AFCON Group D Preview: Ivory Coast favourites
Cameroon and Mali will both fancy their chances to go deep in the tournament, while outsiders Guinea will be hoping to pick up a scalp or two along the way.
The favourites - Ivory Coast, Cameroon
To many people, the lack of silverware for the Ivory Coast over the past decade remains one of football's great mysteries. Despite boasting some of the finest African players of the modern era, the Elephants have significantly underachieved in both the World Cup and the AFCON.
While the draw has not been their friend in the World Cup overall, their failures in this tournament are more stark. They were finalists in 2006 and 2012, and reached the semi-finals in 2008, but given the talent at their disposal their fans naturally expected them to go all the way at least once.
This time around they have as good a chance as ever. They have some of the greatest firepower available on the continent in the likes of Wilfried Bony, Gervinho, Salomon Kalou and Yaya Toure, who was recently named African Footballer of the Year for 2014.
Add to that a midfield filled with both power and panache and a hugely experienced defensive department, and it is clear to see why so many back them to finally break their 23-year duck in the continental competition.
Cameroon may not be stocked with the wealth of talent they enjoyed in the 1980s and at the turn of the century, but coach Volker Finke will still be confident of taking the Indomitable Lions into the knockout phase at the very least.
Without Samuel Eto'o, Sevilla midfielder Stephane Mbia dons the armband for his country these days. He will find himself carrying much of the responsibility for his side's progression, while they will look to strikers Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Vincent Aboubakar for goals.
The outsiders - Mali, Guinea
Seydou Keita may well still be turning it on when called upon for Roma in Serie A, but aside from the veteran skipper there are few men in the Mali from whom a whirlwind tournament is expected. Giant target man Cheick Diabate misses out after suffering a knee injury so Metz striker Modibo Maiga, on loan from West Ham, will be crucial if Henryk Kasperczak's side are to progress into the quarter-finals and beyond.
Guinea, meanwhile, are clear outsiders in Group D, having failed to qualify for two of the previous three editions. With no Ismael Bangoura in their final 23-man squad, Sheffield Wednesday's Kamil Zayatte is their most capped player with just 46 to his name. Michel Dussuyer has also picked more teenagers than thirty-somethings in a relatively inexperience selection.
Star Player - Yaya Toure
Having recently been named as the best player in Africa for a fourth successive year, much is expected of Yaya Toure in Equatorial Guinea. The Manchester City man has been a driving force for both club and country in recent years, and a strong tournament for the midfielder could well go much of the way to securing the crown for the Elephants.
After a career-best goalscoring campaign in 2013-14, Toure is again in the goals domestically. Add in the fact he has scored nine of his 17 career international goals in the Africa Cup of Nations, including four in the finals tournament, and a healthy contribution in the final third can also be expected.
Crunch match - Mali v Cameroon
While the Ivory Coast should have enough to come out on top of the group with a little to spare, it will be crucial for the hopes of the rest to take points off one another. As such, neither Mali nor Cameroon will want to get off to a bad start in Malabo on January 20, with a loser being left with an uphill battle to progress to the quarter-finals. Both teams will be looking to get off to a good start in order to make their clash with the group favourites a bonus rather than a win-or-bust contest.
20 January 2015 - Ivory Coast v Guinea , Malabo / Mali v Cameroon, Malabo
24 January 2015 - Ivory Coast v Mali, Malabo / Cameroon v Guinea, Malabo
28 January 2015 - Cameroon v Ivory Coast , Malabo / Guinea v Mali, Mongomo
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