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Jan 19, 2012

African Nations Cup: Group B

Group B: Ivory Coast | Angola | Burkina Faso | Sudan

Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D |

GROUP B

IVORY COAST

Coach: François Zahoui
Captain: Didier Drogba
Nickname: Les Éléphants (The Elephants)
Nations Cup record: Winners 1992; qualified 19 times

Ivory Coast have been named as the team to beat at each of the past three tournaments but have fallen short on each occasion, with the 2010 quarter-final exit to Algeria particularly galling as the Elephants took the lead in the 89th minute but were unable to see the game out, allowing their opponents to score once in injury time and again in extra-time to progress. Now determined to erase their reputation of always being the bridesmaids but never the bride, Ivory Coast were irresistible in qualifying - steamrolling their way to the finals with six wins and 19 goals scored.

There is quality right through the team - though some defensive question marks remain - with national icon Didier Drogba the man charged with leading the forward line. He scored his 50th goal for Ivory Coast in the lead up to the finals and will be looking to add to the seven he has netted in previous Nations Cups, and will be ably supported by an entirely European-based cast including Gervinho, Cheick Tiote, Max Gradel and Chelsea team-mate Salomon Kalou.

One to watch: Yaya Toure. The newly-crowned 2011 African Footballer of the Year has been in fantastic form for Manchester City this season and his bursting runs from midfield will be a major threat to any of the Elephants' opponents. He also showed with his strikes in the semi-final and final of last year's FA Cup that he is a man to call on when a big moment is needed.

Trivia: Ivory Coast hold the record for the highest-scoring penalty shoot-out win in international football history following their extraordinary 12-11 win over Cameroon at the 2006 quarter-finals, which beat their own previous record - an 11-10 victory over Ghana in the 1992 final.

ESPNsoccernet prediction: Heavy favourites, but may just fall short once again. Beaten finalists.

ANGOLA

Coach: Lito Vidigal
Captain: Kali
Nickname: Palancas Negras (The Sable Antelopes)
Nations Cup record: Quarter-finals 2008, 2010; qualified six times

Defeats to Uganda and Kenya in two of their first three qualifiers looked to have terminally hampered Angola's chances of qualifying for the finals, but they finished the campaign with three successive wins and Uganda's failure to beat their neighbours Kenya in the final game allowed the Palancas Negras to swoop in and claim a place in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.

As hosts last time out, Angola reached the quarter-finals for a second successive time before a narrow defeat to Ghana, and were also involved in one of the most captivating games in the competition's history when they threw away a four-goal lead against Mali with ten minutes remaining. This time around, the Palancas Negras have a tricky group and will need veteran striker Flavio and former Manchester United forward Manucho - now only the second most famous face in Angolan football after Rivaldo - to be in form and scoring if they want to make an impression.

One to watch: Djalma. "I am up to the challenge," was Djalma's prophecy when he signed for FC Porto last summer and though he endured a slow bedding in period, he is now beginning to flourish with the reigning Portuguese champions, winning a regular starting place in recent weeks. Most effective cutting inside from the left wing onto his favoured right foot, his tricky feet help him regularly draw free-kicks from opposing defenders.

Trivia: Angola's home ground is called the Estádio 11 de Novembro (November 11 Stadium) after the date on which the country gained independence from Portugal in 1975.

ESPNsoccernet prediction: In a straight shootout with Sudan for second place in the group, Angola will be narrowly edged out.

BURKINA FASO

Coach: Paulo Duarte
Captain: Mahamoudou Kere
Nickname: Les Etalons (The Stallions)
Nations Cup record: Fourth place 1998; Qualified eight times (once as Upper Volta - 1978)

Having overseen Burkina Faso's 2010 African Nations Cup campaign, Paulo Duarte is one of three coaches to be guiding the same nation this time around (though is the only one to have been with his side for the entire intervening two years). The Portuguese boss - who once played under Jose Mourinho at Beira Mar - can call on a very capable core of French-based players, including Lyon defender Bakary Kone and midfielders Charles Kabore, Jonathan Pitroipa and Alain Traore, while up front is all-time leading scorer Moumouni Dagano.

Burkina Faso gave a good account of themselves at the 2010 tournament in a real group of death - drawing 0-0 with Ivory Coast and narrowly losing 1-0 to Ghana - and with the Elephants among the opposition again this time around, Duarte's side will believe they have nothing to fear. Qualifying was easy for the Stallions, who remained unbeaten with three wins and a draw against admittedly limited opposition in Gambia and Namibia.

One to watch: Alain Traore. One of the few bright sparks in a difficult season for Auxerre, Traore began the campaign with a five goals in four games - a spectacular return for a midfielder - and four qualifying strikes demonstrated his importance to Burkina Faso. He claimed back in October that Man Utd boss Sir Alex Ferguson admired him during a trial a few years ago, saying: "I remember he [Ferguson] was impressed with my left foot. He said: 'Alain, it's better to have one great foot than two average feet; just look at Ryan Giggs'. It was a great moment."

Trivia: Burkina Faso hold the unwanted record of having the joint-worst total goal difference in African Nations Cup history. With 46 goals conceded in 23 games at the finals, and just 20 scored, the -26 goal difference puts them level with Ethiopia.

ESPNsoccernet prediction: Having been pretty untested in qualifying, a lack of competitive games could be their undoing here. Group-stage exit.

SUDAN

Coach: Mohamed Abdalla
Captain: Haitham Mustafa
Nickname: Desert Hawks
Nations Cuprecord: Winners 1970; qualified eight times

Sudan may be the biggest nation competing at the finals in terms of their land mass, but it has been a long time since they competed among the continent's footballing heavyweights. This is only the Desert Hawks' second appearance at the final in 36 years, having once been one of Africa's pre-eminent teams, with more than two decades of civil war (ending in 2005) forcing football to take a back seat.

Now, Sudan are very much a side in the ascendancy. Qualification was achieved as one of the best two runners-up after they ran more established powers Ghana close; a Black Stars victory in Sudan in the final game the only difference between the two teams in their group. Success has been built on an excellent defence that conceded just three goals in qualifying and a real sense of unity has been created in the only squad at the finals consisting entirely of domestic-based players - 19 of whom come from Sudan's top clubs Al Hilal and Al Merreikh.

One to watch: Haitham Mustafa The face of Sudanese football for more than a decade, 34-year-old midfielder Mustafa pulls the strings as captain of both club side Al-Hilal and the national team. He skippered the side at their last Nations Cup appearance in 2008 and his long throw-ins will be a major weapon for the Desert Hawks at the finals.

Trivia: Sudan hosted the first ever African Nations Cup in 1957, but only managed to come third place out of three teams (with South Africa having been expelled) as Egypt beat Ethiopia in the final.

ESPNsoccernet prediction: With an encouraging qualifying campaign behind them, this ambitious Sudan side could surprise a few people and reach the semi-finals.

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