Ghana will be looking to fulfill great expectations and finally return the title to Accra for the first time since 1982. With a good blend of youth and experience, this tournament offers them their best chance in a very long time.
The Ivorians also have a right to fancy their title chances, possessing plenty of the firepower needed to take them into the last four.
And whilst Morocco and Tunisia also make sound cases for targeting at least the semi-finals, Senegal appear the strongest outside bet for the title.
Six games lie ahead, for a team to put it all together and capture the spoils of victory, which the eventual winner will have to earn the hard way.
But it is hoped that good officiating, often a huge challenge at Nations Cups, well-manicured pitches – usually in short supply – and above all, a sense of sportsmanship, amongst the competing players and teams, will ensure the continent’s football festival begins and ends on a fitting note. Africa Oye!
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Papiss Demba Cisse – Senegal
The 26-year-old striker finished last season as the second-highest scorer in the German Bundesliga, with 22 goals for Freiburg.
That accounted for over half of the club’s goals last season, which was supposed to have facilitated his move to one of Europe’s bigger clubs, which Freiburg refused to sanction.
Cisse, who scored eight goals in his first 14 league outings this season, is expected to play a key role at his first Nations Cup finals.
Gervinho – Côte D’Ivoire
Winning the French Championship with Lille last season, the 24-year-old Ivorian joined Arsene Wenger’s cosmopolitan Arsenal side last summer.
Gervais Yao Kouassi (the Brazilian name is his football moniker), is still trying to settle into the English Premiership side, scoring just two goals in his first nine league starts.
Former Olympic team skipper, with experience at the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa and playing in just his second Nations Cup finals for the Elephants, Gervinho’s creativity in midfield and attack will be crucial.
Oussama Darragui – Tunisia
Captaining club side Esperance Tunis to a League and Cup double last season, in an attacking midfield role, the 24-year-old is one Maghreb star firmly on the shopping list of interested European clubs.
Coming to his second Nations Cup finals, after appearing at Angola 2010, he seems to be at the peak of his powers.
Adam Larsen Kwarasey – Ghana
Just six months old in the Black Stars, the 24-year-old has the potential to become one of the continent’s top goalkeepers.
His sterling performance in a friendly against Brazil showcased his cat-like reflexes and great sense of anticipation.
Holding Ghanaian, Norwegian and Danish nationality, Kwarasey helped Stromgodset to the Norwegian Cup in 2010.
Emmanuel Mayuka – Zambia
Recorded as the youngest player at the 2008 finals, the 21-year-old marksman comes to his third Nations Cup with a good deal of international experience.
Featuring in the Swiss league for Young Boys of Berne, the striker, who scored three goals in the qualifiers, will certainly have a role in Zambia’s quest to improve upon their quarter-final placing at Angola 2010.
Moussa Maazou – Niger
Possessing plenty of physical presence, the Niamey-born striker delivered vital qualifying goals against Egypt and South Africa, which enabled the Menas to defy the odds and qualify for their very first finals.
Returning to Belgium – where he first played for Lokeren – Maazou, 23, now features for Zuite Waregem. Previously with French club Monaco, the well-travelled hitman has also played for CSKA Moscow in Russia and French side Bordeaux.
The Menas will have no chance of advancing to the knockout stages should he fail to deliver.