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AFCON uncertainty gives way to anticipation

What is certain is that new champions will be crowned when the final takes place at Estadio de Bata on February 8.

Holders Nigeria failed to qualify for a tournament that was scheduled to be held in Morocco until the nation was stripped of hosting rights by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) in November.

There were fears that the prestigious 16-team tournament, which takes place every two years, may not take place after CAF rejected Morocco's request to have the event postponed due to concerns over a potential spread of the Ebola virus.

Morocco were also banned from participating in the 30th edition of the AFCON by CAF before Equatorial Guinea filled in at the eleventh hour to stage a tournament that they co-hosted with Gabon three years ago.

With barely two months to prepare, questions have been raised over infrastructure, security and the quality of facilities in towns such as Mongomo and Ebebiyin.

It is not just tournament organisers who have faced a race against time to prepare for AFCON, as Esteban Becker was only appointed as coach of the host nation 11 days before the opening game against Congo. The Argentinian took over from Spaniard Andoni Goikoetxea.

Equatorial Guinea had been disqualified from the competition for fielding an ineligible player, Thierry Fidjeu Tazemeta, in their first-round first-leg play-off win over Mauritania on May 17, but were reinstated after agreeing to host.

In keeping with the uncertain build-up to the tournament, it is not easy to predict which nation will be crowned champions of Africa - but the Ivory Coast have been installed as favourites.

Coach Herve Renard will look to 2014 African Footballer of the Year Yaya Toure to inspire his country to AFCON glory for only the second time and the midfielder's brother, Kolo, will be determined to sign off in style as he retires from international football after the tournament.

There will be no Didier Drogba to lead the line for the Ivory Coast after the veteran striker called it quits on the international stage, but there is no shortage of firepower in a squad that includes the likes of Wilfried Bony, Seydou Doumbia and Salomon Kalou.

The Ivory Coast qualified second behind Cameroon and will come up against Volker Finke's men once again in a difficult Group D that also includes Guinea and Mali.

Cameroon responded well to a dismal World Cup campaign, in which they lost all three group games to bow out with a whimper amid reports of unrest after a dispute over bonus payments had hindered their preparation for the tournament in Brazil.

South Africa sealed their place in the tournament after having to contend with the sad death of captain Senzo Meyiwa, who was murdered in October.

The nation mourned the passing of Meyiwa and Bafana Bafana will be playing for their late goalkeeper when they attempt to progress from a daunting Group C alongside Ghana, Algeria and Senegal.

Algeria qualified at a canter by winning five and drawing one of their six matches, while Avram Grant will aim to mastermind Ghana's fifth AFCON triumph just two months after he was appointed.

The stage is set for the tournament to commence on Saturday and it will be a relief for all involved that the attention will turn to football after months of uncertainty over the staging of the 2015 showpiece. 

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