Going by the rest of the groups, group A appears the weakest but only on paper. With former winners Congo, last edition’s finalists Burkina Faso, 2012 Quarter finalists Gabon and hosts Equatorial Guinea, you can’t take anything for granted.
Kawowo Sports’ Ismael Kiyonga takes a deep insight into each team with a prediction on where each team is likely to finish.
EQUATORIAL GUINEA (Hosts)
Nick Name: ‘Nzalang Nacional’
FIFA Rankings: FIFA: 120
Appearances: 2 (2012, 2015)
Best Performance: ‘Quarterfinal’ (2012)
Coach: Esteban Becker: The 50 year old Argentine Coach was appointed Equatorial Guinea Coach early this year replacing Andoni Goikoetxea who was sacked three weeks to the tournament. However, he is not a novice in the country’s football having been technical director off all national teams since 2013.
In addition, he won the Africa Women’s championship with the nation in 2012 on home soil.
Can he lead the team past the group stages, time will tell but not sure he can.
Key Player – Iván Zarandona Esono: He is one of the few elite players in the Equatorial Guinea national team. Born in Valladolid, Spain, Esono played for Spanish U-18 national team. At the age of 34, he is one of the most experienced players for the team and will be crucial if the team is to progress past the group.
Prediction –3th: Besides playing at home, they don’t match the quality of their opponents and I see them making it out of the group. However, they did so in 2012 and maybe they can do it but I see them finishing third.
Nick Name: ‘The Stallions’
FIFA Ranking: 63
Appearances: 10 (1978, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015)
Best Performance: Runners Up (2013)
Coach – Paul Put: Against all odds, the Belgian led Burkina Faso to the finals losing to Nigeria 1-0 in 2013.
He has been in charge since 2012 so he knows his team in and out. With his stint in Gambia since 2007, he is also experienced with African football and is poised to lead past group stages.
Key Player – Jonathan Pitroipa: He was a key figure in the team’s running to the finals last year and will be key against in this campaign. He led the goal scoring charts in the qualifiers with 6 goals and must be keenly watched by opponents.
Prediction 2nd: They qualified as runners up from group C behind Gabon and will without doubt be favourites to reach quarter finals.
Nick Name: ‘The Panthers’
FIFA Ranking: 65
Appearances: 5 (1994, 1996, 2000, 2010, 2012, 2015)
Best Performance: ‘Quarterfinal’ (1996, 2012)
Coach: Jorge Costa – He will be making a year as Gabon manager in 2015 and did well in leading the team to the finals topping a group that had among others Burkina Faso. An ex-international with Portugal, the former Braga Coach biggest test so far as Burkina Faso will come in the finals.
Key Player – Pierre Emerick Aubemenyang: The Borussia Dortmund centre forward is the main source of goals for the team and his form at the tourney will go a long way in deciding the team’s destiny.
With 14 goals in over 30 appearances, Aubemenyang averages a goal per two games.
Prediction 1st: The Panthers qualified as group C leaders and are likely to maintain same form in the tournament. However, they will have to be at their best to avoid shocks.
Nick Name: ‘Red Devils’
FIFA Ranking: 61
Appearances: 7 (1968, 1972, 1974, 1978, 1992, 2000, 2015)
Best Performance: Champions (1972)
Coach: Claude Le Roy – The French manager will coach at the Africa Cup of Nations for a record eighth time. This time the 66-year-old is in charge of Congo, the fifth country he has led at the finals.
He won the tournament with Cameroon in 1988, having finished runners-up with them two years previously; he came third with Ghana in 2008 and was a semi-finalist with Senegal in 1990.
Only once – in the last edition of the tournament, as coach of DR Congo – has he failed to reach the quarter-finals.
Can history repeat itself; it appears likely but having led the team past champions Nigeria
Prediction 3rd: Despite qualifying at the expense of champions Nigeria, Congo may struggle to get past a group that has a solid Burkinabe side and Aubemenyang led Gabon.
Equatorial Guinea vs. Congo – Estadio de Bata, Bata
Gabon vs. Burkina Faso – Bata
Congo vs. Gabon – Bata
Burkina Faso vs. Equatorial Guinea – Bata
Equatorial Guinea vs. Gabon – Bata
Burkina Faso vs. Congo – Nuevo Estadio de Ebebiyín, Ebebiyín