Group A: Facts and figures

Angola, Mali, Malawi and Algeria


Previous appearances in finals: 4

Best performance: Quarter-finalists in 2008


Former Benfica coach Manuel Jose was parachuted into the Angola job six months before the Nations Cup after a year of poor results and two managerial changes for the host nation.

Jose, 64, went eight games without defeat after taking charge as he sought to restructure the side. The Portuguese won 20 different trophies in two illustrious spells at Egyptian giants Al Ahli, including four African Champions League successes and went more than 18 months without losing a league game.

Key players:

Flavio (Al Shabab). Age: 30. Forward

The author of Angola's only goal at the 2006 World Cup finals and a consummate scorer at club level both in Egypt and the African Champions League. Flavio has never played any club football in Europe but is an icon in the Arabic-speaking world after his exploits at Al Ahli of Cairo and now in Saudi Arabia.

Manucho (Real Valladolid). Age: 23. Forward

An impressive performance at the last Nations Cup finals in Ghana ensured a move to Manchester United for the striker but in the two subsequent years his prospects have slipped quickly, via a loan spell at Hull City, to midtable Valladolid in Spain. Manucho almost did not make the squad after being suspended for disciplinary reasons but ultimately Angola have decided they need his attacking ability.

Gilberto (Al Ahli). Age: 27. Midfielder

An exciting left winger who tore an Achilles tendon at the 2006 Nations Cup in Egypt and was out for almost two years, including the last World Cup in Germany. A winner of the African Champions League with his Egyptian club, he has spent the last six years playing in north Africa.

FIFA world ranking December 2009: 95th


Angola showed surprise potential to qualify for the 2006 World Cup and with home advantage in the Nations Cup could again spring a shock. They have not had any competitive action over the last year but coach Manuel Jose is a wily operator expected to inspire them with the necessary confidence. Injuries to midfielder mainstay Andre and overlapping fullback Yamba Asha weaken the side.


Previous appearances in finals: 5

Best performance: Runners-up 1972


Stephen Keshi was captain when Nigeria last won the Nations Cup in 1994 and one of the most successful early exports from his country to Europe, where he played at Anderlecht in Belgium and Racing Strasbourg in France.

Keshi was assistant coach for Nigeria before taking over at Togo, qualifying them for the 2006 World Cup finals. However, he was fired before the tournament in Germany after falling out with striker Emmanuel Adebayor.

Key players:

Mahamadou Diarra (Real Madrid) Age: 28. Midfielder

Diarra returned to action after one year out with a knee injury in October in a major boost to Mali's hopes. He is the long-standing leader of the squad. But he has made just three starts for Real so far this season, as he slowly works his way back to full fitness. Diarra played in the squad that reached the Nations Cup semi-finals in both 2002 and 2004.

Seydou Keita (Barcelona). Age: 29. Midfielder

Keita was a teenage prodigy at French giants Olympique Marseille but failed to deliver on his early promise and spent time at Lorient and Racing Lens earning his spurs before moving to Spain in 2007. His transfer from Sevilla to Barcelona in May 2008 was valued at some 14 million euros ($20 million). His uncle Salif Keita was the first-ever African Footballer of the Year, winning the award in 1970.

Frederic Kanoute (Sevilla). Age: 32. Forward

Kanoute, the 2007 African Footballer of the Year, has been an inspired member of the Mali squad since changing his allegiance from France, for whom he was capped at under-21 level. His frequent goals at international level have been matched by his scoring acumen at club level where he is on the close to the 100-goal mark for Sevilla

FIFA world ranking December 2009: 47th


With a number of world-class players, Mali have promised much over the last years but delivered a disappointing 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign, knocked out of contention surprisingly easily and early. At the Nations Cup, Mali find themselves in a modest group which gives them every opportunity to advance to the knockout stages, where they will be a viewed as a dangerous opponent by the top contenders.


Previous appearances in finals: One

Best performance: First round in 1984


Kinnah Phiri was one of Malawi's best-ever players, although received no international exposure. As a coach, he worked in Swaziland and South Africa before returning home for a second spell at the national team helm at the start of the 2010 World Cup qualifiers.

The 55-year-old has enhanced his hero status in the central African country after ensuring only a second ever Nations Cup appearance for the Flames.

Key players:

Joseph Kamwendo (Orlando Pirates). Age: 23. Midfielder

Kamwendo's diminutive form belies his ability to dictate the pace of the game for his team with probing passing and clever runs. His professional career has taken him to Denmark, Zimbabwe and now South Africa, where he plays for Soweto giants Orlando Pirates.

Esau Kanyenda (FC Kamaz). Age: 27. Forward

The first footballer from Malawi to sign for a club in Europe, Kanyenda moved to Russia via a successful spell in South Africa, where he was the league's top scorer. At FC Rostov he made enough of an impression to sign for Lokomotiv Moscow, but lasted just six months with the capital club before being loaned out. He now finds himself in the second tier of Russian football.

Russell Mwafulirwa (IFK Norrkoping). Age: 26. Forward

A tall, gangly target man who has a strong work ethic but has been hampered by a long list of injuries. Mwafulirwa played at both Jomo Cosmos and Ajax Cape Town in South Africa's premier league before moving to Sweden at the start of 2008, where he has managed just three goals as the club have slipped down a division.

FIFA world ranking December 2009: 99th


The vagaries of the qualifying campaign for Angola have meant that Malawi won just one game in their group yet were still able to finish high enough to qualify. It is only the second time at the Nations Cup for a country who will find themselves outgunned and are likely to be on the receiving end in all three of their group games in Luanda.


Previous appearances in finals: 13

Best performance: Winners in 1990, runners-up 1980


Rabah Saadane has engineered a remarkable turnaround for the North Africans, who have also qualified for the 2010 World Cup. Saadane, also the coach when they last played in the World Cup in 1986, has lifted Algeria back among the continent's top teams after years in the doldrums.

A former international, he has had an intermittent coaching career but was offered the job after a series of French coaches came and went without much success. The 63-year-old has also worked in several Arab countries over the last two decades.

Key players:

Karim Ziani (VfL Wolfsburg). Age: 27. Midfielder

French-born Ziani is representative of the vast majority of Algeria players, who were born in France to immigrant parents, are eligible to play for both nations and have opted for the North Africans. The diminutive Ziani threw in his lot with Algeria before coming to prominence at Lorient, where he was voted Ligue 2's best player, and later Sochaux and Olympique Marseille.

Nadir Belhadj (Portsmouth). Age: 27. Defender

Not many African players can boast scoring twice against Argentina but Belhadj achieved the feat in a 4-3 loss in friendly in Spain two years ago to make a strong statement about his ability, particularly down the left wing where he keenly moves forward from his full back position. He has signed a four-year contract at the English Premier League Portsmouth

Mourad Meghni (Lazio). Age: 25. Midfielder.

A recent change to the FIFA statutes has allowed this former French under-21 international to play for Algeria. He made his debut in August and helped in the key qualifying matches at the end of the 2010 preliminary campaign.

FIFA world ranking December 2009: 26th


Algeria exceeded all expectations in qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, a remarkable turn in fortune considering they did not even qualify for the last two African Nations Cup finals.

A seemingly easy draw for the tournament in Angola, which comes soon after the morale-boosting triumph over African champions Egypt in their World Cup play-off match in November, suggests Algeria can continue their climb back to the summit of the continent's game.