Ivory Coast – Fifa ranking: 28 – ACN best: Winners 1992
The Ivorians are desirous of a silverware and they just might get it this time around, the last and only time they won the trophy was in Senegal 1992 despite boasting some of the finest African players of the modern era, the Elephants have significantly underachieved in both the World Cup and the AFCON. Looking at this group, they have as good a chance as ever. They have some of the greatest firepower available on the continent in the likes of Wilfried Bony, Gervinho, Salomon Kalou and Yaya Toure, who was recently named African Footballer of the Year for 2014. The quality names in the squad is a plus for new coach Hervé Renard but he’s got some defensive troubles to worry about as they get set for their first game. The Elephants have conceded the most goals out of any side that has qualified for the tournament and they will want to keep in tight.
Mali – Fifa ranking: 50 – ACN best: Runnersup 1972
Mali have two consecutive Africa Cup of Nations third-place finishes to their names. Henryk Kasperczak’s side is a physical one who don’t concede a lot of goals and look to score via set-pieces. Seydou Keita may well still be turning it on for the Eagles but aside from the veteran skipper there are few men in the Mali squad who can do well in this tourney, Metz striker Modibo Maiga will be key.
Cameroon – Fifa ranking: 42 – ACN best: Winners 1984, ’88, 2000, 2002
Coach Volker Finke should be bestowed vast amounts of credit for the way he has restructured his Cameroon side. After a shambolic display in Brazil, the German caretaker has put his faith in youth, turning to the likes of Clinton N’Jie and Vincent Aboubakar in attack. The move has proved intelligent as Cameroon retained their defensive rigidity, but now also boast a dynamic attack. Cameroon may not be stocked with the wealth of talent they enjoyed in the 1980s and 90s but Volker Finke will still be confident of taking the Indomitable Lions into the knockout phase at the very least. Stephane Mbia dons the armband for his country these days while they will look to strikers Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Vincent Aboubakar for goals.
Guinea – Fifa ranking: 39 – ACN best: Runnersup 1976
Their qualification story is a very brave and praiseworthy one, Guinea deserve a lot of respect for the mental resilience they showed during qualifiers. The country was banned from hosting matches in their own country due to the Ebola outbreak, but nevertheless earned their qualification after holding off Togo and Uganda. The striking trio of Seydouba Soumah, Idrissa Sylla, and Ibrahima Traore are particularly potent.
They are clear outsiders no doubt but they have some exciting players who can effectively cause an upset. Ismael Bangoura didn’t make the final 23 squad, they will bank on the exoperience of Kamil Zayatte and coach Michel Dussuyer has also picked more teenagers for this tourney.
20 January 2015 – Ivory Coast v Guinea (Malabo) | Mali v Cameroon (Malabo)
24 January 2015 – Ivory Coast v Mali (Malabo) | Cameroon v Guinea (Malabo)
28 January 2015 – Cameroon v Ivory Coast (Malabo) | Guinea v Mali (Mongomo)
HalftimeNG Prediction: Cameroon and Ivory Coast