We continue taking a look at the countries participating in the AFCON 2017. If you missed the previous posts, you can catch up here
Nickname: The Black Stars
Federation: (GFA) Ghana Football Association
FIFA Ranking: 53 (December 2016)
The Coach: AVRAM GRANT (ISR)
The 61-year old arrived in 2014 with the mandate to win Ghana the nations Cup and he has gone about it doing his job. The Israeli former Chelsea and Pompey boss will hope the work they started in 2014 will have reached a trophy-deserving stage by now. It is the key to him staying in the job.
Fans have begun to doubt his ability with the inconsistent form the team has shown in World Cup Qualifying and only a win in Gabon will do. It is the essence of his appointment and he needs to show it. Too many times have Ghana been stopped from playing their game and he must find a solution fast.
Star Man: ASAMOAH GYAN holds every Ghanaian record and the inspirational captain has the biggest role to play once again. Babyjet is now 31, an established stalwart and the leader of the team. The no3 will once again have to pull the rabbit out of the hat like he has done in tournaments previously.
It is the one trophy Ghana owes him. He has given his all to the shirt and while it might not be his last tourney. He won’t want to end up like Nwankwo Kanu & Jay Jay Okocha as one of African greats who never hoisted the coveted trophy.
Most Caps: Asamoah Gyan (97)
Top Scorer: Asamoah Gyan (48)
Previous appearances: 20 (1963, 1965, 1968, 1970, 1978, 1980, 1982, 1984, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015)
Best record: Champion (4times) 1963, 1965, 1978, 1982
The Black Stars will be hoping to end an extended period of heartbreaks when they begin their campaign in Port Gentil on January 17. They have reached the semi-finals of every event since hosting in 2008. It is not a surprise for a nation brimming with talent. A search for the elusive fifth title is the primary aim again and their consistency at trying could as well be rewarded.
Enough is enough for the black stars and with the golden generation reaching the peak of their powers, now is the time to end the wait. The talent is immense with Jonathan Mensah, John Boye, Baba Rahman, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Mubarak Wakaso, Asamoah Gyan, Christian Atsu, the Ayews and Thomas Partey all involved .
The pressure is massive and they are one of three tournament favourites to hoist the trophy aloft on February 5. This time they need mother luck more than ever.
My Prediction: Experts at reaching the semi-final, it is their own default group stage and nothing less will be accepted. A SEMI-FINAL place is a surety, bottling it when it matters, another.
Nickname: The Pharaohs
Federation: (EFA) Egypt Football Association
FIFA Ranking: 36 (December 2016)
The Coach: HECTOR CUPER (ARG)
The 61-year old Argentine former Valencia coach is the man tasked with returning the Pharaohs past glory. He is the first non-Egyptian to lead them to a Nations Cup tournament and they would be hoping he does it in style. It speaks volumes of the man who at his peak managed Valencia and Inter Milan.
He has restructured the way the pharaohs play and has turned them from cowards to brave and aggressive stalwarts. He has kept some of the old guard with his decision to place faith in the legendary Essam El Hadary playing a key role with the wily old goalie leading from the pitch, Hector leads from the bench.
Star Man: Rarely does an Egyptian shine abroad like a million stars. It was the reason Mohammed Abou Trika never cemented his place amongst the immortals. MOHAMMED SALAH has taken a different path, the 24-year old has become a beacon for AS Roma and forged a deadly partnership with Edin Dzeko.
It is with Egypt that he however plays his biggest role, he is the life-force of the team and you won’t be wrong if you believe that the only thing you need to do to shut down the Egyptian supply line is to stop Mohammed Salah. His speed and goals have become a theme and a complete performance from the Pharaohs will be incomplete without a mention of his name. the Gabonese had better beware, he could be the kryptonite to their Superman
Most Caps: Ahmed Hassan (184)
Top Scorer: Hossam Hassan (68)
Previous appearances: 21 (1957, 1959, 1962, 1963, 1970, 1974, 1976, 1980, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010)
Best record: Champion (7times) 1957, 1959, 1986, 1998, 2006, 2008, 2010
The Pharaohs are back! Just like the biblical years of plenty and famine, the Egyptians have replicated it on the football pitch, winning a hattrick of titles before missing a hattrick of editions. Their qualification from a group that had Nigeria’s Super Eagles was a huge achievement and the upward curve they are on was asserted with their win over Ghana in World Cup qualifying.
They are playing with confidence and the decision to build again as only proved to be a masterstroke. The team is built on the bedrock that is the league which is back functioning after years of frustrating tragedies. The project isn’t complete yet, but it is almost in its safe haven
My Prediction: The return will definitely be with a bang, but just like Cameroon and Senegal discovered, a lot has changed since they left. A good start is the key, and if they can win their battle with Mali, the QUARTER FINALS won’t be a bad achievement.
Nickname: The Eagles
Federation: (MFF) Mali Football Federation
FIFA Ranking: 60 (December 2016)
The Coach: ALAIN GIRESSE (FRA)
A retired French international footballer who played as a midfielder and named French footballer of the year in 1982, 1983 and 1987, Alain Giresse is not new to the beauty of football, He was a member of the Euro 84 winning team, and alongside Michel Platini, Luis Fernández and Jean Tigana formed the legendary “Carré Magique” (Magic Square) in midfield.
His coaching career has rather been less glamorous but it isn’t short of its high points which include leading Mali to third place at the 2012 edition. It is the reason he has been called back, and one which makes the administrators believe he is the one to lead them to glory with his own team’s triangle of Sambou Yatabare, Bakary Sako and Samba Sow.
Star Man: The retirement of Frederic Kanoute was not taken lightly by Malians, however the one which has shook them the most is that of Seydou Keita. The all-time top scorer featured at all levels for les Aiglons and as now left big boots to fill, One BAKARY SAKO would be aiming to justify his filling.
Keita was more than just a player and it is that position Sako must take to ensure his sides success. He must score goals when they matter, inspire the team when necessary and lead them to glory with the verve and passion of Keita.
Most Caps: Seydou Keita (102)
Top Scorer: Seydou Keita (25)
Previous appearances: 9 (1972, 1994, 2002, 2004, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015)
Best Record: Runner Up, 1972
The team that enjoyed a new lease of life at the turn of the century, Les Aiglons have more than made up for their several misses of AFCON events. The Eagles are building a lasting structure from the youth level up until the senior level. All evidenced by the second place and semi-final finishes of their U-17 and U-20 teams at the last Youth World tourneys.
However, having battled their way to Gabon, they will want to erase memories of the painful elimination of the 2015 event when they were knocked out by casting of lots. They will not leave it to fate anymore and must start well against Egypt if the dreams are to become a reality.
My Prediction: The success of Mali will hinge on their first two group games. A failure to take off could spell disaster. A possible GROUP STAGE elimination
Nickname: The Cranes
Federation: (FUFA) Federation of Uganda Football Association
FIFA Ranking: 72 (December 2016)
The Coach: MILUTIN SREDOJEVIC (SRB)
The 47-year old Serbian is one of the most unglamorous names in African football, going about his work silently and achieving results. He has been linked with the South Africa job with many acknowledging the great job he has done with the cranes. He knows his onions and he will play a crucial role if the cranes are to have any success in Gabon.
Star Man: Newly-crowned African best player based in Africa DENNIS ONYANGO is the man Uganda will hope to take inspiration from when the tourney begins. He ranked as the tenth best goalkeeper in the world in list for 2016 compiled by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics in due to his role in their CAF champions League triumph.
It is how far the 31-year old has come. His cat like reflexes will be important if the Cranes are to stop the goals from going in giving the precarious nature and difficult group they find themselves in.
Most Caps: N/A
Top Scorer: N/A
Previous appearances: 5 (1962, 1968, 1974, 1976, 1978)
Best Record: Runner Up,1978
The end of a 39-year wait for Nations Cup football was a joyous one for the Cranes with qualification in itself a celebration. Built on a strong team spirit and a defensive effort second to none, they will go to Gabon with the assurance of knowing how to play and that they can put in a performance they can be proud of after several years in the wilderness.
My Prediction: The East Africans face a herculean task of repeating their qualification heroics, the knockout stage may be a bridge to far, a GROUP STAGE elimination this one.
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.