On the 4th of December 2006, Angola beat off competition from Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Senegal for the right to host the 27th edition of the African Cup of Nations.
Paul Geraghty is here to preview each group, breaking down each nation taking part, talking about their qualification campaigns and identifying key players which may have a bearing on how they perform throughout the tournament.
Group A (Angola, Mali, Malawi, Algeria)
The hosts have an impressive ten year undefeated home record in competitive matches, and they will be looking to improve on their 2008 African Cup of Nations quarterfinal exit in what will be their third consecutive appearance at this years tournament. The 1994 tournament was the last time a host nation failed to reach at least the semi finals, so their fans will be expecting. Angola failed to negotiate their way past the first phase of qualifying thus eliminating them from the World Cup.
Key Player: Striker Manucho (Real Valladolid). The former Manchester United striker has scored 13 goals in 23 appearances and was pivotal in Angola’s success in 2008 African Cup of Nations scoring 4 goals in 4 games and named in the team of the tournament.
Coached by former Nigerian captain Steven Keshi, They struggled away from home in their qualification campaign, failing to pick up a single win. However their midfield consisting of players Seydou Keita (Barcelona), Mahamadou Diarra (Real Madrid) and Mohamed Sissoko (Juventus) is possibly one of the strongest in the tournament.
Key player: Striker Freddy Kanouté (Sevilla). The former Tottenham Hotspur player has scored 21 goals in 35 appearances for his country and played a vital role in securing qualification, scoring 8 goals.
Got an impressive win against Egypt in the first qualifying phase, but managed only one win from six games in the second phase of qualifying, scoring only 4 goals in the process. Their squad is almost entirely made of players from Malawian and South African leagues.
Key player: Chiukepo Msowoya. It seems when Malawi score its Msowoya who gets his name on the score sheet.
A team on the up, having successfully pipped Egypt to a World Cup spot though a playoff, Algeria will be looking at this as an opportunity to fine tune before the summers tournament. Algeria is a cohesive well-drilled team that will be hard to break down. Portsmouth duo Nadir Belhadj and Hassan Yebda will be on show for them.
Key Player: Karim Ziani (Wolfsburg). The creative midfielder stood out for his performances in the latter stages of qualification, where he secured Algeria a World Cup spot for the first time since 1986. If Ziani can perform to the same standard Algeria could go deep in this tournament.
Prediction: Angola and Algeria to progress.
Group B (Ivory Coast, Burkino Faso, Ghana, Togo)
Having strolled through qualifying at ease, Côte d’Ivoire will be expecting to lift their second ACN title. Tagged as Favorites, they are blessed with star players in almost every position. Kolo Touré (Manchester City) and Emmanuel Eboué (Arsenal) lead a defense, which conceded only 6 goals in 12 games. Former Tottenham player Didier Zokora (Sevilla) and Yaya Touré (Barcelona) are a powerhouse in midfield. Their surplus of attacking options includes Chelsea duo Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou and Portsmouth striker Aruna Dindane.
Key player: Didier Drogba. Arguably one of the best strikers in the world and if on form Côte d’Ivoire will be unstoppable.
Unfortunate to be drawn in the toughest group as they were excellent in qualifying winning nine games and only losing to Côte d’Ivoire. Striker Moumouni Dagano was top scorer in qualifying with 12 goals in 12 games but Burkina Faso will find it very difficult to progress out of the group ahead of either Ghana or Côte d’Ivoire.
Key player: Jonathan Pitroipa (Hamburg). A pacey tricky winger who was instrumental in Hamburg reaching the semi finals of the Uefa Cup last season beating Manchester City along the way in which he put in a wonderful display.
Four time champions will be looking to end an 18-year wait for title numbers five. Hardly troubled in qualifying, expectations will be high. The loss of John Pantsil (Fulham) through injury and Sulley Muntari (Inter Milan) due to disciplinary problems could prove vital though.
Key player is undoubtedly Michael Essien, a player with a huge reputation. The box to box midfielder can single-handedly win games for both Chelsea and Ghana.
Have consistently punched above their weight for the past ten years even managing to qualify for the World Cup finals in 2006. However a 1-0 win over Cameroon was their biggest highlight in this Qualifying campaign in which they struggled in front of goal only scoring 3 goals in the second phase.
Key player: Emmanuel Adebayor (Manchester City) has been criticized recently about his attitude for City, but on his day can be an exceptional player, Togo will be hoping he turns up with a point to prove.
Prediction: Ivory Coast and Ghana.
Come back tomorrow for the second part of the preview, as Paul takes a look at Group C and Group D.