodipo

Nickname: Nzalang Nacional

Nations Cup record: Never previously competed.

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Javier Balboa's star has faded since he left Real Madrid in 2008, but he remains a crucial player for Equatorial Guinea

The co-hosts' build-up has been somewhat tumultuous, after seasoned African football coach Henri Michel twice quit the Equatoguinean hotseat, citing "political problems" and "third party interference" after his second resignation. His last-minute replacement is Gílson Paulo, a little-known coach who was involved with the Under-11s side of Brazilian club Vasco de Gama before his late call up by the Nzalang Nacional.

Equatorial Guinea are the smallest nation at Nations Cup 2012 in terms of both size (a population of just 700,000) and footballing stature (a FIFA ranking of 150 and continental ranking of 42), with the former Spanish colony widely expected to be the tournament's whipping boys. The country's women's team performed admirably at last year's World Cup - having come second in the continental championship - but finished bottom of their group and the men face a daunting task if they are to avoid the same fate.

One to watch: Javier Balboa. One of a host of Spanish-born and Spanish-based players in the Equatorial Guinea squad, Balboa was once his country's great footballing hope. A product of the Real Madrid academy, the winger made his debut for Los Blancos in 2006 but failed to ever make the grade - leaving the Bernabeu in 2008 with only a handful of appearances to his name. Now at Portuguese Liga side Beira Mar, he may not have fulfilled his potential at club level, but remains his country's chief attacking threat - a fearless winger who is happy to run at defenders and possesses a sweet right-foot delivery.

Trivia: Equatorial Guinea and Nations Cup 2012 co-hosts Gabon are engaged in a long-running dispute over islands in potentially oil-rich offshore waters

ESPNsoccernet prediction: The tournament's minnows need a miracle to get out of their group. Group stage exit.

ZAMBIA

Coach: Herve Renard

Captain: Chris Katongo

Nickname: Chipopoplo (Copper Bullets)

Nations Cup record: Runners up 1974, 1994; Qualified 15 times

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Young Boys forward Emmanuel Mayuka will be Zambia's chief goal threat

The 2012 Nations Cup is a particularly poignant one for Zambia. They will play their games in Equatorial Guinea until at least the semi-finals, but if they do reach the last four then they will face an emotional return to Gabon, site of the tragic 1993 plane crash in which the whole squad perished en route to a vital World Cup qualifier in Senegal. Against the odds, and with a youthful team, Zambia went on to reach the 1994 African Nations Cup final, but were denied one of football's greatest ever underdog stories by Nigeria.

Eighteen years on, and Chipopoplo midfielder Isaac Chansa is among those targeting a tribute to the tragic 1993 squad, saying: "We want to honour the team that perished in Gabon by doing well in this tournament." Coach Herve Renard led Zambia to the quarter-finals in 2010 and returned to the helm last year when Dario Bonetti was controversially sacked two days after successfully masterminding progress to the finals. With Senegal expected to cruise through as winners, Renard will need to be wary of the threat of Libya in the race for second place in Group A - the North Africans beat and drew with the Chipopoplo in qualifying, though Zambia won the group by a point.

One to watch: Emmanuel Mayuka. As first-choice striker at Young Boys, Mayuka has plundered seven goals this season to make him the second top scorer in the Swiss Super League. At just 21, he is an excellent prospect, with Premier League sides Newcastle and Fulham reportedly monitoring him, while his acrobatic goal celebrations are also a thing of beauty.

Trivia: After scoring a hat-trick against South Africa in 2007, skipper Christopher Katongo's reward was a promotion from the rank of corporal to sergeant in the Zambian army.

ESPNsoccernet prediction: A repeat of their run to the quarter-finals in 2010 seems a safe bet, but a probable meeting with Ivory Coast will prevent them making an emotional return to Gabon for the semis.

SENEGAL

Coach: Amara Traore

Captain: Mamadou Niang

Nickname: Les Lions de la Teranga (Teranga Lions)

Nations Cup record: Runners up 2002; qualified 12 times.

Failure to reach the 2010 finals - the first Nations Cup they had missed since 1998 - was a major embarrassment for Senegal, heightened by the fact they didn't even make it to the final round of qualifying. Changes were needed and Amara Traore ousted some of the veterans of the famous 2002 World Cup campaign, including El-Hadji Diouf and Papa Bouba Diop, to make way for a new, hungrier generation. After guiding the Teranga Lions to the finals, Traore was involved in a contract dispute that threatened to derail preparations, but agreed a new three-year deal in December - though it is believed delivering the African Nations Cup title is a minimum requirement of his new terms.

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Demba Ba has been scoring for fun in the Premier League but is not a guaranteed starter for Senegal

Now boasting arguably the most devastating attack in African football, Senegal are keen to prove themselves among the continent's best again. Between them, Mamadou Niang, Moussa Sow and new Newcastle United signing Papa Demba Cisse scored 13 of the Teranga Lions' 16 goals in qualifying, as Cameroon were comfortably consigned to a runners-up spot in their group. With Demba Ba firing also on all cylinders at present in the Premier League, Traore has a very welcome dilemma when it comes to selecting his forward line. While their striking talent is enviable, Senegal also boast a solid centre-back pairing of Marseille veteran Souleymane Diawara and Rennes' Kader Mangane; the qualifying campaign saw only two goals conceded.

One to watch: Demba Ba: One of the most in-form strikers in the game at present, Ba has been on a sensational scoring run for Newcastle United, bagging 15 goals in his past 15 Premier League games. The 6' 2'' frontman has been made to work hard for his place in the national team, but made a vital contribution in qualifying when scoring a dramatic winner against Cameroon. Ba's stock is already rapidly rising, but could reach a peak should he guide Senegal to glory.

Trivia: There are just two players in Traore's squad who actually ply their trade in Senegal: goalkeepers Khadim N'Diaye and Pape Latyr N'Diaye.

ESPNsoccernet prediction: With all eyes on Ghana and Ivory Coast, there is a very real possibility that Senegal can be this year's surprise side. A place in the semi-finals is a minimum expectation, where a tasty clash with Ghana will likely await.

LIBYA

Coach: Marcos Paqueta

Captain: Samir Aboud

Nickname: The Mediterranean Knights

Nations Cup record: Runners-up 1982; qualified three times

The overlapping of football and politics is generally seen as something negative, but amid the numerous reporting of the words "FIFA" and "scandal" in 2011, there was a significant story to emerge from Libya in June. The national team's announcement that they were supporting (and some of them actually fighting) in the uprising against Colonel Gaddaffi was seen as a massive blow to the regime, and when Tripoli fell into rebel hands in August, the country's football team was also liberated. The final two African Nations Cup qualifiers saw Libya - with a new kit, flag, crest and anthem - beat Mozambique and draw with Zambia to reach the finals for a third time against the backdrop of a bloody civil war.

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Libya have had a new kit, crest and national anthem since the fall of Tripoli last year

Veteran goalkeeper Samir Aboud later explained: "For sure what happened in Libya from the beginning, even how the players saw their people suffering and given what we had all lost in the conflict - it definitely gave us that extra push for the results which took us to the African Nations. The Gadaffi Regime was one of the key reasons for the decline of football in Libya." The Mediterranean Knights' previous two ANC appearances brought a heartbreaking penalty shootout defeat to Ghana in 1982 and a miserable group stage exit in 2006, but just making it to this year's finals has proved an inspirational moment in what Libyans hope is the start of a new footballing era.

One to watch: Djamal Mahamat. His professional career may have taken a while to get going but it is enjoying an upward trajectory at present. Four years ago he was rejected by English lower league sides Bradford and Hartlepool after trials, but he is now turning out for last season's Europa League finalists Braga in Portugal. Mahamat is a strong, powerful midfielder, with a fierce left-foot strike to call on.

Trivia: After Libya's 3-0 qualifying win against Comoros last March, then-captain Tariq Ibrahim al-Tayib publicly declared that the whole team was behind Gadaffi. The midfielder, with 77 international caps under his belt, has not played for his country since.

ESPNsoccernet prediction: In a straight fight with Zambia for second place in the group, Libya's lack of experience of tournament football will see them just fall short of progress.

African Nations Cup: Group B

Group B: Ivory Coast | Angola | Burkina Faso | Sudan

Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D |

GROUP B

IVORY COAST

Coach: François Zahoui

Captain: Didier Drogba

Nickname: Les ÉlÉphants (The Elephants)

Nations Cup record: Winners 1992; qualified 19 times

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Yaya Toure's stellar 2011 was rewarded with him being crowned African Footballer of the Year

Ivory Coast have been named as the team to beat at each of the past three tournaments but have fallen short on each occasion, with the 2010 quarter-final exit to Algeria particularly galling as the Elephants took the lead in the 89th minute but were unable to see the game out, allowing their opponents to score once in injury time and again in extra-time to progress. Now determined to erase their reputation of always being the bridesmaids but never the bride, Ivory Coast were irresistible in qualifying - steamrolling their way to the finals with six wins and 19 goals scored.

There is quality right through the team - though some defensive question marks remain - with national icon Didier Drogba the man charged with leading the forward line. He scored his 50th goal for Ivory Coast in the lead up to the finals and will be looking to add to the seven he has netted in previous Nations Cups, and will be ably supported by an entirely European-based cast including Gervinho, Cheick Tiote, Max Gradel and Chelsea team-mate Salomon Kalou.

One to watch: Yaya Toure. The newly-crowned 2011 African Footballer of the Year has been in fantastic form for Manchester City this season and his bursting runs from midfield will be a major threat to any of the Elephants' opponents. He also showed with his strikes in the semi-final and final of last year's FA Cup that he is a man to call on when a big moment is needed.

Trivia: Ivory Coast hold the record for the highest-scoring penalty shoot-out win in international football history following their extraordinary 12-11 win over Cameroon at the 2006 quarter-finals, which beat their own previous record - an 11-10 victory over Ghana in the 1992 final.

ESPNsoccernet prediction: Heavy favourites, but may just fall short once again. Beaten finalists.

ANGOLA

Coach: Lito Vidigal

Captain: Kali

Nickname: Palancas Negras (The Sable Antelopes)

Nations Cup record: Quarter-finals 2008, 2010; qualified six times

Defeats to Uganda and Kenya in two of their first three qualifiers looked to have terminally hampered Angola's chances of qualifying for the finals, but they finished the campaign with three successive wins and Uganda's failure to beat their neighbours Kenya in the final game allowed the Palancas Negras to swoop in and claim a place in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.

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At the 2010 finals, Angola inexplicably gave up a four-goal lead against Mali

As hosts last time out, Angola reached the quarter-finals for a second successive time before a narrow defeat to Ghana, and were also involved in one of the most captivating games in the competition's history when they threw away a four-goal lead against Mali with ten minutes remaining. This time around, thePalancas Negras have a tricky group and will need veteran striker Flavio and former Manchester United forward Manucho - now only the second most famous face in Angolan football after Rivaldo - to be in form and scoring if they want to make an impression.

One to watch: Djalma. "I am up to the challenge," was Djalma's prophecy when he signed for FC Porto last summer and though he endured a slow bedding in period, he is now beginning to flourish with the reigning Portuguese champions, winning a regular starting place in recent weeks. Most effective cutting inside from the left wing onto his favoured right foot, his tricky feet help him regularly draw free-kicks from opposing defenders.

Trivia: Angola's home ground is called the Estádio 11 de Novembro (November 11 Stadium) after the date on which the country gained independence from Portugal in 1975.

ESPNsoccernet prediction: In a straight shootout with Sudan for second place in the group, Angola will be narrowly edged out.

BURKINA FASO

Coach: Paulo Duarte

Captain: Mahamoudou Kere

Nickname: Les Etalons (The Stallions)

Nations Cup record: Fourth place 1998; Qualified eight times (once as Upper Volta - 1978)

Having overseen Burkina Faso's 2010 African Nations Cup campaign, Paulo Duarte is one of three coaches to be guiding the same nation this time around (though is the only one to have been with his side for the entire intervening two years). The Portuguese boss - who once played under Jose Mourinho at Beira Mar - can call on a very capable core of French-based players, including Lyon defender Bakary Kone and midfielders Charles Kabore, Jonathan Pitroipa and Alain Traore, while up front is all-time leading scorer Moumouni Dagano.

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Alain Traore has been in excellent form for Marseille this season

Burkina Faso gave a good account of themselves at the 2010 tournament in a real group of death - drawing 0-0 with Ivory Coast and narrowly losing 1-0 to Ghana - and with the Elephants among the opposition again this time around, Duarte's side will believe they have nothing to fear. Qualifying was easy for the Stallions, who remained unbeaten with three wins and a draw against admittedly limited opposition in Gambia and Namibia.

One to watch: Alain Traore. One of the few bright sparks in a difficult season for Auxerre, Traore began the campaign with a five goals in four games - a spectacular return for a midfielder - and four qualifying strikes demonstrated his importance to Burkina Faso. He claimed back in October that Man Utd boss Sir Alex Ferguson admired him during a trial a few years ago, saying: "I remember he [Ferguson] was impressed with my left foot. He said: 'Alain, it's better to have one great foot than two average feet; just look at Ryan Giggs'. It was a great moment."

Trivia: Burkina Faso hold the unwanted record of having the joint-worst total goal difference in African Nations Cup history. With 46 goals conceded in 23 games at the finals, and just 20 scored, the -26 goal difference puts them level with Ethiopia.

ESPNsoccernet prediction: Having been pretty untested in qualifying, a lack of competitive games could be their undoing here. Group-stage exit.

SUDAN

Coach: Mohamed Abdalla

Captain: Haitham Mustafa

Nickname: Desert Hawks

Nations Cuprecord: Winners 1970; qualified eight times

Sudan may be the biggest nation competing at the finals in terms of their land mass, but it has been a long time since they competed among the continent's footballing heavyweights. This is only the Desert Hawks' second appearance at the final in 36 years, having once been one of Africa's pre-eminent teams, with more than two decades of civil war (ending in 2005) forcing football to take a back seat.

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Haitham Mustafa captained Sudan at the 2008 African Nations Cup and will skipper them again this time

Now, Sudan are very much a side in the ascendancy. Qualification was achieved as one of the best two runners-up after they ran more established powers Ghana close; a Black Stars victory in Sudan in the final game the only difference between the two teams in their group. Success has been built on an excellent defence that conceded just three goals in qualifying and a real sense of unity has been created in the only squad at the finals consisting entirely of domestic-based players - 19 of whom come from Sudan's top clubs Al Hilal and Al Merreikh.

One to watch: Haitham Mustafa The face of Sudanese football for more than a decade, 34-year-old midfielder Mustafa pulls the strings as captain of both club side Al-Hilal and the national team. He skippered the side at their last Nations Cup appearance in 2008 and his long throw-ins will be a major weapon for the Desert Hawks at the finals.

Trivia: Sudan hosted the first ever African Nations Cup in 1957, but only managed to come third place out of three teams (with South Africa having been expelled) as Egypt beat Ethiopia in the final.

ESPNsoccernet prediction: With an encouraging qualifying campaign behind them, this ambitious Sudan side could surprise a few people and reach the semi-finals.

African Nations Cup: Group C

Group C: Gabon | Niger | Tunisia | Morocco

Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D |

GROUP C

GABON

Coach: Gernot Rohr

Captain: Daniel Cousin

Nickname: Les Panthères (The Panthers)

Nations Cup record: Quarter-finals 1996; qualified five times

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Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Daniel Cousin: Gabon's leading lights

Gabon produced arguably the biggest upset of the 2010 tournament when they beat Cameroon 1-0 in their opening game, but it ultimately ended in disappointment as defeat to Zambia in the final group match condemned the Panthers to a third-place group stage finish. The co-hosts' lack of competitive matches has, as usual, made preparation difficult for this year's finals, with defeats against Ghana and Brazil and victories over fellow minnows Niger and Equatorial Guinea not really revealing a great deal about their prospects ahead of a really tough group. "I think the most difficult group in the forthcoming is Group C," Gabon coach Gernot Rohr said in December. "We inherited this terrible group...together they make it a group of death for us all."

Hopes are nonetheless high for the co-hosts, particularly on the back of the Under-23 team's shock qualification for the Olympics - Gabon triumphing against the odds at the qualifying tournament with a 2-1 victory over Morocco in December's final. Rohr has called up some of the stars of the Under-23 side for the African Nations Cup, with Olympic captain Cedric Boussoughou joined by Remy Ebanega, Henri Ndong and Andre Biyogo Poko, who was snapped up by Bordeaux last August on the recommendation of Rohr - a former Girondins player and manager.

One to watch: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Once a scoring sensation for AC Milan's youth teams, Aubameyang didn't quite manage to make the first-team grade at the San Siro but is currently impressing at Saint-Etienne, after making his loan move from the Rossoneri permanent in December. He is in decent form going into the tournament, with two goals and three assists from his past five Ligue 1 games, and the 22-year-old's poaching instinct will be vital if Gabon are to advance.

Trivia: Gabon's worst ever defeat came against Group C opponents Morocco, a 6-0 thrashing in Rabat in 2006.

ESPNsoccernet prediction: Home support will be willing them on, but another third-place group stage finish seems the most likely outcome.

MOROCCO

Coach: Eric Gerets

Captain: Houssine Kharja

Nickname: Atlas Lions

Nations Cup record: Winners 1976; qualified 12 times.

The appointment of former Marseille, PSV and Galatasaray manager Eric Gerets was a real coup for Morocco but he struggled to guide them through qualifying, only securing a spot at the finals at the expense of Central African Republic and Algeria thanks to a 3-1 victory over Tanzania in the final game. However, home and away defeats against their North African rivals helped endear him to the Atlas Lions fans and the 4-0 victory over the Algerians in Marrakech last June was arguably the team's best performance in recent years.

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Eric Gerets will be hoping Marouane Chamakh has not lost his confidence in front of goal

Once possessing a reputation as Africa's strongest nation, Morocco's star has faded over the past decade, with a run to the 2004 Nations Cup final the only achievement of note. Turning a group of skilful individuals - the likes of Adel Taarabt, Mbark Boussoufa and Oissama Assaidi are unquestionably precocious - into a cohesive unit has been Gerets' biggest challenge, while there is still a huge reliance on Marouane Chamakh for goals. It will be interesting to see if the Atlas Lions hero's confidence has been adversely affected by his lack of playing time at Arsenal, and whether Gerets can indeed get his players to play as an effective team.

One to watch: Younes Belhanda. French-born attacking midfielder Belhanda has played a major role in Montpellier's surprise challenge at the top of the Ligue 1 this season, contributing five goals and three assists. Belhanda has touch and vision in abundance, and offers excellent delivery from set-pieces and a real goal threat as well. He is most comfortable pulling the strings in a central role but can also play in a wider role as part of a three-pronged attack, a formation usually favoured by Morocco.

Trivia: Morocco became the first African nation to qualify for the second round of the World Cup when they won a group containing England, Poland and Portugal in 1986 before losing 1-0 to eventual finalists West Germany.

ESPNsoccernet prediction: They may have had an unconvincing qualifying campaign, but there is enough natural talent to ensure a quarter-final appearance.

NIGER

Coach: Harouna Doula Gabde

Captain: Idrissa Laouali

Nickname: Mena

Nations Cup record: Never previously qualified

The undisputed minnows of the 2012 finals, Niger were placed a lowly 165th in the FIFA World Rankings just 22 months ago, making them the ninth-worst country in Africa at the time. Nigerien football development has been previously hampered by a lack of support from the drought-ridden country's government, but qualification for the tournament in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon was incredibly achieved thanks to coach Harouna Doula Gabde creating a disciplined team with an unshakable team spirit.

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Ouwo Moussa Maazou scored vital winners against Egypt and South Africa in qualifying

Three home victories were responsible for getting Niger to the finals, with Sierra Leone, 2010 World Cup hosts South Africa and, most surprisingly, record seven-time Nations Cup winners Egypt put to the sword at the Stade GÉnÉral Seyni KountchÉ in the capital Niamey. Had South Africa not been confused about the head-to-head tie-breaking rule in their final game, Niger may not have found themselves at the tournament, but Bafana Bafana's loss was well and truly Mena's gain. Nigeriens will likely be concerned about their chances of succeeding far away from the team's fervent home support, and most prevalent is a hope that there will just be no embarrassments in their Group C games.

One to watch: Ouwo Moussa Maazou. Coming to the fore at Belgian side Lokeren in 2008, Maazou's fruitful goal return saw him earn a big-money transfer to CSKA Moscow, where he initially impressed before falling out of favour. He has since had loan spells at Monaco and Bordeaux, and is currently plying his trade back in Belgium with Zulte Waregem. He is a powerful forward, whose footwork and movement is a nuisance for any defender he comes up against, and Maazou also has an eye for an important goal - having scored winners in qualifying against South Africa and Egypt.

Trivia: Niger won their qualification group despite scoring just one goal more than they managed during 2010 qualifying, when they finished bottom after suffering five defeats.

ESPNsoccernet prediction: Avoiding humiliations will be the No. 1 priority, but a group stage exit is inescapable.

TUNISIA

Coach: Sami Trabelsi

Captain: Karim Haggui

Nickname: Les Aigles de Carthage (Carthage Eagles)

Nations Cup record: Winners 2004; qualified 15 times.

Last year was an excellent year for Tunisian football. It began with the Carthage Eagles winning the African Nations Championship - a competition that only allows countries to field players who play in their national leagues - while Esperance went on to fly the Tunisian flag on the continental and global stage by winning the African Champions League and subsequently competing in December's Club World Cup. Unsurprisingly, there are six Esperance players included in the final squad, and coach Sami Trabelsi has placed plenty of faith in Tunisian-based players.

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Tunisia lost to ten-man Ivory Coast in one of their final AFCON warm-up games

Qualification was not a straightforward affair and the Carthage Eagles advanced behind unfancied Botswana, with Trabelsi appointed in the wake of a humiliating 1-0 home defeat to the Zebras in the opening game. In Auxerre striker Issam Jemaa they had the top scorer in qualifying and he will be among the favourites for the Nations Cup Golden Boot after his six strikes helped Tunisia to the finals. Sudan were comfortably beaten 3-0 in one warm-up game, but a 2-0 loss to ten-man Ivory Coast suggests they have work to do if they want to mix-it with the big boys.

One to watch: Oussama Darragi. At 6' 3'', he is not the most natural-looking creative midfielder, but Darragi is an effortless player whose direct approach helped both Esperance and Tunisia claim silverware last year. He averages almost a goal every three games for his club, but it is his ability to find a team-mate with a key pass that could prove most crucial at the Nations Cup.

Trivia: Tunisia manager Sami Trabelsi played for the Carthage Eagles at the 1998 World Cup.

ESPNsoccernet prediction: Should win the battle of the North Africans and have a great chance to make it to the semi-finals.

African Nations Cup: Group D Group B: Ghana | Botswana | Mali | Guinea

Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D |

GHANA

Coach: Goran Stevanovic

Captain: John Mensah

Nickname: Black Stars

Nations Cup record: Winners 1963, 1965, 1978, 1982; qualified 18 times

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Andre Ayew: Son of Abedi Pele and recently voted the third best player in Africa

The pain of last-gasp defeat to Egypt in the 2010 final was tempered by the Black Stars' sensational run to the World Cup quarter-finals later that year, but winning the 2012 African Nations Cup and ending the two-decade wait for a major trophy is the minimum requirement for coach Goran Stevanovic this time around. Ghana sidestepped the threat of an emerging Sudan side in qualifying, a 0-0 home draw against them the only points dropped as Stevanovic's side reached the finals unbeaten and with just one goal conceded in six games.

Back in 2010, it was a Ghana team packed with youth that enjoyed such a memorable year, but those players have further matured both physically and mentally since then, and Ghana can now boast a powerful side, teeming with technique and experience of some of Europe's biggest leagues. The Black Stars were also handed a major boost a week before the tournament with the return to fitness of World Cup star Asamoah Gyan, the iconic Al Ain frontman nursed back to health by the healing hands of renowned Serbian alternative therapist Mariana Kovacevic and her horse-placenta inspired treatment.

One to watch: Andre Ayew: Being the son of Ghana's greatest ever player, Abedi Pele, has never seemed to bother Ayew one iota. One of the stars of the Under-20 team's 2009 World Cup triumph, the Marseille attacking midfielder has made a seamless transition from raw talent to polished jewel and is the creative lynchpin for both club and country. Michael Essien's absence over the past couple of years has allowed Ayew to flourish and he will take centre stage again in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.

Trivia: Ghana share a number of African Nations Cup records with Egypt including the most tournaments hosted (4), most appearances in the final (8) and most successful coach (Charles Kumi Gyamfi and Hassan Shehata - 3 titles).

ESPNsoccernet prediction: Third in 2008, second in 2010, the Black Stars will make the step up and win the crown in 2012.

BOTSWANA

Coach: Stanley Tshosane

Captain: Mompathi Thuma

Nickname: The Zebras

Nations Cup record: Never previously qualified.

Botswana's journey to Gabon and Equatorial Guinea has been both incredible and wholly unexpected. The Zebras have never come close before and in their nine previous qualification campaigns had lost four times in preliminary rounds and come bottom of their qualifying group on four occasions - with a second-from-bottom finish in 2008 qualifying their best previous effort. But, led by homegrown coach Mompathi Thuma, Botswana upset the odds to make it, mainly thanks to shock 1-0 home and away wins over North African giants and 2004 Nations Cup winners Tunisia along the way - prolific striker Jerome Ramatlhakwane netting the winner in both games.

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Jerome Ramatlhakwane was in unstoppable form for Botswana in qualifying

The Zebras have passion in abundance, and as well as the goals of Ramatlhakwane have relied heavily on the midfield brilliance of inspirational veteran Dipsy Selolwane, who has starred in the South African Premier Soccer League in recent years and also has experience of playing in the MLS. It was disappointing to see their players go on strike ahead of the tournament over a bonuses argument with the Botswana FA, but hopefully they can refocus and cause some shocks at the tournament.

One to watch: Jerome Ramatlhakwane. The second-highest scorer in African Nations Cup qualifying with five goals (four of them match-winners), Ramatlhakwane's form was all the more remarkable considering he went 18 months without playing club football because of a legal wrangle between his former club Santos and the club he wanted to join, Vasco de Gama (both of South Africa). His coach describes him as "strong, fast and skilful with a sharp mind and an eye for goal," adding that "his club problems have not affected his form for the national team and he is the arrowhead of the Zebras".

Trivia: Botswana is the eighth most sparsely populated country in the world with its population of nearly 2 million people living across around 580,000 km² of land.

ESPNsoccernet prediction: Any points achieved would represent a magnificent achievement, but the Zebras will need a miracle to advance. Group stage exit.

MALI

Coach: Alain Giresse

Captain: Seyfdou Keita

Nickname: Les Aigles (The Eagles)

Nations Cup record: Runners-up 1972; qualified seven times

Both Mali and their manager suffered group stage heartache at the last African Nations Cup, with Alain Giresse just missing out on taking Gabon through to a surprise quarter-final berth. Indeed, the Eagles cried foul as they beat Malawi 3-1 but were eliminated as Angola and Algeria played out a dour 0-0 draw, the result both nations needed to ensure progress. Mali's disappointing campaign - the highlight of which was one of the most remarkable comebacks in football history as they fought from 4-0 down with ten minutes to go to draw 4-4 with Angola - prompted star players Momo Sissoko, Fredi Kanoute and Seydou Keita to retire and Giresse was left to pick up the pieces.

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Seydou Keita came out of international retirement to help Mali reach the finals

"The team was in disarray and hopeless when I came in," Giresse said recently. "But today, I'm very happy because we have a better mentality now." Qualifying for the 2012 finals was an arduous task and a young Mali side laboured through despite having one of the easiest groups. There were away defeats to Zimbabwe and the Cape Verde Islands but the latter were eventually edged out on goal difference and the return of Barcelona midfielder Keita from the international wilderness halfway through the campaign was a major boost. Mali finished fourth at both the 2002 and 2004 African Nations Cup and Giresse will be determined to guide them at least a step further than their past two tournaments, which have both brought group stage elimination.

One to watch: Cheick Diabate. Bordeaux snapped up Diabate in 2006 from Centre Salif Keita, the club that also produced Diarra and (ironically) Keita, and while the powerful striker's rise has hardly been meteoric, he has worked hard and was rewarded with a new four-year contract withLes Girondins last year. At 6' 4'' he is dominant in aerial duels but also excels when running at defenders; he has not scored since October for his club, but Diabate netted three in Mali's final two qualifiers.

Trivia: Former Mali striker Frederic Kanoute is the only European-born player to win the African Footballer of the Year award, picking up the accolade back in 2007.

ESPNsoccernet prediction: Mali really scraped into the finals and bereft of experience - barring Seydou Keita - they will fall short of making the quarter-finals once again.

GUINEA

Coach: Michel Dussuyer

Captain: Kamil Zayatte

Nickname: Syli National (National Elephants)

Nations Cup record: Runners-up 1976; qualified ten times.

After three successive quarter-final appearances in 2004, 2006 and 2008, Guinea were brought crashing down to earth when finishing bottom of their group in qualifying for 2010 with one win and five losses. But experienced coach Michel Dussuyer - who took the National Elephants to the last eight in 2002 and led Benin in the 2010 tournament - has steadied the ship on his return.

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Frenchman Michel Dussuyer is back in the Guinea hotseat having led them at the 2002 finals

Qualification was most notable for their elimination of two-time champions Nigeria with pretty much the last kick of the campaign; at 2-1 down away to the Super Eagles, Guinea would have still gone through as best group runners-up but Ibrahima Traore scored a last-minute equaliser to ensure the visitors qualified outright. Dussuyer has created an excellent blend of youth and experience, with seasoned veterans like Bobo Balde and Pascal Feindouno sitting alongside exciting youngsters such as Bastia striker Sadio Diallo and teenage Rayo Vallecano forward Alhassane Bangoura. The absence of Genoa midfielder Kevin Constant - who asked to be excused from playing in the tournament - will be a blow but Guinea still have plenty to offer.

One to watch: Ismael Bangoura. The Al Nasr frontman has been out of favour with his club this term despite being their top scorer last season, but will nonetheless be relied on as a focal point of Guinea's attack. He is pacy, skilful, possesses excellent composure in front of goal and is capable of playing on the wing, in the hole, or as a leading man.

Trivia: Guinea had a very even distribution of goalscorers in qualifying for the 2012 finals, with their 13 goals spread across ten players - the most of any nation competing, just ahead of Ivory Coast and Ghana (9).

ESPNsoccernet prediction: While they may not be able to topple Ghana, a quarter-final berth should await.

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Pos

/

Not enough quality teams

Ivory Coast have the most match winners

Morocco have the most gifted ballers in Taarbat and Bossoufa(sp)

Senegal the best set of strikers

Ghana have the best squad

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I'm with Port here, spot on.

Hmm will be good ACON, expecting some comedy goalkeeping as normal.

Just hope the group games are more open and less cagey.

One question, I understand the French coaches in African football (because of their historical past) but why do they go for coaches from Eastern Europe mainly Serbia?

Big chance and prob the last for this golden generation for Ivory Coast.

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no algeria, nigeria, egypt, cameroon = dead

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I'm with Port here, spot on.

Hmm will be good ACON, expecting some comedy goalkeeping as normal.

Just hope the group games are more open and less cagey.

One question, I understand the French coaches in African football (because of their historical past) but why do they go for coaches from Eastern Europe mainly Serbia?

Big chance and prob the last for this golden generation for Ivory Coast.

Colo mentality, anything white/European is better.

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no algeria, nigeria, egypt, cameroon = dead

These countries never show up anyways, for example Nigerian players seem to have an inferiority complex when playing for their countries, like there almost too good to play for them because they're on the subs bench for Chelsea or Everton.

I'm glad we get to see some hungry nations with players with something to prove, might be surprised by the overall quality, cause at the end of the day these teams are there for a reason.

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no algeria, nigeria, egypt, cameroon = dead

No DR Congo :(

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no algeria, nigeria, egypt, cameroon = dead

These countries never show up anyways, for example Nigerian players seem to have an inferiority complex when playing for their countries, like there almost too good to play for them because they're on the subs bench for Chelsea or Everton.

I'm glad we get to see some hungry nations with players with something to prove, might be surprised by the overall quality, cause at the end of the day these teams are there for a reason.

No what you'll see is more one sided games, botswana, libya, sudan, niger wont bring any quality.

The qualification groups should be seeded imo.

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I'm with Port here, spot on.

Hmm will be good ACON, expecting some comedy goalkeeping as normal.

Just hope the group games are more open and less cagey.

One question, I understand the French coaches in African football (because of their historical past) but why do they go for coaches from Eastern Europe mainly Serbia?

Big chance and prob the last for this golden generation for Ivory Coast.

Colo mentality, anything white/European is better.

C/S for hoping no cagey group games but as usual there will be many due to the fact most of the players are European based so tactics has a bigger emphasis than the technical side.

Did you read Gervinho's interview on Daily Mail site?

If not you should it's a brilliant read.

IMO due to Ghana's success at SA 2010 (Serbian coach) which has led to jumping on this Serbian wave

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no algeria, nigeria, egypt, cameroon = dead

These countries never show up anyways, for example Nigerian players seem to have an inferiority complex when playing for their countries, like there almost too good to play for them because they're on the subs bench for Chelsea or Everton.

I'm glad we get to see some hungry nations with players with something to prove, might be surprised by the overall quality, cause at the end of the day these teams are there for a reason.

No what you'll see is more one sided games, botswana, libya, sudan, niger wont bring any quality.

The qualification groups should be seeded imo.

I am confused

You see the teams in this edition will they be the same teams for next year's edition as well?

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no algeria, nigeria, egypt, cameroon = dead

These countries never show up anyways, for example Nigerian players seem to have an inferiority complex when playing for their countries, like there almost too good to play for them because they're on the subs bench for Chelsea or Everton.

I'm glad we get to see some hungry nations with players with something to prove, might be surprised by the overall quality, cause at the end of the day these teams are there for a reason.

No what you'll see is more one sided games, botswana, libya, sudan, niger wont bring any quality.

The qualification groups should be seeded imo.

I am confused

You see the teams in this edition will they be the same teams for next year's edition as well?

no, algeria have a qualifications game against gambia on feb 29th so i guess all the nations are going through another qualifications process for 2013

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Thanks

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If Morocco can Assaidi fit and Gerets can find a system to fit Taarbat ,Boussoufa,Assaidi then a lot of defenders are going to get ran ragged

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going to in vest in 75 pound in the three gorup games Equatorial Guinea play. and hope they win. 25 pound each per single. what ever i get out of that i will put on in the quater final game who ever they play if they get there. then take half of that on them to win there quater final match if they do then half of the winnings on the semi's then final. etc etc.... I doubt they will win it but it gives me something to get excited about.

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Think Senegal could take it.

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Zambia was playing some decent football last night lol surprised me

shocking goalkeeping though but thats usual for this competition

LMAO @ when the zambia keeper came out and was holding up the ball on the touchline like a defender LMAO

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DI GHANA

DI IVORY COAST

DI LIBYA

CAH MON

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Dj Drogba won it for Ivory Coast

1-0

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My goodness that 2nd game was crap.

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Wow what a wasted free kick, 40 yards out and tries to place it.

Anyways still 2-0 Gabon, done well.

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smh @ that Chamwack miss

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