Africa Cup of Nations: it’s time for kick-off!

The first Africa Cup of Nations took place 60 years ago with just three teams playing for glory. It’s grown a bit since then, and 2017 sees 16 teams playing 32 matches across 23 days. The hosts this year are Gabon, but don’t expect them to win the trophy on home soil – they’re the lowest-ranked squad in the finals. Azimo rounds up the teams battling it out for glory:

Ivory Coast 7/2

Best result: Winners

World ranking: 34th

One to watch: Wilfried Zaha

Ivory Coast are favourites in Gabon, and rightly so. They’re the defending champions and have some impressive talent in their line-up: Yaya Touré and Didier Drogba may no longer be in the starting XI, but the likes of Man Utd’s Eric Bailly and Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha should see them through to the business end of the tournament.

Senegal 9/2

Best result: Runners-up

World ranking: 33rd

One to watch: Keita Baldé Diao

Surprisingly, Senegal have never won the Africa Cup of Nations and they’ve only won one match in their last two appearances. But they arrive in Gabon full of confidence, having topped their qualifying group by 12 points, and have plenty of stars in their starting line-up, including Liverpool’s Sadio Mané – who became the most expensive African footballer ever in 2016.

Algeria 7/1

Best result: Winners

World ranking: 39th

One to watch: Riyad Mahrez

It’s 27 long years since Algeria won their one and only AFCON title, but 2017 looks like their best chance to change that. They breezed through their qualifying group and have some real playmakers in their ranks, including two Leicester City heroes – striker Islam Slimani and 2016 African Footballer of the Year Riyad Mahrez.

shutterstock_380848903Cameroon 7/1

Best result: Winners

World ranking: 62nd

One to watch: Benjamin Moukandjo

The Indomitable Lions aren’t nearly as indomitable as they used to be, but they should still make it out of the group stages in Gabon. They were unbeaten in the qualifying stages and let in just two goals. Can you hear the roar?

Ghana 7/1

Best result: Winners

World ranking: 54th

One to watch: Samuel Tetteh

The Black Stars have won this tournament an impressive four times – but the trophy cabinet has been empty for the last 35 years. The manager this time round is none other than Avram Grant, who coached Premiership giants Chelsea in 2007. Young striking sensation Samuel Tetteh is definitely one to watch.

Egypt 8/1

Best result: Winners

World ranking: 35th

One to watch: Mohamed Salah

Like the country itself, the Egyptian football team has had its fair share of ups and downs in recent times, winning three consecutive Nations Cups (2006, 2008, 2010) before failing to even qualify for the next three. Which team turns up in Gabon is anyone’s guess, but their world ranking suggests they could do well here.

Gabon 8/1

Best result: Quarter-finals

World ranking: 108th

One to watch: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Hosts Gabon are ranked way down the FIFA standings, but home advantage might just give them the edge – they’re based in the capital, Libreville, where support will be very strong. In Aubameyang, they also have one of the most talented strikers in the world today. Let’s hope the other ten can match his skill.

shutterstock_526245157Mali 12/1

Best result: Runners-up

World ranking: 64th

One to watch: Bakary Sako

Mali sailed through qualifying, but the Eagles will have to soar very high indeed to get past big guns Ghana and Egypt in the group stages. They’ve got decent pedigree, having reached the semi-finals in 2012 and 2013, but a great deal will depend on the form of Crystal Palace midfielder Bakary Sako.

Morocco 14/1

Best result: Winners

World ranking: 57th

One to watch: Mehdi Benatia

It’s more than 40 years since Morocco won their one and only AFCON title, but the North Africans are brimming with confidence, having been the first team to qualify for Gabon. They also have Frenchman Hervé Renard in charge, who led Ivory Coast and Zambia to the title in 2015 and 2012 respectively.

DR Congo 16/1

Best result: Winners

World ranking: 71st

One to watch: Cedric Bakambu

DR Congo last won the tournament in 1974 and chances are the wait for another trophy won’t be over in 2017. They won their qualifying group but have lost the services of super-talented winger Yannick Bolasie to a knee injury. Leopards striker Bakambu has been a goal machine for Spanish side Villareal, but can he shine in Gabon?

Tunisia 20/1

Best result: Winners

World ranking: 36th

One to watch: Aymen Abdennour

Tunisia topped their qualifying group, letting in just three goals in six games, so it’s no surprise that their star man is centre-back Aymen Abdennour. They’ll be appearing in a record 13th consecutive AFCON finals when they run out on the pitch in Gabon – who knows, maybe it’ll be lucky for the Carthage Eagles?

Burkina Faso 40/1

Best result: Runners-up

World ranking: 53rd

One to watch: Bertrand Traore

Burkina Faso are regulars at the AFCON finals, but they’re usually packing their bags to go home again before the knockout stages get going – in the last nine tournaments, they’ve only got out of their group twice. This time they’re up against hosts Gabon and heavily-fancied Cameroon in the group stages, so the drought looks set to continue.

Uganda 100/1

Best result: Runners-up

World ranking: 73rd

One to watch: Dennis Onyango

Uganda last featured at this tournament way back in 1978, so just making it to Gabon is enough for their fans to get excited about. They’re rank outsiders to win, of course, and it would be a miracle if they manage to get past Egypt, Mali and Ghana to progress to the knockout stages.

Togo 150/1

Best result: Quarter-finals

World ranking: 90th

One to watch: Emmanuel Adebayor

The stats don’t look promising for Togo – the Sparrowhawks scraped through to Gabon by claiming one of the best runner-up spots and they’ve only ever won three group games in their AFCON history. They’re also up against the might of Ivory Coast, DR Congo and Morocco. An early exit? Almost certainly, unless ageing star Adebayor can roll back the years.

Zimbabwe 200/1

Best result: Group stages

World ranking: 103rd

One to watch: Knowledge Musona

The odds are very much against Zimbabwe coming home from Gabon with anything except a wooden spoon. They’ve only ever reached the group stages, they haven’t even made it that far for a decade, they have no global superstars in the side and they’re up against some very tough opposition. They’re going to have to live up to their Warrior nickname to make progress.

Guinea-Bissau 250/1

Best result: No previous appearances

World ranking: 68th

One to watch: Cicero

Guinea-Bissau have already achieved a minor miracle by even making it to the finals in Gabon. They were widely tipped to finish bottom of their group in qualifying, but they somehow ended up topping it and now become the 39th team to take part in the competition. Now they have nothing to lose.

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