Compiled by Piers Edwards
NIGERIA FACT FILE
Nickname: The Super Eagles
Coach: Berti Vogts
Captain: Nwankwo Kanu
Nations Cup record: Winners 1980, 1994; Qualified 15 times
Few national team supporters approach tournaments with as much optimism as Nigerians, yet their beloved Super Eagles regularly fail to deliver on the big stage.
This, though, is not for the want of trying.
Since 1984, the Nigerians boast a remarkable Nations Cup record.
Incredibly, they have reached the semi-final stage at every finals they have contested, but of those nine occasions, only once have they have gone on to triumph - in 1994.
Now though, they have a coach who knows what it takes to win on the biggest stage.
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.
Yet that triumph is slipping ever further into history and like the Super Eagles themselves, he needs a new success to smarten up his CV.
Fortunately for both, there are some terrific Nigerian footballers at present to help - Obafemi Martins, Mikel Jon Obi and Yakubu Ayegbeni prominent among them.
Yakubu Aiyegbeni will be hoping to keep the goals flowing in Ghana
The Super Eagles, who can count on plenty of support as fans travel to nearby Ghana, undoubtedly possess one of the strongest squads at the tournament.
This has been the case before, but indiscipline has often let the team down.
In typically efficient German fashion, Vogts will do his best to remove any obstacles to a third Nigerian success.
It has long been tempting to contemplate how far Nigeria's ill-disciplined talent could go if harnessed by a strong European coach and Ghana now provides the platform.
Yet delayed salary payments recently prompted the coach to consider his position, lamenting: "If football in Nigeria was organised as in Germany, the team would be unbeatable. Even Brazil would have to watch out."
Key players: A strong spine is essential to winning tournaments and Nigeria have exactly that.
Ejide will bring experience between the posts to the Super Eagles
France-based goalkeeper Austin Ejide has plenty of experience after contesting two African Champions League finals with Tunisia's Etoile du Sahel, while Joseph Yobo's defensive qualities speak for themselves.
In midfield, Mikel Jon Obi's performances belie his tender years while up front, Martins will always stretch defences.
Should he fail, there are of course the likes of Nwanko Kanu, Stephen Makinwa, Yakubu and John Utaka to bail him out.
Verdict: A win against Ivory Coast in their opening match could not only spur the Super Eagles to top the group but also avoid a quarter-final clash with likely Group A leaders Ghana.
Defeat, on the other hand, would sow qualifying doubts with Mali to follow.
Nigeria to be semi-finalists again, but this time they could go that one bit further.
IVORY COAST FACT FILE
Nickname: The Elephants
Coach: Gerard Gili
Captain: Didier Drogba
Nations Cup record: Winners 1992: Qualified 17 times
Many peoples' favourites will fancy their chances like never before, especially since they are playing in conditions they know well.
Ivory Coast are strong at home, losing just one competitive match this decade, and now they are playing across the border.
As in 2000, the Elephants will be heavily supported in Ghana - and their confident fans will be backing a team which, like the Nigerian squad, is bursting with talent.
The likes of Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Eboue, Didier Zokora and Bakaray Kone line up behind an embarrassment of riches in attack: take your pick from captain Didier Drogba, Arouna Kone, Salomon Kalou and Aruna Dindane.
Aruna Dindane helps to make the Ivory Coast a potent threat upfront
The latter missed the Ivorians' trip to the final two years ago, after the tragic death of one of his daughters on the eve of the tournament.
Unfortunately, troubling family concerns have surfaced once again for the Ivorians.
Just two weeks before their opener, coach Uli Stielike learnt his son had fallen into a coma and resigned a few days later.
His post has been filled by Olympic coach Gerard Gili, who assisted former coach Henri Michel at the 2006 Nations and World Cups. Despite results going against them, the Ivorians impressed in Germany and they could go all the way in Ghana if they have learned the lessons.
During his reign, Stielike had tightened up the Ivorian defence, so that a side which shipped six goals in three World Cup ties did not concede once in four qualifiers.
This was admittedly in a weak group containing Gabon and Madagascar, so one downside for the Elephants is the absence of a true competitive test since Germany.
Key players: Part-footballer, part-battering ram, Drogba is in a league of his own up front.
Didier Drogba has recovered from injury in time for the tournament
But the reigning African Footballer of the Year is just returning from knee surgery in December and faces a battle to be fully fit for Ghana.
The Chelsea star scored three times en route to the 2006 final, where he then fluffed chances that could have won the trophy.
At the other end, the ever-dependable Kolo Toure will be the rock upon which all Ivorian displays are built.
He will have to be because the Elephants' Achilles heel is goalkeeper Boubacar Barry, who has failed to convince since replacing Jean-Jacques Tizie last year.
Verdict: There's no reason why the Elephants cannot go one better than finishing runners-up in Egypt.
After their maiden World Cup appearance, the squad has greater experience, greater confidence, a key player back in the shape of Dindane - and the conditions in neighbouring Ghana will be very familiar.
MALI FACT FILE
Nickname: The Eagles
Coach: Jean-Francois Jodar
Captain: Mahamadou Diarra
Nations Cup record: Runners-up 1972: Qualified four times
Mali have perhaps the strangest record in the history of the Nations Cup.
They have only contested four tournaments, yet have been semi-finalists on every occasion.
Despite making the last four in both 2002 and 2004, Mali failed to qualify for Egypt 2006.
This time around, the Eagles displayed their pedigree when reaching Ghana with a 2-0 win in Togo, a match the home side also had to win to qualify.
The rioting that followed left physical scars on strikers Frederic Kanoute and Mamady Sidibe but both will be in Ghana.
Until Mali lost friendlies to both Senegal and Algeria in November, coach Jean-Francois Jodar had spent the first 16 months of his reign unbeaten.
Mahamadou Diarra is the midfield engine for the Eagles
Nonetheless, the Frenchman knows that the 1972 runners-up have yet to lose a competitive match under his charge.
Able to call upon star forward Kanoute, creative midfielder Seydou Keita, Real Madrid midfielder Mahamadou Diarra and Liverpool's Momo Sissoko, it is little wonder Eagles fans believe this is the best squad in recent history.
Unfortunately for their hopes, Jodar's men have been placed in a very tough group.
Yet this is little different to their qualifying group, when Mali shipped just one goal while taking on Togo's 2006 World Cup finalists and fellow qualifiers Benin.
Incidentally, both matches against the Beninois, who they meet on 21 January, ended in draws.
Like so many of this year's finalists, the West Africans will be comfortable with the conditions in Ghana - and with a squad including many players who finished third at the 1999 Under-20 World Cup in Nigeria, the tournament's location suggests it is now or never for Mali.
Key players: Kanoute, 30, who has been in inspirational form for all-conquering Spaniards Sevilla in recent years, is undoubtedly Mali's main attacking threat.
Seydou Keita plays with Mali striker Fredi Kanoute with Sevilla in Spain
He scored four goals at Tunisia 2004 and must be clinical again if Mali are to reach the quarter-finals.
Setting him up will be club colleague Seydou Keita, with Mali's playmaker having greatly impressed since joining the Uefa Cup champions in July.
The left-footed midfielder can regularly be found assisting both his defence and his forwards.
Verdict: Mali have been poorly rewarded for an impressive qualifying campaign.
Although they boast quality in midfield and attack, their defence does not look strong enough to cope with what the Nigerian and Ivorian forwards will throw at them.
A disappointing group exit for a side that would have reached the quarter-finals elsewhere.
BENIN FACT FILE
Nickname: The Squirrels
Coach: Reinhard Fabisch
Captain: Alain Gaspoz
Nations Cup record: Qualified 2 times
Benin are making their second appearance at the Nations Cup, having squeezed through the back door to Ghana.
They qualified as one of the best runners-up but only because of a superior goal difference to Uganda, with whom they shared the same number of points.
After losing their opening match, the Squirrels went on a great unbeaten run to secure their ticket, including a 4-1 thumping of Togo at home.
But despite spearheading the Beninois' surprise qualification, Wabi Gomez was replaced as head coach last month.
Reinhard Fabisch became yet another German coach at the finals, with Gomez demoted to number two.
Fabisch, 57, is no stranger to African football, having coached Zimbabwe and Kenya on three occasions, but he has been given just six weeks to instil his values on his squad.
Reinhard Fabisch has previously coached Kenya and Zimbabwe
Benin's federation is not averse to taking unusual steps.
In December, they tried to expand their player base when advertising on their website for players of Beninois origin to contact them: but none of the 30-odd players who got in touch made the 23-man final squad.
In their previous appearance at Tunisia 2004, the Squirrels lost all their group games and only managed to score in the last minute of their final match.
Having prepared for Ghana in Brazil, Fabisch will be hoping some of the local footballing magic has rubbed off.
Benin's greatest international success has come at youth level, where the Under-20 side finished third while hosting the 2005 African Youth Championship.
The team went on to contest that year's Fifa Under-20 World Cup, giving squad members such as Razak Omotoyossi, Gariga Abou Miaga and Romauld Boco invaluable experience on the big stage.
They will need all that and more as a nation keen to maintain its steady rise looks to perform creditably in a hard group.
With only Togo lying in between Benin and Ghana, the Squirrels, for whom fitness could be a problem, should not be short of fans in Sekondi.
Key player: Muri Ogunbiyi is unquestionably Benin's greatest footballing export.
Muri Ogunbiyi became an African club champions with Etoile du Sahel
The midfielder picked up his third African Champions League medal last year as Etoile du Sahel's triumph added to his previous ones with Nigeria's Enyimba.
The 25-year-old then took on Mexico's Pachuca and Argentina's Boca Juniors in last month's Fifa Club World Cup in Japan.
Up front, Razak Omotoyossi is a big-money move waiting to happen, having finished joint top scorer in last year's Swedish league for Helsingborgs.
The muscular 22-year-old has pace to burn, loves running at defenders and has greatly benefited from partnering local legend Henrik Larsson.
Verdict: Squeezed in to Ghana through the back door and can expect to exit it pretty soon, as they are no match for their West African rivals.
The Squirrels will say they're coming to qualify but avoiding defeat in any one of their games would be a triumph.
Rachid Chitou may be a good goalkeeper but he will have his hands full - or perhaps empty - in this challenging group.