Group A: South Africa, Cape Verde, Angola, Morocco.
Morocco are my favourites for this group, with dynamic midfield including the likes of Adel Taarabt and Younes Belhanda they pack formidable outfit, comparable to the likes of Ivory Coast and Ghana. They disappointed last year, finishing third in group including Gabon and Tunisia, so I’m sure they’ll be hungry to qualify from Group A.
For second place it has be out of hosts South Africa or Angola, South Africa may lack some bite as they recently lost Steven Pienaar, who announced his international retirement. However with Kagisho Dikgacoi in midfield, they have some steel in the centre, which could be key, especially against Morocco, who are good team on the counter. Angola will be interesting, they were poor last year, missing out on the knockout stages to Sudan. They most probably struggle again this year, lacking in big names, with former Manchester United forward, Manucho the most recognisable of the bunch. Manucho’s form of Vallodolid has been decent of late, however one team doesn’t make a team. Cape Verde could be an exciting outfit and they posses a fairly unknown package, similar to Equatorial Guinea last year. However, they have shown they do have a right to be here, defeating one of African football’s top sides in Cameroon, albeit Cameroon are in shatters but a win’s a win. Ryan Mendes, 22, could be a player to watch, signed by Lille this season after an impressive four years at Le Havre, he could prove to be the name on everybody’s lips come Febuary.
Group B: Ghana, Mali, DR Congo, Niger.
The undoubtable favourites for this group are Ghana, and why not? Boasting one of the most talented squad’s in Africa with the likes of Andre Ayew and Kwadwo Asamoah, they look a very fine outfit. It’ll prove difficult for Kwesi Appiah to pick his squad with players such as Albert Adomah and Emmanuel Frimpong potentially pushing for places. DR Congo are not to be discounted, they pin hopes onto Dieumerci Mbokani but they do have others who can take the pressure such as Lomana Lua Lua. League 2 players could have an impact on DR Congo; Jacques Maghoma and on loan Southend forward Britt Assombalonga have proved to key playmakers for their sides in this early season. It’ll be intresting to see if Burton striker, Calvin Zola can force a cap out of Claude Le Roy ahead of the tournament.
Mali have been a decent side of late, missing out on last years final only by a Gervinho goal. They brushed aside Botswana with ease on the way to South Africa. They have a balanced squad, with Mohamed Sissoko able to control the midfield, Seydou Keita can create danger for opposition sides, with Modibo Maiga and Cheick Diabiate able to finish. Maiga looked to finally found his feet in England, scoring a fine goal against Southampton, showing that he’s got some real class. Niger will be buoyed by their failure in 2012 to do better in their second ever cup of nations, looking at their squad they’ll be odds on to finish last. Mostly made of youngsters plying their trade in African football, they look like they’ll again lack against the sides who have plenty of European experience.
Group C: Zambia, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia
This looks like it’ll be a two horse race between holders, Zambia and Nigeria. Zambia showed they were a classy outfit last year under Herve Renard, they played some fine attacking football, with Emmanuel Mayuka and Chris Katongo at the heart of it. Mayuka’s recent move to Southampton could be bad and good for Zambia, with him lacking regular football, he may lack injuries, but perhaps actual match fitness could be lacking. Zambia are very good for domestic African football, with a lot of their squad playing for one of Africa’s finest club sides, TP Mazembe, their successes prove that African football can withstand the African talent that mostly plys its trade in Europe.
Nigeria have to be dark horses for this competion, with Emmanuel Emenike recently coming into the frame over the last two years, his dominating presence up front alongside someone like Yakubu or Peter Odemwingie could be potent. Victor Moses, who’s recently come into the frame could be worth a watch, he’s fitting in with his new side Chelsea and the competitive nature of the Chelsea squad could spurr him on. Fellow Chelsea team mate, John Obi Mikel will be vital part of Nigera’s squad after becoming an anchor when he plays in the Chelsea squad, he’ll orchestrate the Nigeria midfield. Ethiopia, who have qualified for the first time since 1982 don’t look like they’ll trouble the tournament, with all but one of their players playing in the Ethiopian league, they’ll experience of other styles to match the other sides. However I said the same about Sudan, who had a side full of domestic players, I could be wrong. Burkina Faso have been at the last three editions of the African Cup of Nations, although they have never been past the group stage. A lot of hopes last year were pinned upon Alain Traore who did shine for moments with a fine free kick against Angola. Alain Traore now at Loirent and with five goals in four, looks a fine player that will make an impact if Burkina Faso are to go through. Charles Kabore will be another name on the lips of the Faso faithful, with him playing for the most high profile side of all the Burkina Faso’s team in Marseille.
Group D: Ivory Coast, Tunisia, Algeria, Togo.
The group I’ve named the tournament’s group of death, it holds sides that make it a very open group, with any scenario possible. Many feel it’ll be the last chance of Ivory Coast’s golden generation to lift the title and it probably will be with the heart of the squad, Kolo Toure and Didier Drogba playing their last tournament. I do think Ivory Coast will struggle, I feel the likes of Yaya Toure, Cheik Tiote and Gervinho will find it difficult to keep pace with the nations cup wedged between a very competitive Premier League this season. And with them having to face two top class sides in Algeria and Tunisia, it makes it all the more difficult. Algeria back after missing 2012, will be dangerous, Rafik Djebbour will lead their attack, the forward at Olympiacos has done well into replacing Kevin Mirallas with fine form in the Greek superleague.
If Karim Matmour performs anything like he did in 2010, Algeria will be very dangerous going forward, as his techincal skill will give him an advantage, as will his confidence, playing in a fine Eintracht Frankfurt side. Algeria’s defence should be sound, Madjid Bougherra, now 30, will use his wise well and Djamel Mesbah will use his European experience to great effect. Tunisia were unlucky against Ghana last year in the quarter finals, so this year their a side to reckoned with, a side packed with talent from one of Africa’s top club sides, Esperance and some from Europe, they’ll be dangerous. Youssef Msakni burst onto the scene in last years editon and I see him making an impact again, a move to Europe seems imminent. Somebody who is already in Europe is Saber Khelifa of French side Evian, his recent performance against Montpellier proved that he could be worth a watch in next years tournament. Togo have potential to do well, only if Emmanuel Adebayor hits form, their star man, he’s the central character like Eto’o is to Cameroon. Togo will stuggle like a lot of sides with their lack of big stars, with Adebayor the only global name. This reliance on stars usually costs teams, so that’s why I think Togo will finish bottom.