Nickname: Les Fennecs (The Desert Foxes)
Federation: FAF (Federation Algerienne de Football)
FIFA Ranking: 3 (December 2016)
The Coach: GEORGES LEEKENS (BEL)
Renowned for always starting well but a perennial bottler, Georges Leekens will hope everything comes together and right for him in Gabon. The 67-year old Belgian coach is back for a second stint in charge of the Desert Foxes and will hope its better than his second spell in charge of his own country’s national team. Regarded as an astute tactician, Leekens is known to place emphasis on defensive organization and attacking discipline.
His 2015 campaign with group rivals Tunisia ended in the Quarter Finals and he would be hoping for better luck now. He has not started well since assuming office. It isn’t the first time Leekens has been handed a squad full of talent, it is however his use of the team that matters. The Foxes are in danger of not qualifying for Russia 2018 and He must hope that he can turn the fortunes around before its too late.
Star Man: Newly crowned African Player, RIYADH MAHREZ holds the aces for the Foxes and will be the man they look up to. He currently isn’t enjoying the best time of his career but the man who emerged from the obscurity of Quimper to a seventh place Ballon d’Or finish is not known to hide from responsibility. In a team with many gifted players as he, the fact that he is the go-to man says something.
He can win games on his own, change the whole dynamic. His trademark dangling legs must return, He has had an unforgettable year but 2017 is the year he has to really prove he has arrived and not a fluke, He must start with leading the Foxes charge for a first African title since 1990 and with the supporting cast he possesses, who knows?
Most Caps: Lakhdar Belloumi (100)
Top Scorer: Abdelhafid Tasfout (34)
Previous appearances: 16 (1968, 1980, 1982, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2010, 2013, 2015)
Best record: Champions 1990
My Prediction: Bookies favourite to win the tournament; Algeria’s current golden generation of players make winning an AFCON a necessity. It will make no sense if they fail to achieve as a collective group. Posterity will fail to judge the likes of Islam Slimani, Yacine Brahimi, Riyad Mahrez amongst others should they not be smiling in Librevelle. They look like worthy WINNERS on paper.
Nickname: The Lions of Teranga
Federation: (FSF) Federation Senegalaise de Football
FIFA Ranking: 32(December 2016)
The Coach: ALIOU CISSE (SEN)
The 40-year old former captain took up the reins in 2015 and as being impressive since. His replacement of Amara Traore was meant to be a stop-gap measure. But it has proven to be a blessing in disguise. The team have become near invincible under his stewardship and are bringing back memories of the 2002 World Cup squad which he skippered. He has instilled the sense of belief and team spirit missing in years before. His role is key as he aims to be the first Senegalese coach to lift the trophy.
Star Man: It’s been a year to remember for SADIO MANE, the 24-year old Liverpool forward has grown from been the nearly man at Southampton to central figure of Gegenpressing at Liverpool. He has consistently drawn praise from Jurgen Klopp and his teammates. In fact, if Senegal are to succeed in Gabon, they need Mane despite possessing a lot of attacking talent in their squad.
He has that kind of presence. He is said to be infectious with his attitude and his work rate illustrates this. For a man who covers every blade of grass, he is the key to the door for Senegal and will be the go-to man when hostilities begin. It is his opportunity to let everyone know he is indeed the best in Africa with many tipping him to be the heir to Mahrez’s crown. Just ask a Liverpool fan, He will give you the full details.
Most Caps: Henri Camara (99)
Top Scorer: Henri Camara (29)
Previous appearances: 12 (1965, 1968, 1986, 1990, 1992, 1994, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2012, 2015)
Best record: Runner up(1st ), 2002
The Lions of Teranga were the only team to finish the Qualification campaign with a perfect record winning all six games netting the most goals and conceding the least. It’s a pointer to the kind of team they have become under Aliou Cisse who has turned them to almost indestructible.
They have gone from failing to qualify for the last three world cups to being favourites to qualify for the next one in Russia from their group. However, this new generation will only cement their place in history with success at the AFCON, a tournament they have been perennial underachievers in. It is time, and only hoisting the trophy will do them justice.
My Prediction: The potential in the team is undoubtedly great, but they find themselves in a difficult group. They should edge Tunisia for the other qualification spot, but it only means a meeting with the hosts. The QUARTER FINALS will be a safe bet
Nickname: The Carthage Eagles
Federation: FTF (Federation Tunisienne de Football)
FIFA Ranking: 35 (December 2016)
The Coach: HENRYK KASPERCZAK(POL)
A FIFA World Cup bronze medallist with Poland, achieving third place in 1974, as well as a silver medal at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Canada.Henryk Kasperczak is not short of accolades in Africa too and as enjoyed most success in the mundial, securing second place with Tunisia in 1996, third with Côte d’Ivoire (1994) and fourth with Mali (2002).
Things have changed recently, however with his sides unable to progress beyond the Group stages. Times have changed and maybe the wily 70-year old needs to change too with his emphasis on defence mirroring that of Otto Rehaghael in a world where attack rules defence
Star Man: It’s rare to have a 26-year old Qatari club (SC Lekhwiya) midfielder as your star man especially when you have players like Wahbi Khazri and Ahmed Akaichi, but YOUSSEF MSAKNI is the man Tunisia go to when they are in trouble. He is just as important to the team as the host is to the parasite.
For a man who has netted perhaps the most magical goal of the AFCON in the 2000s, Msakni has a lot to live up to. His flair and skill are unrivalled and while he hasn’t hit the same heights since his breakout year in 2012, he must reproduce the kind of form that made him the darling of Arab and European clubs then.
Most Caps: Radhi Jaidi (105)
Top Scorer: Issam Jemaa (36)
Previous appearances: 17 (1962, 1963, 1965, 1978, 1982, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015)
Best record: Champions 2004
The Eagles of Carthage are hoping to secure a second title 13years after the first. Their adaptability to the current demands of African football have being quite reflective of their own evolution from flair to physique. It has come with mixed results, one that has seen them fail to go beyond the Quarter Finals since that title triumph in Rades.
Ranked as one of Africa’s best teams, the Tunisians new pragmatic approach is one that has served so well in Qualifying but not at the main event. If they would go far in Gabon, they would need the attacking brilliance to complement defensive strength as they learnt in the qualifiers. It is one thing to stop goals, it is another to score them.
My Prediction: Since winning in 2004, the Eagles have endured mixed tournaments and I tip that to continue in Gabon. The three-way battle for second place is one they will finish second best in, as they must avoid slip ups, ones I don’t think they will avoid. GROUP STAGE exit
Nickname: The Brave Warriors
Federation: ZIFA (Zimbabwe Football Association)
FIFA Ranking: 102 (December 2016)
The Coach: CALLISTO PASUWA (ZIM)
The pride of Zimbabwean football, Kallisto as he is often referred to in local media is the 47-year old man who has achieved results despite the tough circumstances Zimbabwean football fins itself, known for his midfield artistry and dribbling skills, Pasuwa has brought his knowledge of the game and turned in exceptional results, Despite a series of poor training facilities and planning on the part of ZIFA, He has produced very impressive results leading the Warriors to qualification with a game to spare.
Star Man: KNOWLEDGE “THE SMILING ASSASSIN” MUSONA, is the warrior that would have to be at his best if Zimbabwe are to make anything of their rare AFCON appearance. The KV Oostende Striker netted three times in qualifying all crucial strikes as they opened the floodgates to wins.
Many might make cases for Billiat, Nakamba, Katsande and even Ruskie. But the Knowledge of Musona in front of goal is the key. Setting out to play on the counter, Zimbabwe need to bury the few opportunities that come their way if they are to smile in Gabon, to do that… They will need to supply the assassin so he can smile when the net shakes.
Most Caps: John Phiri*
Top Scorer: Peter Ndlovu (38) *
Previous appearances: 2 (2004, 2006)
Best record: Group Stage (2004, 2006)
A Third AFCON appearance eleven years after their second has brought joy to the people of Zimbabwe again. The only Southern African nation in this year’s AFCON, they might be flying COSAFA’s flag, but they face a daunting task to advance beyond the group stages. Their miraculous qualification has come in dire circumstances with the team having travelled by bus for a qualifier. There may be massive potential, but it can only be achieved if the team is allowed to focus on football only and not the matters of the state.
My Prediction: The Bravery of the Brave Warriors will be without use if they can’t show it on the pitch. A valiant show from the group’s perceived whipping boys. A GROUP STAGE exit is a forgone conclusion
Author: Rotimi “Papi the Great” Daramola
Rotimi Daramola aka Papi the Great is the owner of ForTheGoal.
A freelance sports writer who focuses on football, Rotimi is also a freelance writer, a copywriter and a football analyst who regularly appears on radio and television to talk football. You can follow him on twitter @papi_thegreat to keep up with his writings, engage him and also find out about how you can secure his writing services.