The 30th edition of Africa Cup of Nations kicks off on Saturday in Equatorial Guinea, who are hosting the tournament at short notice after Morocco’s withdrawal.
Several nations can be considered among the favourites including top-ranked team Algeria.
Algeria, Ivory Coast and Ghana are regarded as the favourites to win an unpredictable African Cup of Nations tournament which begins on Saturday in Equatorial Guinea.
But it is Algeria, the top-ranked team in Africa, where most betting men are putting their money.
“Algeria pushed Germany more than any other team at the World Cup in Brazil last year,” said former Peruvian national player Augusto Palacios, who now coaches in Johannesburg.
“They are a religious team and so are very disciplined. They are also very organised and structured. Most of their players play in the local league. For me, Algeria are the team to beat at the Afcon tournament.”
Algeria, under French coach Christian Gourcuff, steamed through the Afcon qualifiers with five wins in six games after an excellent World Cup in which they took champions Germany into extra time in the last 16.
One of the team’s stars, Porto winger Yacine Brahimi, was recently voted the BBC’s 2014 African Footballer of the Year. Brahimi scored his first international goal in the group stage against South Korea in the World Cup last year. He has scored six goals in 15 appearances for the Portuguese club.
Algeria, are part of the Group C “group of death” which includes the “physical” Senegal, “well-organised” Ghana and South Africa who is looking confident after not having lost in 11 games, said Palacios.
Another team to watch, he believes, is the Elephants of Ivory Coast who have a collection of excellent players, including brothers Yaya Toure and Kolo Toure, Cheick Tiote and Wilfred Bony.
The team, under coach Herve Renard, will take on Guinea, Mali and Cameroon in group D.
Midfielder Yaya Toure, who was pivotal for English Premier League champions Manchester City, will captain the Elephants after the retirement from international football of striker Didier Drogba.
“Ivory Coast have a history of underperforming in major tournaments and Toure will have to play as well he does for Manchester City if the team is to reach the finals of the tournament,” Palacios said.
The Black Stars of Ghana, who are also in Group C, are another team to watch but have a tough challenge against Algeria, Senegal and South Africa.
Coach Avram Grant has been forced to leave two of his stars, defender Jeffrey Schlupp and striker Majeed Waris, out of his final squad of 23, due to injury.
Two others top players, Sulley Muntari and Kevin-Prince Boateng, have been left out after being suspended indefinitely for gross misconduct during the World Cup last year.
Crystal Palace striker Kwesi Appiah has been included, after scoring for the Black Stars in a warm up game in Portugal last week. He will make his Afcon debut with Daniel Amartey, Baba Rahman, Frank Acheampong and David Accam. Striker Asamoah Gyan will captain the squad.
A dark horse for the tournament is Burkina Faso, in Group A with Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Congo.
“They are looking very dangerous,” Palacios said. “In the end, this tournament is very difficult to predict. We’ll speak again after the final.”
Nigerian football legend Austin “Jay Jay” Okocha also picks Algeria, Ivory and Ghana as his favourites.
Nigeria won the 2013 edition of the tournament but did not qualify for Equatorial Guinea.
“For me, the favourites are Algeria, Ghana, Tunisia and Ivory Coast who for some time now have always been tipped to win the Afcon,” Okocha told French football website Le Buteur.
“Algeria is likely to advance to the quarterfinals. I would say the team has the chance to win the African Cup.
“We saw how well they performed at the last World Cup – advancing to the last 16 was a respectable achievement. Algeria also had a very good run in the Afcon qualifying which shows continuity.”
The tournament was initially scheduled to be hosted by Morocco, but the Moroccan government’s request for a postponement because of the Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa was rejected by the African Football Confederation CAF. Morocco were then excluded and Equatorial Guinea stepped in.
The tournament kicks off in Bata with Equatorial Guinea and Congo playing opening match. The final will be played in the same venue on February 8.