The final piece to the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup picture will be solved this January and February in Gabon when the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations takes place. 16 of the best teams on the continent will rumble it out for a spot in Russia 2017 later this year. The event was originally set to take place in Libya but due to the ongoing war, the event will be held in Gabon instead. This is the 60th anniversary of the Confederation of African Football’s premier tournament.
Here are the four groups and our predicted orders of finish for each group.
As four-time AFCON winners (1984, 1988, 2000, 2002), Hugo Broos’s Indomitable Lions of Cameroon will come into the tournament as heavy favorites to win their group. The team features Montreal Impact defender Ambroise Oyongo, Lorient striker Benjamin Moukandjo, Schalke 04 forward Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Lyon defender Nicolas Nkoulou, former New York Red Bull Anatole Abang, Marseille strker Clinton N’Jie and Angers forward Karl Toko Ekambi.
Two time quarterfinalists (1996, 2012) Gabon are managed by Jose Antonio Camacho. They are known as the Brazilians for their similar home kits but are better known as the Panthers. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Borussia Dortmund leads the charges for this team. Other key players include Sunderland midfielder Didier N’Dong, Tianjin Teda striker Malick Evouna and Juventus young gun Mario Lemina.
3. Burkina Faso
Paulo Duarte’s Burkina Faso were runners-up in 2013 and have set a high bar for themselves. The Stallions are an unheralded side, led by Krasnodar midfielder Charles Kabore, with 70 caps to his name. Key players include Toulouse defender Steeve Yago, RC Lens midfieolder Adama Guira and AFC Ajax strikers Bertrand Traore.
Newcomers to the finals, the Djurtus of Guinea-Bissau—under the direction of Baciro Cande—have nothing to lose and everything to gain from this tournament. But with a current FIFA Ranking of 68, you’d have to think that Guinea-Bissau have a surprise or two up their sleeve. Bocundji Ca of Paris FC is their capatain, and many of their players play overseas in Portugal. Other key players include Salgueiros goalkeeper Jonas Mendes, Levadiakos midfielder Zezinho, Freamunde defender Eridson, Paços de Ferreira striker Cicero and Akhisar Belediyespor striker Leocisio Sami.
Group B is the group of death as there are three top teams in this group. We’ve gone with the Greens of Algeria, managed by Georges Leekens, to top this group. Algeria have won the AFCON once, in 1990, and will look to make history for the first time in nearly three decades. Notable players include Napoli defender Faouzi Ghoulam, Benfica defender Raouf Benguit, West Ham United midfielder Sofiane Feghouli, Leganes defender and team captain Carl Medjani, Porto midfielder Yacine Brahimi, Montpellier midfielder Ryad Boudebouz, Lyon midfielder Rachid Ghezzal…and the Leicester City tandem of forward Islam Slimani and midfield maestro Riyad Mahrez.
Like Burkina Faso, Senegal came close to lifting the cup but finished second best in 2002. Managed by Aliou Cisse, the Lions of Teranga are ready to make some noise. Senegal are led by Fenerbahce forward Moussa Sow, Lorient defender Zargo Toure, Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly, Liverpool forward Sadio Mane, Newcastle United midfielder Mohamed Diamo, West Ham United midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate, Saint-Etienne defender Cheikh M’Bengue and Everton midfielder Idrissa Gana Gueye.
Don’t sleep on the Eagles of Carthage. Henryk Kasperczak’s Tunisia have some stars of their own that can deliver damage. They also lifted the cup before, back in 2004. Most players on this team play in the local first division, but notable players outside of the domestic league’s talent include Lille midfielder Nail Sliti, Al Ahly defender Ali Maaloil, Al-Ittihad forward Ahmed Akaichi, Valencia defender Aymen Abdennour and Sunderland midfielder Wahbi Khazri.
A regular to the African Cup of Nations, Callisto Pasuwa’s Zimbabwe Warrior are looking to get over the group stage hump despite being relatively consistent in the qualifiers. However, most, if not all, of the players on this team play in Zimbabwe’s national first division, the only notable exception being forward Tinotenda Kadewere of Swedish Allsvenskan side Djurgårdens.
1. Ivory Coast
Michel Dussuyer’s Elephants of the Ivory Coast are the defending AFCON Champions and are two-time winners of the competiton (1992, 2015). With Didier Drogba no longer playing a role with the national team, other stars will look to step up, including Hertha BSC striker Salomon Kalou, Stoke City forward Wilfried Bony, Rennes forward Giovanni Sio, Bournemouth midfielder Max Gradel, Sunderland defender Lamine Kone, Manchester United defender Eric Bailly, OGC Nice midfielder Jean Seri, Paris Saint-Germain defender Serge Aurier and Crystal Palace forward Wilfried Zaha.
Morocco last won the competition in 1976. That’s more that four decades ago, and under the tutelage of Herve Renard, the Atlas Lions will look to get back to cup-lifting ways. Notable players include Southampton midfielder Sofiane Boufal, Watford forward Nordin Amrabat, Newcastle Unied defender Achraf Lazaar, OGC Nice midfielder Younes Belhanda, Monaco defender Nabil Dirar and the captain, Juventus defender Medhi Benatia.
Claude Le Roy’s Sparrow Hawks of Togo are more than just Emmanuel Adebayor. But they will need more than this current free agent to have a shot at making the knockout rounds. Togo also feature Genoa midfielder Serge Gakpe, Fulham midfielder Floyd Ayite, Fortuna Dusseldorf midfielder Ihlas Bebou, Chateauroux forward Razak Boukari and Standard Liege midfielder Matheiu Dossevi.
4. DR Congo
Florent Ibenge’s Leopards of DR Congo are huge underdogs to make the knockout rounds but having won the AFCO in 1968 and 1974, they will look to roar back into relevance. A number of players on this team hail from continental club powerhouse TP Mazembe, including goalkeeper Ley Matampi, defender Issama Mpeko, midfielder Merveille Bokadi and forward Jonathan Bolingi. Other key players include Newcastle United defender Chancel Mbemba, Fulham midfielder Neeskens Kebano, Hull City striker Dieumerci Mbokani, Norwich City midfielder Youssouf Mulumbu and Charlton Athletic forward Jordan Botaka.
Avram Grant’s Black Stars of Ghana, led by their captain and scoring ace Asamoah Gyan of Al-Ahli, have lifted the trophy four times (1963, 1965, 1978, 1982). Ghana will look to win the competition for the first time in three and a half decades. Aside from Gyan, Ghana are led by West Ham United forward Andre Ayew, Aston Villa striker Jordan Ayew, Leicester City defender Daniel Amartey, Newcastle United midfielder Christian Atsu, Udinese midfielder Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, and the Columbus Crew defensive tandem of Harrison Afful and Jonathan Mensah.
The most successful team in the competition, Hector Cuper’s Pharaohs of Egypt have won the AFCON seven times (1957, 1959, 1986, 1998, 2006, 2008, 2010). A number of players on this team hail from national club powerhouse sides Al Ahly and Zamalek. Other key players to watch out for include Hull City midfielder Ahmed El Mohamady, Arsenal midfielder Mohamed Elneny, Stoke City midfielder Ramadan Sobhi and AS Roma striker Mohamed Salah.
Alain Giresse’s Eagles of Mali are underdogs to advance from this group but they have some guns bases overseas who can deliver. Notable players include Werder Bremen midfielder Sambou Yatabare, Monaco midfielder Adama Traore, Bastia midfielder Lassana Coulibaly, Crystal Palace striker Bakary Salo and Udinese defender Molia Wague.
Milutin Sredojevic’s Cranes of Uganda may be overmatched in this group but they could be a surprise package, having won the oldest football tournament in Africa, the CECAFA Cup, 14 times (1973, 1976, 1977, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2003, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015). Micheal Azira of the Colorado Rapids is MLS’s entry on this side. Other key players include captain Geofrey Massa of Bloemfontein Celtic, Standard Liege forward Farouk Miya, Gor Mahia defender Godfrey Walusimbi and Þróttur Reykjavík midfielder Tony Mawejje.
Keep it right here on The Stoppage Time, powered by Azteca Soccer, for more world football news. Stay connected on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.