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It would not be an exaggeration to say that the 2012 African Cup of Nations was one of the most emotionally-charged tournaments in living memory, with Zambia dedicating their shock win to the members of their squad killed in a plane crash 19 years earlier. And, whilst we might not get to see raw erotica of Herve Renard carrying an injured Joseph Musonda to celebrate with his team, South Africa 2013 will still provide plenty of interest for the next three weeks. 32 live games, for starters:
Group A - (Angola, Cape Verde, Morocco, South Africa)
Group A is comfortably the weakest of the four groups, with the Cape Verde Islands the highest FIFA-ranked nation (69) of the four teams. They are taking part in the tournament for the first time after beating Cameroon in a qualification play-off. Hosts South Africa are the uncertainty, having won the tournament last time they hosted in 1996, but without a competitive victory since March 2011.
Morocco will have aspirations of winning the group and can be considered dark horses for the competition, although they are on a likely path to face Ivory Coast in the semi-finals. If players such as Younes Belhanda, Oussama Assaidi and Mounir El Hamdaoui can perform to full potential, maximum points could be possible before the knockout stages.
For Angola, much depends on the form of Manucho, who didn't exactly set the Premier League alight during his time at Manchester United and Hull City. His scoring record for both Real Vallodolid and Angola has been impressive, but it would seem apparent that his best may well not be quite enough.
Player to watch - Abdelaziz Barrada
Barrada left Paris St Germain at 21 to move to Getafe in 2010, where impressive performances for their B team have led to consistent La Liga selection. There were rumours of an offer from Manchester City for the central midfielder, and the 23-year-old will seemingly act as the creative outlet within the Moroccan midfield.
Group B - (Congo DR, Ghana, Mali, Niger)
One suspects that the battle for Group B may well be less than competitive, with Ghana having a squad far superior to that of their rivals. The non-selection of Michael Essien, Sulley Muntari and Andre Ayew has caused more than raised eyebrows at home, but Asamoah Gyan will be expected to succeed in leading the line.
Their closest rival will surely be Mali, who will look to West Ham forward Modibo Maiga to supply the goals alongside Bordeaux's Cheick Diabate, who scored twice against Newcastle in the Europa League last month. Niger will need captain and striker Moussa Maazou to perform brilliantly if they are going to trouble the knockout stages, but the former CSKA Moscow striker has struggled for goals in Tunisia recently, which doesn't instantly bode well.
As for Congo DR, their players have refused to train for two days after a sit-in dispute over bonus payments, whilst Coach Claude Le Roy has threatened to quit over the incident. Such matters are not strictly considered to be favourable omens.
Player to watch - Albert Adomah
Ghana's young winger may well still be plying his trade in the Championship for Bristol City, but it has been a rapid rise from Harrow Borough to the AFCON in four-and-a-half years, and he was playing for Barnet in 2010. There has been much interest from Premier League clubs, and Adomah will be hoping to make an impact on his largest stage to date.
Group C - (Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Zambia)
Nigeria and Zambia will be expected to compete for top spot in a group that offers little cheer to the other two sides. Nigeria have the recognisable names in John-Obi Mikel, Victor Moses and Joseph Yobo, but Zambia are defending the trophy they won in genuinely fairy tale circumstances twelve months ago, and in Emmanuel Mayuka have the Golden Boot winner from 2012.
Without dismissing Burkina Faso and Ethiopia, their squads are simply not at the level of the two leading lights, although coach Paul Put has created a squad for the former which celebrates the exuberance of youth; the all-greens have only two players over 30 in a 23-man squad. Ethiopia are the tournament outsiders.
Player to watch - Emmanuel Mayuka
The Zambian striker has started just one game since moving to Southampton this summer, but with new management instilled at St Mary's Mayuka suddenly has a chance to impress, and now the perfect stage on which to do so.
Group D - (Algeria, Ivory Coast, Togo, Tunisia)
Whilst Ivory Coast will be hoping to erase their penalty woe of twelve months ago, this is not a straightforward group for them to overcome. Three sides in the group have won the Africa Cup of Nations on a single occasion, and odd-ones-out Togo will be boosted by the participation of Emmanuel Adebayor, despite Tottenham's frustrations. It is difficult to know exactly what to expect from North Africans Algeria and Tunisia, and both sides are available at similar prices to snatch second place.
However, the Ivorians are the story. This is virtually an identical squad to the one that managed to avoid conceding a goal in the entire tournament in 2012 (and yet still fail to end as victors) and Senegal were comfortably defeated in a tricky playoff match. Whilst you suspect that Didier Drogba demand to end on a high could almost give sufficient impetus, that would unfairly understate the quality of team-mates Yaya Toure, Lacina Traore and Cheick Tiote. This will certainly be the most 'familiar' of the sixteen teams.
Player to watch - Yaya Toure
Arguably the most complete footballer in the world, and possibly the only blot on Pep Guardiola's copybook at the Camp Nou. His strength, skill, passing, tackling and stamina are on a par with Europe's best, and with the protection of Tiote and/or Zokora, Yaya will have a licence to maraud. When he does so, there aren't many finer sights in football.
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