Compiled by Piers Edwards
EGYPT FACT FILE
Nickname: The Pharaohs
Coach: Hassan Shehata
Captain: Ahmed Hassan
Nations Cup record: Winners in 1957, 1959, 1986, 1998 & 2006; Qualified 21 times
No country can match the Pharaohs' five Nations Cup titles, three of which have been won in Egypt.
But this time the defending champions will be without their critical home support, which coach Hassan Shehata credits as being part of the team's 2006 success.
That said, the Egyptians have conquered in West Africa before, having lifted the trophy in Burkina Faso in 1998.
But as the management freely admits, with one eye largely focused on appearing at the 2010 World Cup, Egypt are a team in transition.
The Pharaohs will be without three players who started the 2006 final: injury rules out the influential Mohamed Barakat, Abdelhazer El Saqqa is unselected while fellow defender Mohamed Abdelwahab tragically died of a heart defect six months after Egypt's win.
The Egyptians' recent emphasis has been on blooding youth, since key players such as captain Ahmed Hassan, who boasts in excess of 130 caps, goalkeeper Essam Al Hadary and playmaker Mohamed Aboutrika will be well over 30 when the World Cup comes around.
Officials have used this tinkering with the team to explain Egypt's lacklustre qualifying campaign.
Although they followed a traditional formula for success, winning at home while drawing away, they scored just one goal on their travels to Botswana, Burundi and Mauritania.
To counter Shehata's complaints about a lack of proper preparation time during qualifying, the squad gathered in Portugal on Christmas Day for an intense 25-day training camp.
Ranked the third best African team by Fifa following their Nations Cup triumph, Egypt have since slipped to sixth.
Key Players: Aboutrika is the number one Pharaoh because if he is on form, so are the team he plays for - as he has repeatedly proven with both Egypt and Al Ahly down the years.
When Aboutrika is on song, the whole team plays well
'The Magician' has excellent ball control which, coupled with fine vision and intelligence, causes problems for any opposition.
Up front, Amr Zaki, Emad Moteab and Hamburg's Mohamed Zidan need to perform well as Egypt can look goal-shy - especially without the injured Mido.
If Egypt are to go far, goalkeeper Al Hadary, so instrumental two years ago, will have to maintain his reputation as 'The Wall'.
Verdict: Egypt should coast through to the knock-out stages but that's where it will get tricky.
Plenty will rest on their opener against Cameroon as both sides should later see off both Sudan and Zambia.
If the Pharaohs top the group, they will stay in Kumasi - so avoiding a tiring trip to Tamale - but lacking their crowd and key men, the odds are against a successful title defence.
CAMEROON FACT FILE
Nickname: The Indomitable Lions
Coach: Otto Pfister
Captain: Rigobert Song
Nations Cup record: Winners in 1984, 1988, 2000 & 2002; Qualified 15 times
Since winning the 2002 Nations Cup in Mali, Cameroon have gone through one of their least successful periods - relatively speaking of course.
Since their 1982 World Cup debut, this is the longest they have gone without appearing in those finals or winning an African crown.
The four-time champions are itching to reassert their dominance, and can take heart from having won the last two sub-Saharan Nations Cups.
In 2000, they triumphed as Ghana and Nigeria co-hosted the finals so this year's venue will have happy memories.
Having suffered a shock group defeat to Togo eight years ago in Kumasi, which is where Group C is being played, Otto Pfister's men are unlikely to underestimate either Zambia or Sudan this time around.
Having taken charge in October, Pfister could be a wise appointment.
The 70-year-old not only has expert knowledge of Ghana, having coached the Black Stars in the 1990s, but also Sudanese football, having led Al Merreikh to last year's Confederation Cup final.
He should also able to handle any bonus squabbles, which Cameroon regularly endure, having experienced far worse with Togo during the 2006 World Cup.
Pfister will only be judged a success if he leads his side to the final, since this is the least the nation's demanding fans expect.
Yet preparations have been far from perfect for the Indomitable Lions have not played a full international since cementing their place in Ghana.
On the plus side, there is of course the Eto'o factor.
The 26-year-old is one of the world's most feared marksmen but will need Idrissou Mohamadou to step up a level following an injury to regular strike partner Achille Webo.
Cameroon have several experienced campaigners, which can often prove decisive in big games.
Key Player: Samuel Eto'o scored five goals in three group matches in Egypt prior to the Lions' quarter-final exit.
Eto'o had six weeks of action with Barcelona after his knee injury
The three-time African Footballer of the Year only returned from a lengthy injury lay-off in December but despite just six weeks of action with Barcelona, his precise finishing should still make the difference.
Goalkeeper Carlos Kameni is another important figure following his fine start to the Spanish season with surprise package Espanyol.
Verdict: Like Egypt, Cameroon look certain to progress to the knock-out stages.
After that, anything is possible - especially since they appear too strong for the best teams Group D has to offer.
Pride wounded in recent years, the Indomitable Lions' hunger and quality should propel them to the semi-finals at the very least.
ZAMBIA FACT FILE
Nickname: The Chipolopolo
Coach: Patrick Phiri
Captain: Christopher Katongo
Nations Cup record: Runners-up in 1974 & 1994; Qualified 13 times
Since finishing third in 1996, Zambia's Nations Cup record has been poor - having constantly failed to go beyond the group stage.
This time around, their chances look no different, having been pooled against Nations Cup specialists Cameroon and Egypt.
Yet the Chipolopolo showed their abilities when winning 3-1 in South Africa to top their qualifying group in style.
The triumph prompted the Zambian FA to abandon its search for a foreign coach, leaving caretaker Patrick Phiri in control, but his authority may be undermined by his brief three-month contract extension.
Despite their qualification, 2007 was a very mixed year for Zambian football.
Tragedy hit the game in a number of areas - particularly when Zambian coach Ben Bamfuchile, who engineered Namibia's shock qualification, died last month.
The country also lost 12 supporters in June during a stampede that followed a qualifying win over Congo.
Two months later, international Chaswe Nsofa died of a heart attack while training with his Israeli club.
The 27-year-old, who scored in the 2006 Cosafa Cup final as Zambia won the Southern African tournament, was a key player.
Yet these tragedies could galvanise the squad into going that one step extra.
Zambia's stunning defeat of South Africa came just three days after Nsofwa's burial and the Chipolopolo have bounced back from tragedy before.
Incredibly, one year after the plane crash that killed 18 national team players in 1993, the Zambians finished second in the Nations Cup.
Undermining their Nations Cup dreams is inconsistency, as they tend to veer from the sublime to the woeful.
In addition, their defensive flanks are weak and the Zambian players' small stature might cause problems, especially against the towering Cameroonians.
Katongo's hat-trick against South Africa sent Zambia to the finals
Key players: Despite missing Zambia's opener through suspension, captain Christopher Katongo, will be the team's main threat.
Disciplined, hard-working and with a powerful right boot, the bustling midfielder enjoys playing behind the two strikers.
After his hat-trick against South Africa, the 25-year-old was promoted from corporal to sergeant by the Zambian army.
Zambia will look to fellow striker Jacob Mulenga for goals, while fans will expect strong performances from midfielder Isaac Chansa and local goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene.
Verdict: Further Nations Cup disappointment for Zambia, as it is simply impossible to see them ousting either Cameroon or Egypt in this group.
The Chipolopolo can only hope one of the big two stutters so that they can pick up the pieces.
Victory against Sudan in their opening game on 22 January is vital to their slim chances of progression.
SUDAN FACT FILE
Nickname: The Nile Crocodiles
Coach: Mohamed Abdallah
Captain: Mustafa Haitham
Nations Cup record: Winners 1970; Qualified seven times
The Nile Crocodiles' return to the Nations Cup after a 32-year absence marks the renaissance of one of African football's founding fathers - with 2007 proving one of the finest years in Sudan's distinguished footballing history.
At club level, Al Hilal stunned the continent by unexpectedly reaching the African Champions League semi-finals - only losing to eventual winners Etoile du Sahel 4-3 on aggregate.
Al Merreikh went one better in the Confederation Cup, even if they were well beaten in the final.
Yet arguably the greatest surprise came when Sudan qualified for their first finals since 1976, beating 2004 champions Tunisia to top their group.
The general secretary of Sudan's FA says this footballing upturn is because of an economy that has flourished since 21 years of civil war ended in 2005.
"Nowadays in Sudan, the economy is growing. We discovered oil in our land and politically, there is stability," Abdel-Mageed Eldin told BBC Sport.
"We have many telecommunications companies who are interested in football, and they have provided money for both the federation and the clubs."
Entirely made up of Al Hilal and Al Merreikh players, can an entirely home-based squad live with those who ply their trade in Europe?
Cameroon will be a real test but Al Hilal thumped Al Ahly 3-0 in the Champions League so Sudan will approach Egypt with little fear.
Mohamed Abdallah's side meeting with the Pharaohs on 26 January is a repeat of the very first Nations Cup match in Khartoum on 10 February 1957.
Two years later, Sudan finished runners-up in a three-team Nations Cup - just as they did in 1963 (when six teams competed).
The Nile Crocodiles finally won the trophy in 1970 and Ghana will revive many memories for they defeated the Black Stars in the final.
Key players: Midfielder Haitham Mustafa, who led Al Hilal to the semi-finals, also captains the national side and is a legend in the Sudanese game.
Haitham (right) is a legend in Sudanese football
Faisal Agab, the 37-year-old striker who scored five qualifying goals, will also be a significant player.
Richard Lado is the iron man in defence and a rarity in having spent a season outside of Sudan, with Egypt's Ismaili.
Verdict: 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 but also little to no hope of reaching the quarter-finals.
The best they can expect is to perform creditably, gain vital experience and hope their players interest some European clubs so that Sudanese football can continue to grow.