African Nations Cup 2008
When the 26th edition of the African Nations Cup begins on January 20 reigning champions Egypt will face stiff competition as they seek to retain their title, not least from host nation Ghana but also from the likes of Nigeria and this year's favourites and the runners-up at the previous tournament, the Ivory Coast.
Having sprung a few surprises in qualifying, the likes of Benin, Namibia and Guinea will also be in action and hoping to prove that they're not just there to make up the numbers; while some of the nations' lesser-known players will be using the competition as a shop window for their big move.
With that in mind, below is a team-by-team guide for the tournament, which culminates in the final in Accra on February 10.
All eyes will be on tournament hosts Ghana after they shot to prominence by beating the Czech Republic at the 2006 World Cup. Boasting the likes of Chelsea's Michael Essien and West Ham defender John Paintsil, Ghana should be favourites for the whole competition. Although, strangely, coach Claude LeRoy has opted to use up one of his squad places on injured captain Stephen Appiah who will 'act as an inspiration' to the rest of the team.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Sulley Muntari. The Portsmouth midfielder has impressed in the Premier League after a great World Cup campaign with the Black Stars. Expect some crunching tackles and powerful long-distance shots. NAMIBIA
Drawn in one of the toughest groups, few expect Namibia to stand any chance of qualifying. Only their second Nations Cup appearance, the Brave Warriors are certainly underdogs and have also had to deal with the tragic death of former coach Ben Bamfuchile from a mystery illness. They scored a dramatic last-minute win away in Ethiopia to top their qualifying group and now Dutchman Aries Schans has the unenviable job of leading the cup campaign, made harder by the absence of any quality players.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Pineas Jacob. The Ramblers striker is top of the goalscoring charts in the Namibian league, but may struggle to assert himself physically against more experienced defenders. GUINEA
French coach Robert Nouzaret has left out Sambegou Bangoura, Ibrahima Yattara and former Arsenal striker Kaba Diawara from his squad. Interestingly back-up goalkeeper Naby Diarso is the only player to come from a club within the west African country, but Nouzaret is adament that Guinea are not just there to make up the numbers. Having reached the quarter-finals two years ago, they'd do well to progress again this year.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Pascal Feindouno. The captain scored nine goals for St Etienne in Ligue 1 last season and has started this year's campaign well. He has attracted the attention of Liverpool in the past. MOROCCO
With the players at their disposal, Morocco should be favourites to qualify from Group A, but they have a poor record in the Cup in recent years (barring a win in 1976 and second place in 2004). The Atlas Lions have surprisingly recalled veteran goalkeeper Khalid Fouhami, despite a two-year exile, and have also dropped the Spanish-based Mohamed Yaacoubi and former Ajax striker Nourdin Boukhari. Walking through qualifying, coach Henri Michel has high expectations of his under-achieving side.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Youssef Hadji. Rejoining the club where he began his career, Hadji has helped AS Nancy to second in Ligue 1 with four goals and will be looking to have a similar impact in Ghana.
Winners of the African Nations Cup in 1980 and 1994, Nigeria are among the favourites again as their team is made up of established and well-known names. Nigeria's German coach Berti Vogts is able to call on the Premier League likes of John Obi Mikel, Obafemi Martins, Nwankwo Kanu and Joseph Yobo to stabilise his side and the Super Eagles will be a force in the competition if they can put their off-field problems behind them.
PLAYER TO WATCH: John Utaka. The 25-year-old Portsmouth striker has pace to burn and is in decent form as well. Playing alongside Yakubu or Kanu could get the best out of him after impressing in the 2006 competition. BENIN
New Benin coach Reinhard Fabisch has a lot of work to do if his side are to qualify from this tough group. Having beaten Togo 4-1 to get into the competition, the minnows also drew with Mali in qualification which suggests that they have the potential to cause an upset, but have no big name players. In fact, they had to call 37 year-old, Swiss-born defender Alain Gaspoz, out of retirement for defensive cover and are favourites to go out.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Romuald Boco. Benin's inspirational midfielder and skipper, known as the 'King of Benin', currently plays for Accrington Stanley and is still just 22-years-old. MALI
The Mali squad may be dominated by Frederic Kanoute, Seydou Keita and Mahamadou Diarra, who all play in Spain, but midfielder Momo Sissoko is also worth a mention despite not being in the best form for Liverpool. Looking to reach their first final since 1972, Mali boast an exciting crop of players and will push Nigeria and the Ivory Coast all the way for qualification under the leadership of coach Jean Francois Jodar.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Seydou Keita. The Sevilla midfielder has been in impressive form in La Liga and has been an ever-present for the Andalusians this year. IVORY COAST
The Elephants have one of the strongest squads in the competition but have been hit by tragedy as German coach Ulrich Stielike's son fell into a coma and Frenchman Gerard Gili was forced to take over with only two weeks to spare. Boasting a line-up which includes Didier Drogba, Kolo Toure, Didier Zokora and Aruna Dindane, they are one of the favourites after losing in the final in 2006, although they may have to cope without Drogba if his knee injury resurfaces.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Bakari Kone. At only 5'4'', Kone is easily missed but has made a reputation for himself as a tough midfielder with elusive dribbling skill. The Nice man should play behind Drogba and Dindane after netting eight goals in 16 starts for the French club this season.
With a decent record in the Nations Cup, having won it twice since 1998, the defending Champions should qualify easily from this group, despite being forced to play without star striker Mido. Spurs flop Hossam Ghaly will also miss the tournament as he looks to seal a move to Derby, and coach Hassan Shehata is also without veteran midfielder Mohamed Barakat. They should progress, but will struggle to retain their title.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Amr Zaki. Without Mido, the onus will be on the Al Zamalek striker to net Egypt's goals. Zaki scored two in their warm-up match against Namibia; he has good strength, energy and technical ability and is still just 24. SUDAN
Competing in the Nations Cup for the first time in three decades, Sudan will be looking to cause an upset in this group. Coach Mohamed Abdallah claims that the 'experience' will be vital for their development and has filled his squad with home-based players. Al Hilal and Al Merrikh are the local clubs which make up the whole side, and there's been a re-call for 37-year-old striker Faisal Agab, who played an integral role in the team's qualification by netting five goals.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Faisal Agab. Initially dropped, the Al Merrikh striker will bear the burden of goalscoring for the Sudanese. ZAMBIA
Although not known as one of the continent's great footballing powers, Zambia's nearly-men have qualified for eight out of the last nine tournaments, and have been runners-up twice (1974, 1994). Coach Patrick Phiri has high hopes of his players and so do the Zambian fans. Midfielder Andrew Sinkala is out with a chest infection, while they have dropped unfit striker Collins Mbesuma and veteran defender Elijah Tana.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Chris Katongo. Brother Felix scored two their warm-up game in Tunis, but the Brøndby striker will provide much of the Chipolopolo's attacking dynamism. CAMEROON
New coach Otto Pfister wants as much time as possible to prepare his side and has been understandably angered by Barcelona's refusal to let go of star striker Samuel Eto'o early. He has plenty of other European based players though, including Jean Makoun, Geremi, Idriss Carlos Kameni and Andre Bikey. The Indomitable Lions have a strong squad and a good record in the tournament, although may rely too much on the injury-prone Eto'o for inspiration.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Carlos Idriss Kameni. With all eyes on Samuel Eto'o, the young goalkeeper, who is highly rated in Europe having won the African Goalkeeper of the Year award in 2006/07, really has a chance to impress between the sticks.
Scarred by injuries, the Tunisians have not impressed in warm-ups and have to do without key duo, striker Ali Zitouni and defender David Jemmali, who have been ruled out. Coach Roger Lemerre was booed after defeat to Zambia, and will look towards Birmingham pair Mehdi Nafti and Radhi Jaidi to boost his side for the competition. Tunisian Champions Étoile du Sahel are well represented, although Lemerre will have to ring the changes if they are to avoid an upset.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Yassine Chikhaoui. Currently lighting up the Swiss league with a run of goalscoring form for FC Zurich, the young forward looks a real prospect and is reportedly being tracked by Dutch giants Ajax. ANGOLA
With their first World Cup appearance in 2006 now behind them, Angola are expected to struggle in this group, despite being well-organised and hard-working. Under Luís Oliveira Gonçalves, the most successful coach in their history, the side will look to midfielder Figueiredo for attacking impetus after their inspirational captain Akwa retired from international football after the World Cup. They'll want to make an impression as the 2010 African Nations Cup will be held in Angola.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Manucho. If only because he's due to sign for Manchester United in January. Fergie isn't often wrong about players and the pacey striker has clearly caught the Scot's eye. SOUTH AFRICA
With a young squad under the guidance of former Brazil coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, the South Africans will be looking to the experience of Aaron Mokoena and Steven Pienaar (their only recognised players) for inspiration. No Bennie McCarthy, which will be a big miss, but in Djurgårdens' Lance Davids, Parreira has an exciting winger who has been attracting plenty of interest. The coach's experience from 40-years of management will be invaluable.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Steven Pienaar. The Everton winger has already made headlines with his club delaying his departure to Ghana, but is the shining light of South African soccer. SENEGAL
Senegal have recalled West Ham United striker Henri Camara, while Bolton's El Hadji Diouf appears to have come out of international retirement in order to play in the Nations Cup. The squad have a lot of potential and their recent record in the competition is good, despite never having lifted the trophy. They'll be looking to a large contingent of French and English based players, such as Habib Beye, Souleymane Diawara, Pape Bouba Diop and the recalled Ibrahima Sonko to impress, but don't have enough to go all the way.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Mamadou Niang. Ten goals in 17 starts for Marseille has seen the big frontman keep Djibril Cisse out of the side. He'll look to use his power and strength to wreck some solid defences.