GROUP A: EQUATORIAL GUINEA, LIBYA, SENEGAL, ZAMBIA
Playing out of Bata on the mainland, this is a group without any past winners, thus giving Equatorial Guinea, managed by the former France coach Henri Michel, a small chance of satisfying the host team’s fans and reaching the knockout stages.
Libya, Senegal and Zambia – all past losing finalists – should be expected to contest the group leadership, with the North Africans appearing under a new flag and bravely qualifying, for the first time since 2006, despite the absence of league competition, as a result of the horrors of the recent civil war that toppled former leader Muammar Gathafi.
Libya were, at the time of writing, unbeaten in their last ten internationals, the best run of any of the finalists and so, the hosts should not expect an easy game from the side managed by the experienced Brazilian coach, Marcos Paqueta.
Defensively sound, with their veteran goalkeeper Aboud managing five clean sheets in six qualifiers, they conceded just one goal. But their attack does not possess the same cutting edge.
Senegal’s Lions of Teranga come to the tournament armed with potent goal scorers, managed by Amara Traore, a former international player. Young stars like Demba Ba, Papiss Cisse and Moussa Sow, besides the experienced Mamadou Niang, head up a potent force, good enough to instil fear in opposing defences, while USA-based keeper Bouna Condoul backs up a competent defensive unit that gives little away.
They qualified unbeaten, from a difficult group containing DR Congo and Cameroon and would be the outside bet to go all the way at this edition.
Zambia’s Chipolopolo, which reached the quarter-finals at the last edition in Angola, hope to go a step further under French coach Herve Renard, who returned in late October for his second spell in charge.
Renard initially left Zambia to take up a job with Angola, which left many questioning his loyalty to a country that had given him his first major job.
The Southern Africans have the edge in past finals experience, finishing runners-up to Libya in their qualifying group. But it was regarded as an unsatisfactory run that cost Italian coach Dario Bonetti his job.
With a bit of experience in the squad, plus some emerging youngsters, Zambia will be looking to acquire sufficient points to push Senegal and Libya for the two spots available for the knockout stages.
Equatorial Guinea’s Nzalang National, the host team, are made up of Spanish lower league players and a few naturalised Brazilians, along with a local complement. Coach Henri Michel had resigned his post just before the draw, citing a lack of support. But he was convinced to continue, after the government intervened.
Admitting every match would be “an Everest”, it is hard to envisage their presence in the knockout round, after tough contests against streetwise and far more experienced opponents.