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Page last updated at 18:54 GMT, Saturday, 9 January 2010

Gun attack overshadows Africa Cup of Nations

Africa Cup of Nations
Venue and dates: Angola, 10-31 January Coverage: Final and semi-finals live on BBC TV, BBC World Service and commentaries on BBC Sport website. Live commentary on opening match on BBC World Service and BBC Sport website

Ivory Coast
Ivory Coast will begin the tournament as favourites

The build-up to the Africa Cup of Nations in Angola has been overshadowed by a deadly gun attack on Togo's team bus on Friday.

Togo have pulled out of tournament following the attack but organisers said the competition will continue.

The opening game of the tournament is set to feature hosts Angola and Mali at 1900 GMT on Sunday.

Angola officials have insisted the country is committed to hosting a safe competition and will step up security.

With football's World Cup set to be staged in South Africa later this year, the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations already had a higher profile than usual.

Ivory Coast will begin the tournament as favourites to emerge as winners when the final takes place on 31 January.

In the semi-finals two years ago, the Elephants were thumped 4-1 by Egypt who went on to beat Cameroon in the final.

Group A: Angola, Algeria, Malawi, Mali
Group B: Burkina Faso, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Togo
Group C: Benin, Egypt, Mozambique, Nigeria
Group D: Cameroon, Gabon, Tunisia, Zambia

However Manchester City's Kolo Toure said their favourites tag was justified.

"It's going to be really tough but with all the good players we have, we can break anyone," he told BBC Sport.

Mali will be among their biggest threats and looking to make amends after a poor 2008 Nations Cup which saw them exit at the group stage.

Mali can boast one of the best midfields of the 27th edition of the tournament which will act as a perfect warm-up before Africa hosts the World Cup for the first time in June.

The Mali team, like defending champions Egypt, will miss out on football's global showpiece event in South Africa and will rely on the likes of Barcelona's Seydou Keita, Juventus midfielder Momo Sissoko, Real Madrid's Mahamadou Diarra and Seville striker Frederic Kanoute.

But it is the Ivory Coast squad which is most enviable, with Toure joined in Angola by his brother Yaya from Barcelona, as well as Chelsea's Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou, Arsenal's Emmanuel Eboue and Pompey striker Aruna Dindane.

Well aware of the failure to live up to their status as favourites two years ago, Drogba has asked for a more humble approach from his team and Toure says they will need to learn from the mistakes they made at the last Cup of Nations in Ghana.

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"Yes there is pressure because there is a lot of expected from our team but we know it is going to be a really difficult competition," added Toure.

"I think defensively we have some young players and it's going to be very tough. We all know about our attacking strengths but defensively we need to improve, we all know that, but it's about all the players.

"We need to be work as a team, be strong and not concede a lot of goals."

Ivory Coast were drawn in Group B with Ghana, Burkina Faso and Togo, but there has been no announcement as to how the tournament would proceed in Togo's absence.

Ghana have been boosted by the news that Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien will travel to join up with the squad this weekend after recovering from a hamstring injury, having already trained in London.

But the 2008 semi-finalists will have to do without Inter Milan's Sulley Muntari who was not picked, while Fulham's John Pantsil and Bologna's Stephen Appiah are both injured.

Egypt have suffered injury problems of their own as they look to secure a hat-trick of Africa Cup of Nations titles under manager Hassan Shehata.

Mohammed Aboutrika, scorer of the deciding goal against Cameroon two years ago, is injured, along with former Wigan striker Amr Zaki. Mido is another omission as he was not picked.

The Pharaohs will still be strongly favoured to qualify from Group C along with Nigeria as they are drawn alongside minnows Benin and Mozambique.

But former Nigeria captain Sunday Oliseh told the BBC that there are several issues which could put his fellow countrymen off track, not least whether the coach Shaibu Amodu will be in the job when the World Cup comes around.

"What will be important for Nigeria is how fresh players like Obafemi Martins, Yakubu and John Obi Mikel are," he said.

I will bet that Ivory Coast and Cameroon will make it to the final

Former Cameroon striker Patrick Mboma

"Don't forget there is also a lot of hassle going on at home about who should take the team to the World Cup. If this distraction of who should or shouldn't be the coach doesn't affect the team then I think Nigeria has a chance to win.

"How well we do in this tournament will depend a lot on the first game. If we can pick up a point against Egypt then that will shut up a lot of people and will give them credibility to play well against other teams."

Cameroon, with Inter's Samuel Eto'o spearheading their attack, look favourites to progress from Group D and former striker Patrick Mboma thinks it will be his home country who will face the favourites in the final.

"I'm pretty sure that everybody knows that Ivory Coast are the best side in Africa at the moment," he told BBC Sport.

"Even though they haven't yet won a title, they will probably be more focussed on South Africa rather than Angola but there are teams like Cameroon who were struggling at the beginning of the World Cup qualifiers but came good towards the end.

"They now have between three and six games to help them prepare for the World Cup but they know that it is very important to try to win the Africa Cup of Nations too."

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see also
Angola 4-4 Mali
10 Jan 10 |  African
Clubs divided over player safety
10 Jan 10 |  Football
Africa Cup of Nations to go ahead
09 Jan 10 |  Africa
Togo pulls team out of Africa Cup
09 Jan 10 |  African
Togo footballers shot in ambush
08 Jan 10 |  Africa
Drogba wins BBC's African award
08 Jan 10 |  African
Essien returns to full training
07 Jan 10 |  African
Elephants coach fears for Drogba
01 Jan 10 |  African
Mali coach sets Angola targets
03 Jan 10 |  African
Africa Cup of Nations tables
07 Jan 10 |  African
Africa Cup of Nations: Team profiles
07 Jan 10 |  African
Africa Cup of Nations: Venue guide
07 Jan 10 |  Africa
Inside Angola's 2010 stadiums
13 Sep 09 |  African

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