12 months ago, Zambia surprisingly won the 2012 African cup of nations in dramatic and emotional style. The Zambians captivated the imagination, winning in honour of the side that fell victim to the 1993 air disaster. A fairly unknown squad, they earned plaudits playing attractive football under their highly motivated coach, Herve Renard. 12 months on, the cup of nations is back. This time in the ‘Rainbow nation.’

Ivory Coast are favourites among many of the bookmakers, this is claimed the last time the ‘golden generation’ can win the competition. It is no surprise they are favourites with their squad boasting some of the worlds biggest names in Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure. The latter being perhaps the Premier League’s best. This years tournament could be more difficult, the group looks tougher on paper than last year. Algeria, Togo and Tunisia, look like they could cause problems to Ivory Coast, with Algeria getting the upper-hand in the 2010 edition at the Quarter Final stage.

Algeria and Tunisia come across as teams that could trouble the competition as ‘dark horses’. Both have had a good record in cup of nations tournaments, with their north African flair. If one got the upper-hand of the Ivory Coast in the group standings, they certainly couldn’t be ruled out.

Morocco could spark some interest in the competition, last year they failed to get out the group. Perhaps a learning curve, for still a young side. There is the blow of missing Adel Taarabt, but they are by no means a ‘one man team’. With Younes Belhanda and Oussama Assiadi two players that have the ability to give a team the desired edge. Perhaps, Assiaidi could tempt more playing time at Liverpool if he impresses. He hasn’t featured in league games despite coming across as an exciting talent.

The southern African nations could potentially dominate the competition. Current holders Zambia are definitely hot prospects if they have the same team unity as last year, their underdog attitude pulled them through the competition last year. The hosts, South Africa cannot be discounted. The loss of Steven Pienaar was a blow but they still have a good squad. Kaizer Chiefs striker, Bernard Parker and Ajax youngster, Thulani Serero are supposedly the ‘ones to watch’ in the Bafana Bafana squad. A memory of the 1996 triumph could fuel a South African win. If there is one thing South Africa will bring, that is passion and lots of it.

Nigeria and Ghana are perhaps under the radar, but they should be held as the biggest challengers to Ivory Coast. Nigeria missed out last year and their squad has changed somewhat since 2010. Still regulating the midfield is the reliable John Obi Mikel, but upfront Emmanuel Emenike provides pace and power in an abundance that provides a real threat to the opposition .The Spartak Moscow forward hadn’t broke onto the scene back at the last nations cup Nigeria competed in. In the the two years since, he’s shown his credentials as one of Europe’s top African strikers.

Ghana are well set up to be an exciting outfit. Asmoah Gyan has been convinced to give it another go, he may have been off the radar since joining UAE outfit Al Ain. But he is very much still within the goals with over 40 in two seasons in UAE pro league. The Ghana squad will be missing a few key players, the two Ayew brothers. Jordan and Andre will be missed along with Sulley Muntari. However, Albert Adamoah and highly rated Berekum Chelsea man, Solomon Asante will be players to watch in competition. Ghana’s pedigree of playing quality football, makes them seem like tournament challengers.

The African Cup of Nations promises to be one of the football highlights of the year, the passion of the fans to the memorable moments makes it fantastic competition. The setting of South Africa shall be a good one, the return of the vuvuzelas to our TV screens is imminent.

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