Africa Cup of Nations 2017: Group-by-group guide and predictions
Ahead of the start of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon), Ian Hawkey provides a group-by-group guide and predicts which two nations will progress to the knockout stage. | Fixtures
Group A: Gabon, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Guinea-Bissau
A wide consensus has it that the hosts, Gabon, have handily avoided too many stiff hurdles as they attempt to at least match — and, a nation hopes, better — their achievement of reaching a quarter-final, as the Gabonese team did in 2012. They should be more potent now than then, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, pictured, more mature at leading the forward line.
Yes, Cameroon are heavyweights in terms of continental prestige but they are once again riven with internal tensions, with several senior players including the Liverpool defender Joel Matip having declined their invitations to attend this Nations Cup.
Burkina Faso have plenty of talent and a desire to relive the glories of 2013, when they reached the final. But two years later, they stumbled out at the group stage.
As for Guinea-Bissau, they are the only nation making their debut at this Afcon, and might have a surprise result in them. Though none of their personnel could be classified as stars, they qualified at the expense of Zambia, the 2012 champions.
To progress: Gabon, Burkina Faso
Group B: Algeria, Tunisia, Senegal, Zimbabwe
According to the current Fifa rankings, Group B has three of Africa’s top five crowded into the same contest to produce just two of the last eight at this Afcon. That at least suggests there can be no room for slow starts, of the kind Riyad Mahrez, many Leicester City followers might suggest, has made to this season. Algeria’s Mahrez, pictured, is the new African Footballer of the Year, largely because of his brilliance in the 2015/16 season and is under pressure to rise to that status, and help make Algeria look the sum of their many gifted parts.
Senegal are strong on paper, too, especially with Sadio Mane in attack, but disappointed at the last Afcon. Tunisia have a realistic hope of squeezing one of Algeria and Senegal aside, especially if they maintain the strong defensive record they have built up in competitive matches over the last few months. Zimbabwe, under-resourced but game and the sole representatives of the continent’s southern region, look like the minnows in this company.
To progress: Algeria, Senegal
Group C: Ivory Coast, DR Congo, Morocco, Togo
Ivory Coast, the defending champions, have at last said goodbye, fondly, to their so-called golden generation, the totemic band led by the Toure brothers and Didier Drogba. They toiled for years to win a Nations Cup. Their younger successors are now charged with making the title of African champions a regular habit. The team of Serge Aurier, Eric Bailly and newcomer Wilfried Zaha should be equipped to reach the last four, at least.
Morocco have hired as manager Herve Renard, guide of Zambia’s champions in 2012 and Ivory Coast’s in 2015, which makes them look even darker horses, although they may find DR Congo a handful, even if the Congolese are without the injured trickster Yannick Bolasie up front. As for Togo, they have become weathered veterans of Afcon tournaments, though it remains to be seen how effective Emmanuel Adebayor, the maverick striker, and the veteran goalkeeper Kossi Agassa will be after six months without club employment.
To progress: Ivory Coast, DR Congo
Group D: Ghana, Egypt, Mali, Uganda
The return of Egypt to a Nations Cup seems long overdue. Much has happened in Egypt, and to its football status since the national team won a third continental title on the trot in 2010 and then startlingly failed to qualify for any of the next three events. Political turmoil played a part, but under the sage Hector Cuper as manager, a revival is afoot. Not too many defenders in Gabon will keep up with the speedy Egyptian striker Mohamed Salah.
Ghana, finalists in 2015, have Asamoah Gyan, pictured, leading them, and chasing a 100th cap by the end of a group stage that they would hope to master without too much alarm.
Mali look diminished from the force they were when they reached successive semi-finals in 2012 and 2013, and Uganda’s absence from the event has been so long that they must risk feeling overawed.
The Ugandan Cranes were last at a Nations Cup 39 years ago, as hosts. They won the silver medal, but it has collected a lot of dust in their trophy cabinet since.
To progress: Ghana, Egypt
Updated: January 7, 2017 04:00 AM