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’ power rankings before the start of the tournament.
1. Ivory Coast
As reigning champions, they go in as tournament favourites. There are chinks in the armour, including a poor qualification run, and they have lost key players and Renard, but with a solid defence, winning mentality and an experienced coach in Michel Dussuyer, they still remain the foremost team in Africa. Expect Franck Kessie to fill the void of Yaya Toure.
The Black Stars are always there or thereabouts in the Cup of Nations, despite not winning the tournament since 1982. This team has now been together a while now with few changes compared to their rivals. Asamoah Gyan will once again lead this star-studded team as he looks to cap his legacy as one of Ghana’s greatest ever players.
Perhaps the most talented team in Africa at the moment, Algeria entered the 2015 tournament as hot favourites and blew up. This time, coaching instability and a dip in form leaves them slightly behind in the reckoning but easily capable of winning it. The pressure from home will once again be enormous as they bid to win for the first time since 1990.
4. DR Congo
The Leopards ended qualification in stunning form as their quick, skilful wingers tore defences apart, scoring 10 goals in their last two games. Add this to their semi-final appearance of last time and they surely must be considered among the favourites. However, the loss of Yannick Bolasie is a huge blow, and a players’ strike this week casts more uncertainty.
AFCON hosts almost always go into the tournament as contenders and 2017 is no exception. Despite a disappointing 2015 tournament, this Gabon side continues to grow well together, spearheaded by the enormously talented Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, perhaps the pre-eminent African football talent today, who always gives his all for his country.
Hervé Renard has won AFCON twice as a manager and in Morocco he has a national team that is capable of giving him a third medal. The question is, is 2017 too soon? The loss of Younes Belhanda to injury is seismic, and they are also without Oussama Tannane of St-Etienne and Southampton’s Soufiane Boufal. Can Renard overcome this? Of all the African team managers, only he is capable of that sort of miracle.
The vastly-experienced Henryk Kasperczak guided Tunisia to the AFCON final in 1996, as well as the 1998 World Cup. Back in the hot seat after their disappointing 2015 tournament, he has a big task in turning this collection of players into winners. The talent is there, but after their shock defeat to Equatorial Guinea two years ago, the questions about their big game temperament remain.
One of the great disappointments of 2015 when they failed to make it out of their group, Senegal again have a tough draw as they look to get past two North African giants. In Sadio Mane and Keita Balde they have one of deadliest attacks in the whole tournament, and they also have one of the best defenders in Kalidou Koulibaly, but can the whole team gel into winners under former captain Aliou Cisse?
The mystique of the Indomitable Lions seems long gone after their disastrous 2014 World Cup and 2015 AFCON. With key players refusing to turn up for the team and a tricky draw with the hosts and Burkina Faso, they are many people’s tip to underperform, though they still have enough ability to cause any team in this draw problems.
After missing three consecutive AFCONs and suffering the trauma of revolution in the country, Egypt are back at a major tournament for the first time since their glorious victory in Angola in 2010. As this is an almost-entirely new team under Hector Cuper, it’s hard to gauge just how good they may be, but they still will be expecting to make it out of their group.
11. Burkina Faso
In 2013, Burkina Faso surprised everyone by making it to the AFCON final. In 2015, they surprised everyone but not even making it out of the group. Manager Paul Put may be gone but the squad remains largely the same, and in the final game of qualifying, they proved that they could still be clutch with their late winner which clinched their spot here. Who’d bet against another surprise run?
Alain Giresse is back in charge of Mali, which means a return to the tough, uncompromising style which took them to the semi-finals in 2012 and 2013. Seydou Keita is no longer there to inspire, but a new batch of youngsters including Adama Traore of Monaco and Lille’s Yves Bissouma could yet cause some surprises, though progression seems unlikely.
Everyone’s second favourite team in the tournament, Uganda are finally back in the big time for the first time since 1978 after several near-misses in the past few years. Some promising recent results including a 0-0 draw against Ghana in World Cup qualifying suggests they have a slight chance of causing some upsets, but they have recently been beaten by Tunisia and Ivory Coast in friendlies.
Claude Le Roy is back at yet another Cup of Nations with yet another team. This time he leads a Togo team that missed out on qualifying two years ago, but made the quarter-finals in 2013. Emmanuel Adebayor remains the team’s leader on the field but has been out of action in recent months as a free agent. It’s a vastly experienced team but it seems very unlikely they will make it out of their group.
One of the major shocks of qualifying was Zimbabwe, eliminated at the first hurdle of 2015 qualification, clinching their group to make it to Gabon. This is the first time they have qualified in 11 years, and they have done it with a totally new team, without any big name players. Making it any further in the tournament seems very unlikely, but they could decide their group by taking points off Algeria, Tunisia or Senegal.
Forgive me for the awful cliché, but Guinea-Bissau are just glad to be at the tournament. This is considered to be the biggest thing to happen to one of Africa’s smallest nations since its independence in 1973, and certainly their greatest ever sporting achievement. None of the squad has more than 20 caps, leaving them short on experience, but they will enjoy every minute of that opening game against Gabon.