Goal.com takes a look at Group C involving Zambia, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia.
|Favourites: Zambia & Nigeria
The current holders of the competition Chipolopolo will be looking to defend their title in South Africa keeping the core of the squad that won the nation’s first Afcon trophy intact. Herve Renard’s side romped to victory in the last tournament in the absence of traditional heavyweights like Egypt, Cameroon and Nigeria. They, however, had to overcome tournament favourites Ghana and Ivory Coast to lift the trophy. That win, however, may put pressure on the Copper Bullets, who are not expected by many to hit the heights of last year’s competition, though making it past the group stages should not prove so difficult for the southern Africans
Two-time winners Nigeria though have a different objective all together. The Super Eagles were absent at the last tournament after losing out on top spot to Guinea in their qualification group and coach Stephen Keshie is tasked with bringing the team to its glory days once more. The demanding Nigerian fans will be expecting more as they expect the team to secure its first final berth since their 3-2 reverse at the hands of Cameroon in the final of the 2000 edition. The Super Eagles have since made it to the semi-finals in all but one of their appearances finishing in third place in four of the six tournaments since then a trend which has frustrated the Nigerian public who will be expecting nothing less than a final appearance despite the absence of key players like Obafemi Martins, Peter Odemwingie and Yakubu Aiyegbeni.
|Outsiders: Burkina Faso
Seen by many as one of the trickier sides to face on the continent, the Stallions will be looking to make it past the group stages, a feat they have managed only once in eight attempts in the history of the competition. Key players like Charles Kabore, Jonathan Pitroipa and veteran forward Moumouni Dagano will be expected to carry the team in what is a tough group for them but a good result against any of the favourites could really set them on their way.
Prominent in the early editions of the tournament where they managed a podium finish in each of the first three editions and won the third one in 1962, the Walya Antelopes have fallen on hard times and will be participating in the continental showpiece for the first time in 31 years. Sewnet Bishaw and his players will therefore probably be looking firstly to make it past the first round - a task that will prove difficult considering the caliber of their opposition.
|Players to watch
Saladin Said (Ethiopia): The man who scored the goal that took Ethiopia to their first Afcon in 31 years, is having a good spell with the Walya Antelopes and has scored nine times in 12 games for the national team. If he manages to bring that form into the tournament he will definitely be one to watch out for.
Rainford Kalaba (Zambia): Referred to as ‘master’ by his team-mates, Kalaba is the puppeteer that pulls the strings in the middle of the park for Zambia. Blessed with magnificent composure, tackling and passing abilities, he is the controlling force behind the Zambian team and will be looking to do the same this time round.
Emmanuel Mayuka (Zambia): The official winner of the golden boot at the 2012 edition of the tournament with three goals, Mayuka will be looking for more joy at the tournament this time round. Pacey, full of tricks and with an eye for goal the Southampton forward will cause problems for most teams.
Christopher Katongo (Zambia): The captain of the side and best player of the tournament which saw Zambia win their first Afcon title, Christopher Katongo is without doubt the soul of this Zambia team and epitomises the strength character, tenacity and determination of Chipolopolo. Katongo also scored three times in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea and will be looking to make an impact in what could be his last tournament as he advances in age.
Moumouni Dagano (Burkina Faso): The highest goal scorer of all time for the Stallions, veteran forward Moumouni Dagano, at 32 may be making his last appearance at an Afcon and will definitely be looking to make an impact. An almost ever present for the Stallions since the turn of the century, Dagano has goals in him and has the ability to punish any team that allow him to.
Jonathan Pitroipa (Burkina Faso): With pace to burn, skill and a keen eye for goal, Pitroipa has the ability to cause any team problems and will be useful at providing service for Dagano and Traore and will most likely get goals of his own too. A player to watch out for if there ever was one.
Alain Traore (Burkina Faso): One of the hottest prospects in Ligue 1, Traore’s pace and dribbling ability mean he can be a thorn in the flesh of any team. He has got the attribute that has some of Europe’s top clubs scrambling for his signature. Traore will definitely be influential if the Stallions are to make an impact at the tournament.
Ikechukwu Uche (Nigeria): As one of the star forwards who actually made the squad, Uche is the most experienced of Nigeria’s strikers for the tournament and will be looked upon to provide leadership upfront as well as goals.
Ahmed Musa (Nigeria): The rising star of Nigerian football, winger Ahmed Musa is one of the many youngsters Stephen Keshie will rely on to take his team to the next level. Very composed for a young player, Musa rose to prominence through the ranks playing for the junior national teams. Musa has been billed as the next big thing in Nigerian football and will be looking to announce himself to the continent with a solid display at the Afcon.