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Africa Cup of Nations: Team profiles

Egyptian players and coaches celebrate their 2008 Nations Cup triumph in Accra, Ghana
Egypt are aiming to secure their third Nations Cup title in a row

Sixteen of the best teams from around Africa are preparing for the first Africa Cup of Nations tournament to be held in Angola.

Stephen Fottrell looks at all the teams and assesses who are the main contenders to lift the trophy in Luanda on 31 January.

GROUP A

Hosts Angola have seen their fortunes improve since Manuel Jose took over in June last year, after a poor run of form that saw them fail to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and slump to a string of friendly defeats.

The charismatic Portuguese coach, who previously led Egyptian club Al Ahly to the summit of African club football, has restored some confidence to the 2006 World Cup finalists.

The Palancas Negras have won two and drawn seven of 10 warm-up games under Jose, the sole loss coming against Estonia in Portugal on 30 December.

Despite being one of the lowest-ranked contenders, they will be hoping to emulate Egypt (2006) and Tunisia's (2004) achievements by exploiting home advantage to claim their first Nations Cup trophy.

However, they must emerge from a group including another former winning host Algeria, a side fresh from securing a last-gasp berth at the World Cup finals after a dramatic play-off win over Egypt in November.

The 1990 champions failed to qualify for the last two competitions, but their recent triumph suggests they are a team on the rise once again.

Angolan fans
Angolan fans will be hoping to see their team flex their home advantage muscles

Algerian coach Rabah Saadane has guided the Desert Foxes to their highest-ever Fifa world ranking, 26th, and will be hoping to build on their success in the qualifying phase when they open their Nations Cup campaign against Malawi in Luanda on 14 January.

The Malawians are preparing for just their second Nations Cup appearance having also appeared in 1984.

Led by their former star player Kinnah Phiri, they enter the group phase as rank outsiders, but enjoyed a good run of form and some impressive results in qualifying, not least a famous home win over African champions Egypt.

They have also enjoyed some favourable performances in their warm-up friendly games, including a win against fellow qualifiers Mozambique and a draw against the Egyptians.

Mali, preparing for their sixth appearance, are not short of talent, with the only potential problem being that most of their stars play in the same position.

Coach Stephen Keshi will seek to accommodate the talented but similarly-styled midfielders Mahamadou Diarra, Mohamed Sissoko and Seydou Keita in his side, while Sevilla's former Tottenham and West Ham striker Fredi Kanoute remains their talisman up front.

The Nigerian coach will also hope his group of Europe-based players can reach the final for the first time, their previous best performance being a run to the semi-finals when they hosted the 2002 tournament.

GROUP B

The Ivory Coast travel to Angola as big favourites to lift the trophy, as they were in Ghana two years ago.

However, the Elephants, along with Nigeria, remain one of the big underachievers of the tournament, they finished fourth last time and their sole success came in 1992.

The Ivorians have an abundance of talent in their ranks, not least Chelsea striker Didier Drogba, who remains the team's outstanding player, leading a line of other star names including his club team-mate Salomon Kalou, Barcelona's Yaya Toure and Premier League players Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Eboue and Aruna Dindane.

Having coasted through qualifying and with the likes of Drogba now the wrong side of 30, many feel this generation is running out of chances and must seize their opportunity in this year's tournament.

Another team not traditionally short on talent is the Black Stars of Ghana, who are long-overdue a triumph of their own, having last taken the African continental trophy in 1982.

However, Serb coach Milovan Rajevac is missing a number of key players with central defenders John Pantsil and John Mensah and midfielders Stephen Appiah and Laryea Kingston all ruled out through injury.

Didier Drogba
Ivorian fans will look to Didier Drogba to claim their first title in 18 years

Inter Milan midfielder Sulley Muntari also misses out, after not being selected by Rajevac due to ill discipline.

The omissions place even more responsibility on the shoulders of Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien - who himself is returning from injury - while also presenting a chance for several stars of Ghana's Under-20 World Cup winning side to step up a level.

Eight members of the young squad who triumphed in Egypt last year have been drafted into the Ghanaian senior panel, including top scorer in last year's tournament Dominic Adiyiah.

Togo were drawn in Group B but have pulled out of the tournament following the deadly gun attack on their team bus on Friday.

Burkina Faso have the qualifiers' top scorer in their ranks, the talented striker Moumouni Dagano, whose 12-goal tally powered his side to the finals.

If the Burkinabe are to mark their seventh appearance by overcoming the odds to progress they will need the Qatar-based target man to continue his scorching form when they face the Ivory Coast on 11 January.

GROUP C

Having won the tournament a total of six times, twice more than any other nation, Egypt are always the team to beat in the Nations Cup.

Champions in the last two tournaments, their consistency in this competition is overshadowed only by their repeated inability to qualify for the World Cup finals.

The Pharaohs again missed out, this time to Algeria, to extend their World Cup appearance drought to 20 years.

As far as dominating the continental scene, however, Hassan Shehata's side are without equal, but they face a true test of character this year with star midfielder Mohamed Aboutrika injured and a squad of ageing players facing what may be their swansong.

Twice winners and six-time finalists, Nigeria are due another Nations Cup trophy and having scraped through to the World Cup, albeit in thrilling fashion, it is fair to say their ever-expectant fans demand success this year.

The Super Eagles' current squad features some of the best talent the country has produced in recent times, including Everton striker Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Wolfsburg's Obafemi Martins, Osaze Odemwingie of Locomotiv Moscow and Victor Obinna Nsofor, currently on loan at Malaga from Inter Milan.

Mambas fans celebrate after beating Tunisia in qualifiers
Mozambican fans are elated at their return to the continental scene

But whether under-pressure coach Shuaibu Amodu can shape them into a winning team may determine whether he will remain in his post for South Africa 2010, with critics constantly questioning his tactics and team selections.

Anything less than a top-four finish may not be acceptable for Nigerian supporters, whereas anything beyond a good showing in the group stage will be a bonus for a solid Mozambique side, competing in their first pan-African tournament for 12 years.

Dutch coach Mart Nooij's squad of mainly home-based players enjoyed an unbeaten home record in the final qualification phase, including a creditable home draw against Nigeria, who they will meet once more in Lubango.

The Mambas have never progressed beyond the Nations Cup group stages, but their young, well-drilled side will be hoping to top that, as will Benin, who go into their third finals having finished runners-up to Ghana in qualification.

The Squirrels also possess a young team, full of athletic, attacking players, including Nigeria-born striker Razak Omotoyossi and the talented Stephane Sessegnon of Paris Saint-Germain.

They will need all their attacking power in a tough group as they seek their first group win at the tournament.

GROUP D

Four-time winners and always among the favourites, Cameroon rescued a disastrous early start to their latest qualifying campaign to finish strongly under the stewardship of Paul Le Guen.

The French coach took over a deflated Indomitable Lions team last July when they were languishing at the bottom of their group.

The former Lyon and Paris St Germain coach proved inspirational to a side led by Samuel Eto'o, converting them into a slick, efficient unit who would go onto win four successive qualifiers and book their places in Angola and South Africa.

They were rewarded by what many would regard as a favourable group draw, with their biggest challenge coming from Tunisia.

Samuel Eto'o
Cameroon's hopes of success in 2010 lie with this man

The north Africans are, however, looking to regain some of the confidence lost by being pipped at the post by Nigeria for World Cup qualification.

The last-ditch failure caused a national outcry which saw Faouzi Benzarti replace Humberto Coelho as coach for this tournament.

The 2004 champions have also made several changes to their squad since November's disappointment, drafting in a younger squad of players. Whether they will suffer from the Tunisians' traditional problem of being poor sub-Saharan travellers will determine how far they can go.

Gabon will be given a chance to reacquaint themselves with Cameroon, having finished runners-up to them in qualifying.

The Gabonese enjoyed a strong showing early in qualifying, putting themselves in World Cup contention, but inevitably suffered a dip in fortunes, losing three of their last four matches.

But for a small nation, they acquitted themselves well overall throughout the qualifying campaign, under the coaching of former France international Alain Giresse and captaincy of Hull City's Daniel Cousin and they will hope to rediscover their excellent early form.

Zambia also had a strong start in qualifying, battling to a confidence-boosting draw with Egypt in Cairo.

They finished a distant third behind the Pharoahs in the end, but would scrape through to Angola with five points.

The Zambians will compete at the Nations Cup for the 10th time in the last 11 editions, but they have failed to make it past the first round since reaching the semi-finals in 1996.

One major worry for coach Herve Renard is their inability to score, after hitting just two goals in their final qualification phase, but they will be hoping striker Chris Katongo of German side Arminia Bielefeld can find the touch to match his blistering pace.



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see also
Africa Cup of Nations: Venue guide
07 Jan 10 |  Africa
2010 Africa Cup of Nations
19 Dec 09 |  African
Africa Cup of Nations records
22 Dec 09 |  African
World Cup qualifiers round-up
11 Oct 09 |  African
Inside Angola's 2010 stadiums
13 Sep 09 |  African


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