Africa Cup of Nations tips
Saturday sees the start of the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations, when hosts Equatorial Guinea kick-off against Congo in a match you can see live on Eurosport 2. Equatorial Guinea, who hosted alongside Gabon three years ago, stepped in to stage the tournament two months ago when Morocco withdrew and are the lowest-ranked of the 16 nations involved.
Neither the holders Nigeria not the seven-time winners Egypt, who won a hat-trick of titles between 2006 and 2010, have qualified and the favourites in the betting are Ivory Coast, closely followed by Algeria, who put in some impressive performances at last summer's World Cup and showed a tactical flexibility which will stand them in good stead here.
There are other interesting contenders, including a mean Tunisian side at decent odds, South Africa, who eliminated Nigeria in qualifying, and Equatorial Guinea's neighbours Gabon, who will be ably led by Borussia Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Ivory Coast are favourites in spite of not making the impact they should have done on this tournament during the years of their golden generation, which appears to be nearing its end. There are star names in their squad, including captain Yaya Toure and Gervinho, who is enjoying a good season at Roma. They also have Wilfried Bony, who has bided his time waiting for Didier Drogba to depart the scene and can now show why Manchester City are about to spend £28m on him. Bony is the 6/1 favourite (Coral) to be the leading scorer.
The Elephants have plenty of attacking options - Salomon Kalou and CSKA Moscow's Seydou Doumbia are also in the squad - but they have defensive weaknesses and twice conceded four goals in their six-game qualifying group, including in a 4-1 defeat to group winners Cameroon. They won their only title back in 1992 and have since been runners-up twice. Betfred, BetVictor and Coral have them at best odds of 4/1.
At the World Cup, Algeria not only performed better than Ivory Coast, but they also advanced further, getting to the last 16 before losing 2-1 in extra-time to the eventual champions, Germany - a game in which the Desert Foxes spurned plenty of chances in normal time (which finished goalless). They showed the capacity to defend stoutly in numbers, or go on the attack, catching South Korea unawares in an explosive 4-2 win in the group stage.
What Algeria lack is a top class star such as Yaya Toure, but the collective strength of their team across all departments makes them a better bet than the favourites at Ladbrokes' top price of 5/1. Fifa rankings don't count for much, but for what it's worth Algeria are the highest-ranked team in this tournament.
Nobody will find it easy to beat Tunisia, who qualified as group winners despite scoring only six goals in six games. Their success was based on their defensive strength as they conceded only two goals - in home games against Botswana and Egypt when they came from behind to win each time, another real plus point. Their three away games produced a total of just one goal - their winner against Egypt in Cairo.
There are no household names to speak of, no obvious star quality and many in their party lack experience too - none of the 23 has more caps than midfielder Hocine Ragued's 46. Their eight defenders total just 75 caps between them, but that is perhaps a reflection of the fact that they haven't reached the last four since winning their only title in 2004 and the need for a fresh start. At 19/2 with Ladbrokes, they're a solid alternative to Algeria.
Ghana, who have reached the last four in each of the last four editions, are similarly priced at 9/1 with Paddy Power and Ladbrokes, and having qualified as group winners they should go well again. They drew with Germany at the World Cup, but were less impressive in defeats to the United States and Portugal. They look weaker defensively than Algeria and Tunisia and that could count against them, while they must also face Algeria in Group C.
The conditions will suit Gabon, who edged out Burkina Faso to win Group C unbeaten, and with Aubameyang good enough to be one of the stars of the tournament they could be a surprise package. Drawn in the same group as the hosts, outsiders Congo and Burkina Faso once more, they have a relatively easy task to get through to the knockout stages. At 11/4 with Paddy Power they're a good bet to win the group, while Aubameyang is 20/1 with Paddy Power to be the tournament's top scorer (as short as 12/1 elsewhere).
|Gabon||Group A Winner
|Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang||Top Goalscorer
|£25 free bet||£50 free bet