Perhaps the most exciting narrative about this group lies with the return of Uganda to the pinnacle of African football after nearly 40 years in the wilderness. They will have their work cut out; emerging from the group looks a tough prospect against Egypt, Ghana and Mali.
Player to watch: Ramadan Sobhi
Still learning his trade, the teenager is being brought along with caution, for club and country. But the £5m signing for English Premiership side Stoke City, from Al Ahly of Cairo, has what it takes to become one of the greats of the African game.
“We will be careful with him,” says Stoke manager Mark Hughes. “He won’t always be involved, but when he is, I sense he is going to be a big player for us.”
Sobhi, who is an exciting left wing with the requisite skills and pace, made his Egyptian debut at the age of 17 years, 11 months and 18 days.
Essam Al Hadary – Omar Gaber, Ali Gabr, Ahmed Hegazy, Mohamed Abdelshafi – Mohamed Elneny, Tarek Hamed, Abdallah El Said, Ahmed Elmohamady – Mohamed Salah, Mahmoud Hassan Trezeguet.
Coach: Héctor Cúper
He brings a rare Latin American touch to the finals. The 61-year-old from Argentina, who has been with Egypt since 2005, twice lost in the UEFA Champions League final with Valencia in 2000 and 2001. Cúper made his debut in international management with Georgia but never won a game with them.
Nations Cup history
Egypt have an unparalleled record at the tournament, winning seven titles, with an unprecedented three Cup triumphs in a row from 2006 to 2010, before astonishingly, failing to qualify for the next three tournaments.
The Pharohs were the first winners in 1957, having been to more finals tournaments (23) and played more finals games (90) than any other participant.
They have also won more Nations Cup finals games (51) and scored more goals (154), too.
Player to watch: Thomas Partey
His story mirrors that of hundreds of young African footballers – a move to Europe at a tender age in hopeful search of a future in the game, a place in an academy of a European club and then slow progress through the ranks and into the first team. Partey was already 22 when he debuted for Atletico Madrid, after serving a tough apprenticeship in the lower rungs of Spanish football. He is an
exciting find for the Black Stars, although they have taken their time to fully utilise him.
The defensive midfield qualities of the 23-year-old, from Ghana’s Eastern region, should become
more evident in Gabon.
Razak Brimah – Harrison Afful, John Boye, Jonathan Mensah, Baba Rahman – Thomas Partey, Emmanuel Agyemang Badu, Mubarak
Wakaso, Christian Atsu – Jordan Ayew, Dede Ayew, Asamoah Gyan.
Coach: Avram Grant
The former coach of Chelsea, who turns 62 at the finals, was appointed the Black Stars coach just a month before the last tournament in Equatorial Guinea and took them all the way to the final. Grant had four years, between 2002 and 2006, as coach of Israel’s national team, before moving to Chelsea, initially as director of football but subsequently becoming manager after the abrupt departure of José Mourinho.
His side lost to Manchester United on postmatch penalties in the 2007 UEFA Champions League final. Grant subsequently managed Portsmouth, West Ham, Serbia’s Partizan Belgrade and Thai side BEC Tero Sasana.
Nations Cup history
Runners-up in Equatorial Guinea two years ago, Ghana are still waiting for their first Nations Cup success since the days of a teenage Abedi Pele, at Libya ’82. They have been to 13 tournaments since, reaching the finals three times and a further four semi-finals.
The Black Stars have made it to the semi-finals at the last five tournaments since the 2008 edition, which they hosted. Breaking a 35-year jinx is an obsession with the West Africans, who have seen Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire win four titles between them.
Player to watch: Adama Traoré
At 21, the midfielder is fancied to enhance his already growing reputation at the Nations Cup. Injury kept him from participating in the early stages of the UEFA Champions League with his French club Monaco. But with their qualification for the knockout stages, he is certain to playa a role, once he returns from Gabon. Traoré was the best player at the 2015 U-20 World Cup in New Zealand, his four goals helping Mali to a bronze medal.
Soumbeyla Diakite – Hamari Traore, Salif Coulibaly, Molla Wague, Youssouf Kone – Adama Traore, Yacouba Sylla, Moussa Doumbia, Sambou Yatabare – Moussa Marega, Modibo Maiga.
Coach: Alain Giresse
The diminutive 64-year-old Frenchman is managing a country at the Nations Cup for a fourth time, having qualified Gabon for the 2010 finals, Mali to third place two years later and Senegal in 2015.
Giresse has also coached at club level in Morocco, on top of two spells with Toulouse and a brief run in charge at Paris Saint-Germain. But
he is best-known for his playing days, as part of a talented France midfield that included Michel Platini and Jean Tigana, reaching the semi-finals at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.
Nations Cup history
Mali were third at the 2012 and 2013 editions but suffered elimination in odd circumstances at the 2015 tournament, sent home after the first round by a drawing of lots after they finished level with Guinea on an identical record.
It was only the third time in nine Nations Cup appearances that they did not get past the group stages. Mali’s first Nations Cup finals appearance was in 1972, when they finished as runners-up.
Player to watch: Farouk Miya
Scoring vital goals in recent months highlightsthe ability of the pacey 21-year-old, who has the Luganda-language nickname ‘Muyizi Tasubwa’ –
the hunter who can’t miss!
He moved to Belgium last year and his sojourn with Standard Liege must be seen as a stepping-stone to bigger things. He had won the
league title in Uganda with Vipers but home fans immortalised him when he got the goal against the Comoros Islands, ending Uganda’s 39-year
wait for a place at the Nations Cup finals.
Dennis Onyango – Nicolas Wadwaba, Murushid Juuko, Isaac Isinde, Jospeh Ochaya – Khalid Aucho, Tony Mawejje, Denis Iguma, Moses Oloya – Farouk Miya, Geoffrey Massa.
Coach: Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic
Micho has worked in Africa for the last 15 years and is married to an Ethiopian.
He has worked in Ethiopia, Rwanda, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda, where he coached first at SC Villa, returning to the East African country in 2013, to lead the Cranes. From Serbia, Micho played and coached at a lower level in his native country before the move to Africa. He now has hero status, as the country head to Gabon and are serious contenders for aplace at the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia.
Nations Cup history
Uganda, making their sixth appearance at the tournament, brought a decades-old drought to an end by qualifying for Gabon. None of the current generation of players was even born when the likes of Fredrick Isabirye, James Kirunda, Moses Nsereko, Polly Ouma and Paul Ssali
contested the final. Their last appearance was in 1978, finishing as runners-up to hosts Ghana.