African Nations Cup: Everything you need to know, Ivory Coast defend title

The 2017 African Nations Cup starts in Gabon on Saturday, here's everything you need to know about the groups.


This has hardly been a build-up full of anticipation and excitement for host nation Gabon, where a precarious political situation has led to calls for a boycott. Whether that has an impact on the team's performances remains to be seen; home support could make the difference in what looks a three-way tussle for qualification between Gabon, Burkina Faso and Cameroon, although outsiders Guinea-Bissau cannot be discounted after storming their way to make an unlikely first tournament appearance.

Prediction: 1. Gabon 2. Burkina Faso 3. Cameroon 4. Guinea-Bissau


Manager: Jose Antonio Camacho. Camacho has had a colourful career and the challenge of leading Gabon to success is something quite different to managing Real Madrid, Spain, Sevilla or Benfica -- as the 61-year-old has in the last two decades. He also had an unsuccessful stint coaching China before being a surprise appointment to the Gabon role only 43 days before the Nations Cup.

Key player: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Although Gabon are not a one-man team, it is inescapable that a single name stands out above the rest. Aubameyang is one of the world's very best strikers and if the Dortmund man is on song, the home country may spring a surprise. There are ghosts to bury, too: he missed a penalty in the 2012 quarterfinal penalty shootout against Mali.


Manager: Paulo Duarte. Duarte returns to familiar turf in Gabon, having coached them for a year and a half from 2012-13. This is the Portuguese coach's second spell in charge of Burkina Faso, who he previously managed between 2008 and 2012, and he will hope to at least take a talented side out of the group.

Key player: Bertrand Traore. The Ajax forward, on loan from Chelsea, will probably link up with his equally gifted brother Alain through the middle. He has been in inconsistent form for the Dutch club, with coach Peter Bosz criticising his condition, but his flair could make the difference against obdurate defences.


Manager: Hugo Broos. Veteran Belgian coach Broos used the internet to apply for the vacant Cameroon position and was successful in February 2016 despite not being on the original shortlist. The Belgian is vastly experienced but this is his first national team job and he has had to contend with the reluctance of several big-name players -- including Liverpool's Joel Matip -- to represent the country.

Key player: Benjamin Moukandjo. The Lorient forward has become crucial to Cameroon's cutting edge and has hit form in the past year after patchy earlier performances for the national team. He and the striker Vincent Aboubakar will be required to hit the ground running for a relatively workmanlike side that lacks some of the star quality of its predecessors.


Manager: Baciro Cande. The locally-born Cande guided Guinea-Bissau through a turbulent 2000s in which the country endured lengthy absences from the international scene. He returned to his old job in March after predecessor Paulo Torres was sacked, instantly winning three games and propelling his country to the most unlikely of qualifications.

Key player: Toni Silva. Silva only made his Guinea-Bissau debut in June but his contribution was stunning -- scoring the injury-time goal against Zambia that guaranteed their progress to a first Nations Cup. The 23-year-old winger showed promise early on in his career with Liverpool and Barnsley; now impressing in Greece with Levadiakos, the stage is set for him.


Two of the most likely contenders line up in this group, which will mainly be played in Franceville. It would be a surprise if either Algeria or Senegal missed the cut although Tunisia can never be completely discounted. Zimbabwe, in their first Nations Cup since 2006 but riven by financial disputes ahead of the tournament, will surely do well to avoid finishing bottom. For the big guns, first place would mean remaining in Franceville in the last eight.

Prediction: 1. Senegal 2. Algeria 3. Tunisia 3. Zimbabwe


Manager: Georges Leekens. Leekens has been around the block for years; this is the 67-year-old Belgian's 23rd managerial post and his second stint at the Algerian helm, which he also occupied in 2003. He coached Tunisia at the 2015 African Nations Cup and will come up against his former charges this time around.

Key player: Riyad Mahrez. Mahrez has not been at his best for Leicester in recent months but will take his place in what, on paper, is an enticing attacking lineup for Algeria. Although this is his second Nations Cup, the pressure on him to deliver will be high this time following his elevation to superstar status by winning the Premier League last term.


Manager: Henryk Kasperczak. It felt like old times when Kasperczak, appointed in July 2015, replaced Leekens to take over Tunisia -- whom he took to the 1998 World Cup. Tunisia are not quite as strong two decades later and it will be a significant achievement if he can take them to the business end of the tournament.

Key player: Aymen Abdennour. The outstanding Valencia centre-back is perhaps Tunisia's one top-level operator and may have his work cut out in a fiendish group. If he can help his team grind out a result against at least one of Senegal and Algeria, qualification may yet be within their reach.


Manager: Aliou Cisse. Cisse was a star of the famous 2002 World Cup side and spent time as a player with Birmingham and Portsmouth. He has emerged as a highly-regarded, studious coach and has brought through a number of the current squad from the Senegal Under-23 side in which he was previously involved.

Key player: Sadio Mane. Few players have improved more over the last year than Mane, who has been irresistible at times for Liverpool since his £35m transfer from Southampton. Senegal have a watertight defence and exceptional physical strength; Mane is the man with the X-factor and if he sparkles then they might just have all the ingredients to go far.


Manager: Callisto Pasuwa. Pasuwa won four successive local league titles with Dynamos Harare and has taken the national team to similar eye-catching success, topping a qualifying group that included Swaziland, Guinea and Malawi to secure Zimbabwe a place at their third Nations Cup. They will begin as unknown quantities but Pasuwa and his team cannot be underestimated.

Key player: Knowledge Musona. Musona has enjoyed a convincing couple of years in Belgium with Oostende and appears to be the man best equipped to fire Zimbabwe to a shock. The striker has a goal-scoring record of better than one in two for his country and, in an enterprising Zimbabwe side, will need to take any chances to add to that tally in Gabon.


The reigning champions, Ivory Coast, should have few problems negotiating this quartet and after that the field is open. DR Congo are upwardly mobile but will miss the influential Yannick Bolasie; Morocco are injury-ravaged themselves and Togo, who may come to rely on an out-of-practice Emmanuel Adebayor, look short of the quality necessary to progress. Ivory Coast could well reach the second phase with a match to spare.

Prediction: 1. Ivory Coast 2. DR Congo 3. Morocco 4. Togo


Manager: Michel Dussuyer. Dussuyer sandwiched a stint in charge of Benin between three separate spells with Guinea, but this is the Belgian's biggest job yet. Guinea impressed in reaching the last eight two years ago but the expectations bestowed upon anyone in charge of the Elephants are entirely different.

Key player: Wilfried Zaha. Zaha has only been part of the Ivory Coast setup for a matter of days but is a tantalising addition to Dussuyer's squad. The Crystal Palace winger, who was capped in friendlies by England but has chosen to represent the country of his birth, scored in last week's friendly win over Uganda and his presence makes a formidable squad look even stronger.


Manager: Florent Ibenge. Ibenge has done an excellent job with DR Congo since taking over in 2014 -- combining his role with managing the local side AS Vita Club -- and took them to the semifinals last time out. They qualified for this tournament in style and also look good for a concerted tilt at reaching the 2018 World Cup, but Bolasie's injury has struck a blow to his preparations.

Key player: Dieumerci Mbokani. The Hull City striker has not scored yet this season but is a practiced leader of the line and has been outstanding during over a decade with the Leopards. Much of their attacking play still revolves around the 31-year-old, who will be expected to bring their midfielders into the game as well as getting on the end of crosses.


Manager: Herve Renard. While Morocco's hopes of progressing far appear remote it is never possible to count out Renard, who has taken Ivory Coast and -- improbably - Zambia to Nations Cup glory and is the only coach to have won the tournament with two different countries. Morocco, whom he has managed since last February, hope for his touch to be repeated.

Key player: Mehdi Benatia. Morocco's squad has been badly thinned by absences of Sofiane Boufal and Nordin Amrabat, among others. It leaves them short up front but they do, at least have the quality of uncompromising centre-back Benatia -- on loan at Juventus from Bayern Munich -- to underpin what looks a long shot at repeating their success of 1976.


Manager: Claude Le Roy. This is the irrepressible Le Roy's ninth Nations Cup. The 68-year-old Frenchman is a legend in African football and has managed Ghana, Senegal, Cameroon, DR Congo and Republic of Congo at previous tournaments; making a success of Togo's campaign might be his toughest assignment yet.

Key player: Emmanuel Adebayor. Adebayor has not had a club since his Crystal Palace contact expired in June and it does not say too much for the quality available to Le Roy that Togo's prospects may depends on how fit he has kept himself. He has been influential for the national team and the prospects of Togo finding a player of his quality to replace him in the near future look slim.


Group D might prove tighter than it looks, with 2015 runners-up Ghana in unpersuasive form and outsiders Uganda capable of troubling anyone. Egypt, finally back at a Nations Cup after missing the last three, have a lively-looking squad and could be the quartet's star turn, while Mali can never be discounted but will probably fall short this time.

Prediction: 1. Egypt 2. Ghana 3. Mali 4. Uganda


Manager: Avram Grant. The former Chelsea boss is not especially popular in Ghana despite taking the Black Stars to the 2015 final. It is vital he gets his team off to a good start against Uganda, who held them to a goalless World Cup qualifying draw in Tamale three months ago, otherwise pressure will grow from a demanding home public.

Key player: Asamoah Gyan. It is still Gyan to whom Ghana look for their cutting edge and the Al-Ahli player, now 31, rarely disappoints. The supply lines to him are hardly consistent though and, as he ages, his ability to lead the charge on his own is diminishing. Ghana's ability to offer him support may be key to their challenge.


Manager: Alain Giresse. A legendary midfielder with France during his playing days, Giresse's managerial career has included a four-year stint with Gabon and a spell with Senegal. This is his second go at the Mali job and he will see no reason why they cannot qualify for the quarterfinals -- an achievement snatched from Mali in 2015 after a drawing of lots.

Key player: Sambou Yatabare. The pacy, powerful midfielder plies his trade for Werder Bremen and will be important to a physical, well-organised side's hopes of imposing themselves on games. He scored in the draw with Cameroon two years ago for a Mali team that felt hard done by after their elimination. Bakary Sako and Monaco's Adama Traore will also be relied upon to make their flair count.


Manager: Hector Cuper. The Argentinian enjoyed huge success in the early 2000s with Valencia, taking them to the Champions League final twice, but has trod a varied path since then. He took over Egypt in March 2015 and has created a vibrant, counter-attacking side that looks a genuine threat once again.

Key player: Mohamed Salah. Salah scored five goals in qualifying and the Roma winger's explosive style of play suits Cuper's system perfectly. He is enjoying a fine season in Serie A and has, at the age of 24, netted 27 times for the national side, and has the potential to be the star turn at his first Nations Cup.


Manager: Micho Sredojevic. The Serbian manager, known for his intense approach, continued Bobby Williamson's good work to grant the Cranes their first Nations Cup appearance since 1978 -- when they finished runners-up to Ghana. Prospects of a repeat seem remote although Micho's Twitter account (@michocoach), frequently updated and often lively, will be worth following.

Key player: Farouk Miya. Miya scored the goal -- against Comoros in September -- that brought Uganda to Gabon and reportedly received thousands of marriage proposals afterwards. The 21-year-old forward, who plays for Standard Liege in Belgium but is yet to feature regularly, is a lavish talent and has consistently come good for the national team.