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Last Updated: Monday January 21 2008 08:37 GMT

The Africa Cup of Nations 2008

The Africa Cup of Nations kicked off on Sunday. It's a massive competition held between 16 countries in the continent.

It means loads of footie players who usually play for teams in the UK have gone home to play for their countries.

Here's Sportsround's guide to the teams - and the key players to look out for.


Nickname: Black Stars Nations cup record: 4 times winners

The whole competition is being held in Ghana. So fans there are hoping to bring the trophy home!

However, the Black Stars are going to have to do without one of their key players, Stephen Appiah. He's injured and this could really ruin Ghana's hopes of progressing through the competition.

In Appiah's absence, the spotlight will be on Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien.


Nickname: Syli Nationale Nations cup record: Runners-up 1976

The team from Guinea is improving year by year. They managed to get to the quarter-finals in the previous two competitions but have never won the trophy.

Their first game is against the hosts, so that should be interesting!

Guinea's captain Pascal Feindouno is the man to watch out for. He played really well in the 2006 tournament.


Nickname: The Atlas Lions Nations cup record: Winners 1976

The Moroccan team will be hoping to do better this time round! In 2006, they went home without a single win or a goal to their name.

Their key players are Youssef Hadji and Marouane Chamakh

Morocco are in the same group as Ghana and Guinea. They're difficult opponents, but there's a good chance the Atlas Lions will finish ahead of at least one of them!


Nickname: Brave Warriors Nations cup record: Never won the competition

The Namibians are Fifa's lowest-ranked team in Ghana 2008. For them, qualification would be a dream come true.

Germany-based Collin Benjamin is one of Namibia's key hopes, as is Quentin Jacobs, who plays for Bryne in Norway.

Namibia are the weakest team in their group and will be hard-pushed to win a match.


Nickname: The Super Eagles Nations cup record: 2 times winners

The Nigerian fans really turn out to support their team in full force, but sadly the team haven't always done as well as they might have hoped!

They have reached the semi-final stage at every tournament they've played, but of those nine occasions, only once have they won - in 1994.

Now, they have a coach who has big ambitions.

German Berti Vogts not only won the World Cup as a player (in 1974), but also coached his homeland to European Championship glory in 1996.

Nigeria have some great players to help them get through the stages. Obafemi Martins, Mikel Jon Obi and Yakubu Ayegbeni are just a few of them.

They have one of the strongest squads at the tournament.


Ivory Coast
Nickname: The Elephants Nations cup record: Winners 1992

For many people, the Ivory Coast are the team who will be taking the trophy!

The Elephants will have loads of support in Ghana - and their confident fans will be backing a team which, like the Nigerian squad, is bursting with talent.

Among their talented squad are Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Eboue, Didier Zokora and Bakaray Kone, captain Didier Drogba, Arouna Kone, Salomon Kalou and Aruna Dindane.


Nickname: The Eagles Nations cup record: Runners-up 1972

Out of all the teams, Mali have perhaps the strangest record in the history of the Nations Cup.

They have only taken part in four tournaments, yet have been semi-finalists on every occasion. But despite making the last four in both 2002 and 2004, Mali failed to qualify for Egypt 2006.

The Eagles fans have reason to be confident this time round. They have star forward Fredi Kanoute, midfielder Seydou Keita, Real Madrid midfielder Mahamadou Diarra and Liverpool's Momo Sissoko.

Unfortunately, they have been placed in a very tough group.


Nickname: The Squirrels Nations cup record: Never won

It's only Benin's second appearance at the Nations Cup.

They are in a tough group. They just about got into the competition, and may also leave it pretty quickly.

The player to watch for the side is Muri Ogunbiyi.


Nickname: The Pharaohs Nations cup record: 5 times winners

The Egyptians perhaps have the most to be confident about! They've won 5 titles - that's more than any other country.

They are the current holders, but in Ghana this time they will be without their home support, which their coach Hassan Shehata said was crucial for the team's 2006 success.

However, the Pharaohs will be without three players. Injury rules out the Mohamed Barakat, Abdelhazer El Saqqa is unselected while fellow defender Mohamed Abdelwahab tragically died of a heart defect six months after Egypt's win in 2006.

Mohamed Aboutrika is the number one player to watch out for - because if he is on form, then his team will be too!

Egypt should coast through to the knock-out stages but that's where it will get tricky!


Nickname: The Indomitable Nations cup record: 4 times winners

Since winning the 2002 Nations Cup in Mali, Cameroon have gone through one of their least successful periods. Since their 1982 World Cup debut, this is the longest they have gone without winning an African crown.

Their secret weapon is player Samuel Eto'o. He is likely to be key to their success!

Overall, Cameroon look certain to progress to the knock-out stages. After that anything is possible!


Nickname: The Chipolopolo Nations cup record:Runners-up in 1974 & 1994

Since finishing third in 1996, Zambia's Nations Cup record hasn't been great. They've constantly failed to go beyond the group stage.

This time round, their chances look no different, having been pooled against Cameroon and Egypt.

It's hard to imagine Zambia beating Cameroon or Egypt. We'll have to wait and see what happens!

Zambia's main player will be captain Christopher Katongo.


Nickname: The Nile Crocodiles Nations cup record: Winners 1970

It's welcome back for the Nile Crocodiles after being away from the competition for 32 years.

Their key player is Midfielder Haitham Mustafa, who will be captaining the national side and is a legend in the Sudanese game.

Sudan will add something special to Ghana 2008 given their long absence and their role as a founding father of African football. In a hard group, they have nothing to lose!


Nickname: The Carthage Eagles Nations cup record: Winners 2004

Tunisia have had a great Nations Cup record since the mid-1990s.

In the last six tournaments, the North Africans have reached two finals.

Jawhar Mnari , the Germany-based midfielder, will be important for the side.

Tunisia's recent Nations Cup history make them likely qualifiers but they might just find their opponents too hot to handle!


Nickname: The Teranga Lions Nations cup record: Runners-up 2002

Senegal have never won the Nations Cup but the Senegalese public believe it is now or never for the Teranga Lions - especially since this year's tournament is based in West Africa.

Senegal's recent Nations Cup form has been impressive - semi-finalists in Egypt 2006, quarter-finalists in 2004 and finalists in 2002.

El Hadji Diouf has long been Senegal's talisman and is the player to look out for.

Senegal are a strong team who should get through the group stages.


South Africa
Nickname: Bafana Bafana Nations cup record: Winners 1996

Since winning the Nations Cup in 1996, South Africa haven't been doing too well.

Their Brazilian coach Carlos Alberto Parreira has a job ahead of him to build a strong team ahead of South Africa's staging of the 2010 World Cup.

'Bafana Bafana only just managed to qualify for the competition.

Their key player is Steven Pienaar, of Everton


Nickname: The Palancas Negras Nations cup record: Never won

The Palancas Negras have never gone further than the Nations Cup group stages.

Their key player is Striker Manucho Goncalves who signed for Manchester United in December after impressing Sir Alex Ferguson.

The final in Accra will be on Sunday 10 February.

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