Ghana boss: Mali could surprise at Nations Cup

Ghana coach Goran Stevanovic believes Ivory Coast, Senegal and dark horses Mali are the greatest threat to his team's chances of winning their first Africa Cup of Nations since 1982.

Ghana are among the favourites for the January 21-February 12 tournament in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon but Serb Stevanovic, who took charge a year ago, said the failure of some of Africa's top teams to qualify meant the battle for the continental title was more competitive than ever.

"Defending champions Egypt, Nigeria, Cameroon and South Africa won't be there, meaning that the 16 teams which did reach the finals are very strong," Stevanovic told Belgrade's B92 television website.

"In my humble opinion, Ivory Coast and Senegal should reach the last four and one of them will probably play in the final, while Mali are also a team to watch out for.

"The Malian style of play has the handwriting of their coach, former France midfielder Alain Giresse so these four teams are the cream of the crop," he said.

Ghana, who have won four titles, are in Group D alongside Botswana, Mali and Guinea. They start their campaign on January 24 against Botswana in Franceville.

Stevanovic, who steered Partizan Belgrade to a Serbian league title in 2010 after being the national team's assistant coach in the 2006 World Cup, relishes the pressure of delivering the trophy to the football-mad nation.

"It such an honour to work here because the passion for football in Africa is far greater than in Europe," he said.

"Daily routines will almost come to a standstill a week before the tournament and football will be the only topic, the team bus was barely able to get through the crowd after our home qualifiers for the Cup of Nations.

"Ghana's reputation means we are one of the tournament heavyweights and we accept the task because we know that playing in the final is the least everyone expects from us.

"I always want to be among the favourites and I know have put additional pressure on the team by telling them time and again that Ghana ought to win the Cup of Nations for the first time in 30 years."