Front-loaded with some of the most exciting young African talent at the competition, with the likes of Hakim Ziyech and Franck Kessie, will have scouts, if not, fans flocking to the brand new Stade d’Oyem. Here’s the low down on the squads and managers.
Player to watch: Neekens Kebano
Seen as a future star for France, his country of birth, Kebano got his football education at the Paris St Germain academy. He was just 17 when he
broke into PSG’s first team. But his career stalled and he was released within two years of his debut.
Heading to Belgium, where a stint at Charleroi put his career back on track, Kebano nailed his international career to the Congolese mast – where his parents are from – in late 2014. He has gone on to become an integral part of the starting line-up, with his effervescent attacking play.
Levy Matampi – Issama Mpeko, Marcel Tisserand, Gabriel Zakuani, Fabrice Nsakala – Chancel Mbemba, Youssouf Mulumbu, Neeskens Kebano, Cedric Bakambu – Jonathan Bolingi, Dieumerci Mbokani.
Coach: Florent Ibengé
Ibengé manages the national team while coaching AS Vita Club, the Kinshasa outfit that he steered to an unexpected place in the 2014 African Champions League final.
Born in DR Congo, he grew up in France and played lower league football in Belgium, France and Germany. Ibengé has worked with Claude Le Roy, as an assistant coach with the national team, before taking over in September 2014.
Nations Cup history
In the 1970s, when the country was known as Zaire, the country was a powerhouse in the continent, having a golden generation of players and
financed by dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. Since winning the tournament in 1968 and 1974, they have not had any success. They go to Gabon, in their 19th finals appearance, with some confidence, after a 100 per cent start in their 2018 World Cup qualifiers and finishing third at the last finals in Equatorial Guinea.
Player to Watch: Eric Bailly
It will be a race against time to recover from a knee injury and be fit for Gabon. But with Yaya Touré having retired from international football and Gervinho out for six months with a bad knee injury, Bailly, who moved to Espanyol’s academy in Spain, at the age of 17, is the new pin-up boy of Ivorian football. His £30m move to Manchester United, from Villarreal in Spain, thrust the centre-back into the spotlight. Bailly is an old-fashioned defender and is rated as a world-class talent by José Mourinho, his Manchester United manager.
Badra Ali Sangare – Serge Aurier, Eric Bailly, Lamine Kone, Adama Traore – Geoffroy Serey Die, Franck Kessie, Max Gradel, Salomon Kalou – Jonathan Kodjia, Wilfred Bony.
Coach: Michel Dussuyer
French-born Michel Dussuyer is a Nations Cup veteran. He took Guinea to the quarter-finals in 2004 and was Henri Michel’s deputy when Côte d’Ivoire were runners-up in 2006.
The 55-year-old, who also coached French club AS Cannes, took charge of Benin for the 2010 finals in Angola and returned to Guinea in 2012, taking them to the quarter-finals in 2015.
Nations Cup history
It was a relief, more than anything else, when the Elephants finally won the Nations Cup trophy, at the last edition in Equatorial Guinea. They had, since 2008, been the favourites for successive tournaments. But it was only after the retirement of Didier Drogba that they got their hands on the trophy for the second time, 23 years after their first triumph in Senegal. Côte d’Ivoire have been to 22 tournaments, a record bettered only by Egypt.
Player to watch: Hicham Ziyech
Ziyech was the best player in the Dutch league last season but he did not make a move from provincial
Utrecht until mid-2016, when Ajax Amsterdam signed him. His testy reputation preceded him and put off several clubs, although Ajax are now questioning why they did not purchase the 23-year-old earlier.
Born in the Netherlands, the Dutch national team selectors only became interested when Ziyech committed himself to Morocco in October 2015, after they assiduously courted him.
Munir Mohand Mohamedi – Fouad Chafik, Mehdi Benatia, Manuel da Costa, Achraf Lazaar – Romain Saiss, Moubarak Boussoufa, Younes Belhanda, Nordin Amrabat – Sofiane Boufal, Oussama Tannane.
Coach: Hervé Renard
Not yet 50, Renard has already won two Nations Cup titles with two different countries – Zambia and Côte d’Ivoire – in 2013 and 2015. He is certainly looking at a treble, as he takes Morocco to the tournament in Gabon. The 48-year-old Frenchman played at Cannes before working as compatriot Claude Le Roy’s assistant in China, England and with Ghana’s Black Stars.
Nations Cup history
Morocco, with 17 appearances at the finals, have just one Nations Cup triumph, at the 1976 tournament in Ethiopia. They were supposed to host the last finals but pulled out months before, to the anger of the CAF, who banned them from participating in two subsequent tournaments. Morocco forced themselves into the 2017 qualifiers after appealing to the Court for Arbitration in Sport in Switzerland.
Player to watch: Sheyi Emmanuel Adebayor
Adebayor has not played a club match since his stint with English Premier League side Crystal Palace ended in May. Even without regular game
time, the lanky 32-year-old striker remains the talismanic influence for his country, which he has been for over a decade.
He’s had a testy relationship with Togo, retiring several times from international duty. But such is his influence that Togo always welcome him back.
Kossi Agassa – Serge Akakpo, Sadat Ouro-Akoriko, Vincent Bossou, Abdoul Gafar Mamah – Alaixys Romao, Mathieu Dossevi, Serge Gakpe, Floyd Ayite – Peniel Mlapa, Emmanuel Adebayor.
Coach: Claude le Roy
Claude le Roy extends his record as the coach with the most Nations Cup appearances. The 68-yearold has been working on the continent for almost 30 years and coached at a record eight Cup finals, winning with Cameroon in 1988.
The Frenchman, who has coached Senegal, DR Congo and Ghana, has a record 35 matches at the tournament and has only once failed to reach the quarter-finals.
Nations Cup history
Togo got to the quarter-finals at the 2013 edition in South Africa, their last finals appearance. Their six tournament appearances before that had seen them fail to get beyond the first round.
They departed the 2010 tournament in Angola without kicking a ball, when Cabinda separatists shot up their bus, killing two support staff and
maiming goalkeeper Kodjovi Obilalé.
CAF president Issa Hayatou banned the country because of their departure but was subsequently talked out of his intransigence by more sensible members of the African game’s leadership and former FIFA president Sepp Blatter.