The power rankings are done in order of anticipated likelihood to win the tournament and qualify for the knockout round, taking into consideration both long-term results and recent form. Here is James Bennett with Sandals For Goalposts’ pre-tournament power rankings:
Ivory Coast might be the bookies’ favourites but the smart money is on Algeria after an impressive 2014 which included a World Cup second-round berth and comfortable qualification for the Cup of Nations. After a seamless transition from Vahid Halilhodzic to Christian Gourcuff, they have form, talent and age on their side and play well as a unit. They enter the tournament as the team to beat.
Despite a disastrous World Cup, the Indomitable Lions have regrouped without Samuel Eto’o and enter Equatorial Guinea after storming through a tough qualifying group which also included fellow qualifiers Ivory Coast and DR Congo. After several lean years, Cameroon have their zest back and are a force to be reckoned with once again, though they do have the tougher half of the draw to contend with.
They may be out of form and have only just appointed a new manager but the Black Stars have one of the most talented rosters at the Cup of Nations and have the big tournament know-how to go deep. With Asamoah Gyan leading the line supported by an able cast including the Ayew brothers, Christian Atsu and Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, they can score as well as grind out big results. The big question is, can they beat Algeria to top the toughest group in the draw?
4. Burkina Faso
Appearances can be deceiving: 2013’s beaten finalists might not have been particularly convincing in qualifying, being beaten to top spot in their group by Gabon, but they were hard to beat in AFCON 2013 and have two of the continent’s best flair players in Jonathan Pitroipa and Alain Traoré. This team has been together as a unit for some time and performed well on the notoriously rough pitches in South Africa two years ago.
Vying for the top spot amongst teams in the weaker half of the draw, Tunisia were very impressive in qualifying, with a mix of creativity and typically steely defending. With a high number of domestic players, theirs is a largely unheralded group of players due to the lack of big names playing in the top European leagues, but Georges Leekens has brought them back to the top end of African football and they are a good bet for a place in the final.
6. Ivory Coast
Ah, how the mighty have fallen! They might be the favourites with the British bookies but Les Elephants are on the downward curve. Before the World Cup they may have been considered the best African side; now, without Didiers Drogba and Zokora, a change of coach and limited solutions to an inconsistent backline has left Ivory Coast out of form heading into a tournament they haven’t won in a generation. Expectations may be high but they will need Yaya Touré to be at his brilliant best to carry this team to the final.
7. South Africa
Contrasting with Ivory Coast, Bafana Bafana are heading in the opposite direction. After years of underperformance, they finally enter a Cup of Nations with a realistic chance of doing very well, after a stellar qualifying campaign in which they remained defensively stubborn and discovered a new talisman in Tokelo Rantie. Despite the tragic death of heroic goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa, which will always cast a shadow on this campaign, South Africa are amongst the favourites for the first time in a decade, but have been given a tough task with this draw.
Another team on the rise, Alain Giresse has transformed Senegal into contenders once again. As the Frenchman did while coach of Mali, he has turned the Lions into a defensively solid unit, albeit while sacrificing a certain amount of creativity. However, they do have the deepest attacking force at this tournament, especially if Southampton’s Sadio Mané recovers from injury. If they qualify for the quarter-finals, they will be very difficult to beat.
After topping their qualifying group, the Panthers of Gabon have been installed as one of the two main dark horse teams for the Cup of Nations. Ably managed by Jorge Costa and led by Dortmund’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, one of the stars of the 2012 tournament, this may be a team that works on a collective level but they have the individual ability to cause some fancied contenders some real damage.
10. Cape Verde
The islanders are back. After making the quarter-finals in 2013, is this tournament where they build on that and shock Africa to become a leading force? They were the first team to book their place at the Cup of Nations, and have been together as a team for some time, but they are slipping under the radar in discussions of the likely finalists. It would be a major surprise if they did make it all the way, but it’s not out of the realms of possibility at this stage; a real wild card.
2012’s winners were seeded in this draw as a legacy of that famous success, but the amount of continuity between the teams is shrinking. With figures like Christopher Katongo and coach Hervé Renard now gone, a new younger generation have picked up the baton, but don’t seem to have the steel of their predecessors. It seems likely that 2015 will follow on from the disappointing 2013 tournament, when goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene seemed the most likely player to score for the Chipolopolo.
The Eagles have a funny habit of qualifying for these tournaments, and when at them, they also have a habit of going inexplicably far into them, having made the semi-finals in the last two Cup of Nations. Seydou Keita is still there leading this team, now one of the oldest and most experienced players at the tournament, but he will have to drag this team through by the scruff of the neck himself.
13. Democratic Republic of Congo
Once heralded as the new coming force of African football, the Leopards’ disappointing first-round exit two years ago upset many hipsters who had tipped them to be one of the favourites. This time, there’s no Tresor Mputu, and AS Vita’s Florent Ibengé has replaced Claude Le Roy as coach, but it again looks like it will be an uphill struggle to make the knockout stages.
This tournament’s Story of Qualifying (as determined by SFG), Guinea have made it to Equatorial Guinea after playing through enormous adversity as a result of the Ebola outbreak, marking only their second qualification in four tournaments. With no big names of note, this is a great opportunity for some relatively unheralded young starlets to make a name for themselves, although progression to the quarter-finals seems unlikely.
15. Republic of Congo
Like Guinea, Les Diables Rouges arrive with a young, low key squad, with only Thievy Bifouma playing in one of Europe’s three major leagues. And yet there is a feeling that this qualification berth has been coming, after general progression over the last few years. It’s difficult to see them making the knockout stages but this will be a good platform for them to impress and gain experience.
16. Equatorial Guinea
No one knows what to expect from a team that was disqualified from qualification months ago and has once again tried its best to build a squad around imported non-native players to stand a chance. Despite having the advantage of being the hosts, it is very unlikely that a squad made up of players plying their trade for La Liga reserve teams and clubs from Malta, Andorra and Gibraltar, with a newly-appointed coach in Esteban Becker, will finish anywhere other than bottom of their group. But it is the Cup of Nations; miracles can happen.
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