African Cup of Nations preview
Some of the world's best players are preparing for the 26th African Cup of Nations in Ghana.
By Chris Burton
Last Updated: 18/01/08 12:06pm
On 20th January the 26th biannual African Cup of Nations will get underway in Ghana.
First held in 1957 with just three countries competing for the top prize, this year's competition will see 16 nations battling it out to be crowned the continent's best side.
The continued success of the tournament since its humble beginnings more than 50 years ago means that the event is now seen as being equally prestigious as the equivalent European Championship and features some of the most easily recognisable players in the world.
Unsurprisingly, this swift progress made by African football means that scouts from just about every club on the planet will descend on Ghana during the next few weeks, all desperate to unearth the next Samuel Eto'o, Didier Drogba or Michael Essien.
Whilst there are bound to be a number of players whose performances during the upcoming tournament will propel them into the conscience of European football supporters, there will still be plenty of more familiar faces on show.
There will be 34 players representing 10 different nations just from the Premier League alone, whilst clubs in just about every other country across Europe have seen their squads depleted after hearing the African call.
Whilst the quality on display can sometimes fluctuate between the sublime and the ridiculous, the atmosphere created by a nation crazy about their football means that the African Cup of Nations is never dull and events off the field can sometimes be just as entertaining as those on it.
The event is always competitive as well which helps to create a good spectacle with seven different winners of the trophy in the last 10 tournaments, and good news for the hosts is that 11 of the 25 competitions so far have been won on home soil.
Egypt are the latest example of that fact after they tasted success in front of their own supporters during the last tournament in 2006, overcaming the Ivory Coast 4-2 on penalties in the final after 120 minutes of goalless action.
That tournament will probably be best remembered though for another shoot-out featuring the Ivory Coast during their quarter-final tie with Cameroon.
The Elephants eventually came out on top 12-11 but only after an incredible 22 consecutive spot-kicks had been successfully converted.
It is occasions such as this which help to make the African Cup of Nations such an enjoyable event and there will no doubt be more thrills and spills along the way this year.
Ghana and Guinea have the honour of opening the tournament on 20th January and 31 games and three weeks later just one side can emerge victorious in Accra on 10th Febraury as the pride of Africa.
Click on the links below for individual group previews:
Ghana go into the competition as favourites and are expected to cruise through a straightforward group which also contains Guinea, Morocco and Namibia.
A tough group to call, but Nigeria and Ivory Coast should progress to the knock-out stages at the expense of Benin and Mali.
Cameroon are amongst the favourites for the title and would expect to comfortably top their group which also comprises Egypt, Sudan and Zambia.
Possibly the strongest of the four groups, Senegal's strength in depth should see them safely through while Angola, South Africa and Tunisia will battle for the other quarter-final spot.