Egypt will have to battle past five World Cup-bound teams if they are to win an unprecedented third successive African Nations Cup in Angola this month.
Egypt, who have won the last two editions in 2006 and 2008 and a record six overall, will also be seeking to make up for the disappointment of failing to qualify for the 2010 World Cup.
Algeria beat them in a bruising playoff in November, and will use the Jan. 10-31 tournament in Angola to prepare their side for a tough assignment in South Africa in mid-year.
For fellow World Cup finalists Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria success in the Nations Cup is a big priority.
"We are a top football nation in Africa and have many players with experience at the top level from playing in Europe," Nigeria coach Shaibu Amodu told reporters at his team's training camp in South Africa this week.
Ghana captain Michel Essien, writing on his website, added: "The African Cup will be tough as usual and the World Cup even tougher but as a team we are confident in our own abilities and we will be fighting through all the stages."
The bulk of the players at the tournament are drawn from European clubs, with many of the world's top sides giving up key players for the month.
European champions Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Juventus join several English and French clubs who have to do without players at an important juncture in their domestic season, much to the frustration of their coaches.
Premier League leaders Chelsea have lost four players to the tournament as have relegation-threatened Portsmouth while French club Nice have eight of their squad at the tournament.
"We pay a lot of money to players who are not with you for two months," Portsmouth manager Avram Grant told a news conference last week.
Chelsea's Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba is expected to command a lot of attention although the goal-scoring exploits of Inter Milan's Cameroonian Samuel Eto'o will also be closely followed.
The Ivorians and Cameroon are the tournament favourites, seeking to break the monopoly of success enjoyed by north African sides since Cameroon last won in 2002.
Eto'o on Wednesday pledged to add to his record 16 goals scored in five previous tournaments.
Angola have invested heavily in infrastructure for the 16-team tournament, building four new stadiums in the capital Luanda, Benguela, Cabinda and Lubango.
But they were only officially opened last week and have not yet been tested for game conditions.
Confederation of African Football officials estimated the country had spent $1 billion on preparations for the tournament.comments