The Sunday Mail
Year in year out teams perform to the best of their abilities to cement their place in the history books.
Seventeen winners have emerged in 29 tournaments in a little over the five decades. The tournament has seen four different winners in the last decade — Egypt leading the pack with a record 7 titles.
Equatorial Guinea 2015 is weeks away and as the ritual demands, coaches are sieving and trimming their teams to tailor made sizes as well as racking up formations, tactics and strategy that will fluster opponents.
Based on current form, Fifa ranking, and prestige in Africa, these are the possible winners until proven wrong at the end the tournament.
The Desert Foxes are the highest ranked team in Africa after qualifying with merits out of a group that had Malawi, Mali and Ethiopia. They were the only team with a perfect record after four group games.
Be that as it may, the Desert Foxes are yet to assert and transfer their form into trophies. They last won the African Cup of Nations in 1990 and they would clearly relish the chance to re-write the history book especially in the absence of Northern rivals Egypt.
The Desert Foxes will hope to continue with the momentum they had in Brazil where they became the first African country to score four goals in a World Cup.
Marshalled by new head coach Christian Gourcuff, the team will rely on the form and experience of Yacine Brahimi (Porto), Sofiane Fegbouli (Valencia), Islam Slimani (Sporting Lisbon), Goalkeeper Rais M’bolhi (Philadelphia Union) and Abdelmoumene Djabou (Club African) to do the magic.
Cote d’Ivoire by player experience and player standards are the best team in Africa. The Elephants boast an exciting arsenal of talent from all departments of the playing field.
But with the absence of Chelsea legend Didier Drogba, how will the Elephants set up?
Coach Herve Renard will lay money on two-time African Footballer of the Year Yaya Toure, in-form Swansea striker Wilfred Bony, Seydou Doumba (CSKA Moscow), Gervinho (Roma) and Salomon Kalou (Hertha Berlin).
Ranked third in Africa and 28th in the world, the Elephants qualified for AFCON 2015 amid violent clashes after their goalless draw with Cameroon at the Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium in Abidjan.
They will hope to better their performance in South Africa where they lost to eventual champions Nigeria. The Elephants were champions in 1992 and have appeared in this tournament 19 times.
The Lions of Teranga as they are fondly called finished group G with 13 points, one point behind Tunisia (four wins, one draw and one loss).
Their form over five games stands at ‘‘WWLDW’’ and they will gladly want to prove a point and also upset the odds as they come into the tournament as ‘‘outside’’ favourites. The Senegalese are renewed and appear to have built a team gradually edging closer to glory days.
Their best ever showing in the tournament was in 2002 where they finished as runners-up.
That tournament also exposed the talents of El Hadji Diouf and Henri Camara. Despite their inability to be champions in Africa, Senegal have won the Amilcar Cabral Cup eight times more than any other country in the sub-region.
Senegal is ranked fourth in Africa and 35th in the world. Blessed with talents such as Diafra Sakho (West Ham), Papiss Cisse (Newcastle United), Mohammed Diame (West Ham), Issa Cissokho (Nantes), Cheikou Kouyate (West Ham), Sadio Mane (Southampton) Mame Biram Diouf (Stoke City) and Mousa Sow (Fenerbache), Senegal would believe they stand a chance.
Coached by France legend Alain Giresse, the West African giants will strive to break their virginity in the continent.
The little said about the Black Stars the better. The stars have endured a torrid time after a controversial World Cup in Brazil. In-house fighting, factionalism, clash of egos amongst the so-called ‘‘senior’’ players and the thrill of seeing the FA airlift $3 million to Brazil ensured the Black Stars finished last in the group without a win, which consequently derailed the progress made in 2006 and 2010.
The Stars have been dominant performers in Africa as they have appeared in the semi-finals of the last four tournaments but last won the competition in 1982 — a team led by legendary coach Charles Kumi Gyamfi. Qualifying top of a group that had Togo, Congo and Uganda, the team have earned the name of ‘‘Deceivers’’ and will be hopeful they can upset the odds under new appointee Avram Grant.
Ranked 5th in Africa, the whole nation will lean on striker-cum-captain Asamoah Gyan, Kojo Asamoah and the Ayew brothers in the absence of the three musketeers (Kevin Prince Boateng, Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari). Avram Grant has, however, given debut call-ups to five European-based players to boost competition for places as well as inject new blood into the team. Former U-20 midfielder Frank Acheampong and Houston Dynamos defender Samuel Inkoom have also returned to the side.
The ‘‘Boys’’ are back. The 1996 champions finished group A with 11 points and are wholly responsible for eliminating champions Nigeria. The resurgence of the Bafana Bafana under Ephraim ‘‘Shakes’’ Mashaba has not only seen them qualify impressively but build a team which is stronger and capable of conquering Equatorial Guinea.
The team which has a relatively short international history played its first game in 1992; two years before the country’s first democratic election and despite its rookie nature, it went ahead to win the tournament in 1996 before 80 000 fans inside the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg.
Since then, the Bafana Bafana has qualified for five Nations’ Cup tournaments and have had their own fair share of disappointment, finishing last in their group in 2008. Despite the ups and downs Ephraim ‘‘Shakes’’ Mashaba has moulded a mixture of young and hungry players to revive the fortunes of a country who had successes in its first three Nations Cup earning them finishes on the podium.
Ephraim ‘‘Shakes’’ Mashaba has set himself a personal target of winning the tournament.
Group A: Equatorial Guinea, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Congo
Group B: Zambia, Tunisia, Cape Verde, RD Congo
Group C: Ghana, Algeria, South Africa, Senegal
Group D: Cote D’Ivoire, Mali, Cameroon, Guinea. — GhanaWeb.