What are the chances of Senegal’s Lions of Teranga holding on to their Africa Cup of Nations title?
It is a big ask, but not out of reach. After all, it has been done before. Cameroon held on to their 2000 title in 2002 and Egypt won the tournament in three successive editions, 2006, 2008 and 2010.
Alilou Cisse’s team are one of the strongest sides on the continent and should start the tournament among the favourites.
That tag will be put to the test in the round robin phase where they will face a Cameroon outfit with not only an impressive Afcon pedigree, but a solid squad capable of going all the way.
It goes without saying, then, that these two former champions are the best bet for the top two in Group D. Do not, however, underestimate Guinea.
The Syli National are always thereabouts at the finals and have it in them to spring up a surprise or two. Granted, their best performance dates way back to 1976 when they finished as runners-up in a tournament that did not have a proper final but saw the winners being decided in a round robin involving four teams.
In recent years they have generally impressed, as they reached the quarter-final on four occasions – in 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2015. Any such result and there will be wild celebrations in Conakry.
Gambia are going to only their second tournament, having reached the quarter-finals in their maiden appearance in 2019.
Chances of it happening again are slim and none, and slim has just left town.
Nickname: Indomitable Lions Rankings: Africa 7; world 46
Coach: Rigobert Song
Previous Appearances: 20
Best finish: Champions 1984, 1988, 2000, 2002, 2017
Star player: Vincent Aboubakar
The Cameroon captain will celebrate his 32nd birthday during the tournament, on January 22 – a day before the Indomitable Lions play their final round robin match against Gambia.
No doubt he would love to have built up to the big day with stellar performances that would see him helping Cameroon into the knockout phase.
The Besiktas star is also going to earn his 100th cap for Cameroon, and you can bet nothing would make the milestone sweeter than a second Afcon winners’ medal, Aboubakar having scored the winner back in the 2017 final.
He is likely to also usurp the great Roger Milla as Cameroon’s secondhighest scorer at this tournament, although that would require him to score more than six goals – a feat he has previously achieved when he won the golden boot at the 2021 edition.
Goalkeepers: Devis Epassy, Simon Ngapandouetnbu, Andre Onana, Fabrice Ondoa
Defenders: Malcom Bokele, Jean Charles Castelletto, Oumar Gonzalez, Harold Moukoudi, Junior Tchamadeu , Enzo Tchato, Nouhou Tolo, Christopher Wooh, Darlin Yongwa
Midfielders: Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, Leonel Ateba, Ben Njongoue Elliott, Olivier Kemen, Doualla Wilfried Natha, Yvan Neyou, Olivier Ntcham
Forwards: Vincent Aboubakar, Karl Toko Ekambi, Frank Magri, Faris Moumbagna, Moumi Ngamaleu, Clinton Njie, GeorgesKevin Nkoudou
Rankings: Africa 35; world 126
Coach: Tom Sainfiet (Belgium)
Previous appearances: One
Best finish: Quarter-finals 2022
Star player: Ablie Jallow
He remains his country’s star player and will once again be looked upon to help the Scorpions shine at the Africa Cup of Nations.
It was he who scored Gambia’s first goal at the tournament in the 1-0 victory over Mauritania.
He has played in the French Ligue 1 for Metz before going to Belgium where he signed for Serang and it is that experience of playing in Europe that Gambia will be relying on as they look to show that their impressive showing in their maiden appearance was no fluke.
Goalkeepers: Baboucarr Gaye, Modou Jobe, Lamin Sarr
Defenders: Omar Colley, James Gomez, Saidy Janko, Jacob Mendy, Dawda Ngum, Bubacarr Sanneh, Muhammed Sanneh, Noah Sonko Sundberg, Ibou Touray
Midfielders: Ebou Adams, Hamza Barry, Yusupha Bobb, Ebrima Darboe, Alasana Manneh, Sulayman Marreh
Forwards: Muhammed Badamosi, Musa Barrow, Assan Ceesay, Ebrima Colley, Alieu Fadera, Ablie Jallow, Yankuba Minteh, Abdoulie Sanyang, Ali Sowe
Nickname: National Elephants
Rankings: Africa 15; world 80
Coach: Kaba Diawara
Previous appearances: 13
Best finish: Runners-up 1976
Star player: Serhou Guirassy
The VfB Stuttgart striker suffered an injury scare on Monday in Guinea’s final friendly international before the tournament when they played Nigeria in the United Arab Emirates.
He was due to be examined and treated yesterday to determine just how bad the injury is.
And you can bet the entire Guinea would be praying that their star player is not seriously injured and will be available for the tournament.
Guirassy’s importance to the Syli National cannot be overstated, after all this is the player who is a golden boot challenger in the Bundesliga where he has already scored 17 goals, and is just one goal behind the leader Harry Kane.
Goalkeepers: Moussa Camara, Aly Keita, Ibrahim Kone
Defenders: Mohamed Ali Camara, Antoine Conte, Mouctar Diakhaby, Ibrahima Diakite, Julien Janvier, Saidou Sow, Issiaga Sylla, Sekou Sylla
Midfielders: Aguibou Camara, Karim Cisse, Seydouba Cisse, Amadou Diawara, Naby Keita, Mory Konate, Ilaix Moriba, Abdoulaye Toure
Forwards: Mohamed Bayo, Facinet Conte, Morgan Guilavogui, Serhou Guirassy, Francois Kamano, Jose Kante
Nickname: Lions of Teranga
Rankings: Africa 2; world 20
Coach: Kaba Alilou Cisse
Previous appearances: 16
Best finish: Champions 2022
Star player: Sadio Mane
Now plying his trade in the lucrative Saudi Arabian League for Al Nassr, Mane’s star has waned somewhat, given that he is no longer seen in action as regularly as when he used to play for Liverpool in the highly commercialised English Premier League.
That, however, does not mean he is no longer the lethal attacker he used to be and he will be out to prove his standing as one of Africa’s top players as he strives to help Senegal retain their title.
The star recently wed his long-time sweetheart and could well go to Ivory Coast with a much more mature outlook on life and, by extension, his game.
Mane has generally shone at Afcon, and as his country’s skipper expect him to once again lead by example as he performs the role of attacking winger from which he often scores important goals.
With over a 100 caps to his name now, Mane’s immense experience is going to be crucial if Senegal are to retain their title.
Goalkeepers: Mory Diaw, Seny Dieng, Edouard Mendy
Defenders: Fode Ballo-Toure, Abdou Diallo, Ismail Jakobs, Kalidou Koulibaly, Formose Mendy, Abdoulaye Ndiaye, Moussa Niakhate, Youssouf Sabaly, Abdoulaye Seck
Midfielders: Lamine Camara, Pathe Ciss, Krepin Diatta, Idrissa Gana Gueye, Pape Gueye, Cheikhou Kouyate, Nampalys Mendy, Pape Matar Sarr
Forwards: Iliman Ndiaye, Ismaila Sarr, Boulaye Dia, Habib Diallo, Nicolas Jackson, Sadio Mane, Abdallah Sima
Monday: Senegal v Gambia 4pm; Cameroon v Guinea 7pm.
Friday, January 19: Senegal v Cameroon 7pm; Guinea v Gambia 10pm
Tuesday, January 23: Gambia v Cameroon 7pm; Guinea v Senegal 7pm