So first we gave you the back story. Now here’s our official predictions for the African Cup of Nations 2013. We’ll have more detailed team profiles by fans of each country coming up in the next few days, and if you think we’ve got it horribly wrong about your team don’t be shy about calling us out in the comments, especially if you’re Zambian or South African. (Also, don’t forget to join our Fantasy Football league for the tournament where you can test your football knowledge against ours – our league pin is 9132137935284.)
Angola | Palancas Negras (Sable Antelopes) | Ranked 83 in world, 20 in Africa
Player to watch: Manucho, as always.
No goalkeeper is safe when Manucho is around, and Angola will be relying on the former Manchester United netbuster once again in South Africa. Will they be relishing their Lusophone derby vs Cabo Verde and who will the Brazilians and Mozambicans be rooting for in that one? | Prediction: Group stage exit
South Africa | Bafana Bafana (Boys Boys) | Ranked 76 in world, 19 in Africa
Player to watch: Steven Pienaar, but he’s at home in Liverpool.
They’re rubbish. But home advantage is always a huge boost in international tournaments and Bafana Bafana have the bare minimum of quality to make it count (they’re not as bad as Equatorial Guinea were last time). | Prediction: Undeserved quarter-finalists.
Morocco | The Atlas Lions | Ranked 75 in world, 18 in Africa
Player to watch: Younes Belhanda.
Struggled past Mozambique in qualifying but Morocco have quality. Defensive rock Mehdi Benatia is known as the “Moroccan Maldini” and Belhanda is a top class playmaker. | Prediction: Group stage exit
Cabo Verde | The Blue Sharks | Ranked 51 in world, 10 in Africa
Player to watch: Djaniny.
A rising force, this will be the Blue Sharks’ first CAN. Stunned Cameroon to qualify and more surprises could be on the way. Wouldn’t it be great to see them make it out of the group-stage? | Prediction: Quarter-finalists
Mali | Les Aigles (the Eagles) | Ranked 27 in world, 3 in Africa
Player to watch: Cheick Diabaté.
Not for nothing did the Eagles finished third at the last tournament, and they have enough quality to challenge at this tournament. Much may depend on how much power midfield talisman Seydou Keita still has in his legs, but they have some good youngsters in there as well, and the dire situation at home could give them extra motivation in SA (remember when Drogba “single-handedly” ended the war in Cote d’Ivoire?). | Prediction: Semi-finalists
Ghana | Black Stars | Ranked 31 in world, 4 in Africa
Player to watch: Christian Atsu, Kwadwo Asamoah.
Right now Ghana are enjoying a golden age for midfielders. They have the best midfield at the competition, incredible when you consider that star names Michael Essien, Sulley Muntari, Kevin Prince-Boateng and Andre Ayew will all be absent. With Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu and Anthony Annan bossing the middle of the pitch and Kwadwo Asamoah and Christian Atsu offering power and penetration on the flanks, the Black Stars should dominate most of their games in South Africa. But they still aren’t scoring enough goals. That will be the job of new captain Asamoah Gyan, who is off penalty-taking duty after his mother told him from her death bed that he should stop taking penalties, a decision that will come as a relief to Ghanaians everywhere. A more attacking style could see the four-time champions finally end their 30 year wait for another CAN trophy. This team looks fresh and dynamic, and we think this could be their time. | Prediction: Winners
Niger | The Mena (Gazelle) | Ranked 137 in world, 42 in Africa
Player to watch: Olivier Bonnes.
Niger only made their first appearance at a CAN finals in 2012, and they look like making a habit of it. They’d be thrilled to make it past the group stage, though Jonathan Wilson thinks they’re not to be underestimated. | Prediction: Group stage exit
DR Congo | The Leopards | Ranked 103 in world, 30 in Africa
Player to watch: Dieumerci Mbokani.
Two-time African champions, the Leopards are an improving side and boast a dangerous, powerful strikeforce. Coach Claude Le Roy has vast experience. | Prediction: Group stage exit
Zambia | Chipolopolo (the Copper Bullets) | Ranked 41 in world, 6 in Africa
Player to watch: We couldn’t decide between Emmanuel Mayuka and Rainford Kalaba.
Reigning champions Zambia head to South Africa with inspirational coach Herve Renard still in charge and expectations at an all-time high. Probably too high, in fact, when you remember just how much of a shock Zambia’s win last year was, and the fact that they only squeezed past Uganda by the skin of their teeth in qualifying for this tournament. They’ll give it a hell of a go, but we don’t think they’ll pull it off again. Defending your title is always tough, and nobody will be underestimating them this time around. | Prediction: Semi-Finalists
Nigeria | Super Eagles | Ranked 63 in world, 13 in Africa
Player to watch: Victor Moses.
Still recovering from their disastrous World Cup 2010, the Super Eagles return to South Africa. A talented side, but can they stay united? Leaving Peter Odemwingie and Shola Ameobi out of the squad looks crazy, but coach Stephen Keshi has shown (again) that he is not to be messed with. | Prediction: Quarter-Finalists
Burkina Faso | Les Etalons (The Stallions) | Ranked 91 in world, 23 in Africa
Player to watch: Jonathan Pitroipa, Alain Traore.
Regular qualifiers, the Stallions reached the semi-finals in 1998 when they hosted the tournament but have otherwise struggled to make an impact. They do have some technically gifted players though (Jonathan Pitroipa is a lovely silky winger), so don’t be too surprised if they pull off a shock against Nigeria or Zambia | Prediction: Group Stage exit
Ethiopia | The Black Lions / The Walya Antelopes | Ranked 118 in world, 33 in Africa
Player to watch: Oumed Oukri.
A dramatic comeback win over Sudan in qualifying took the 1962 champions back to Africa’s elite competition after a thirty year absence. An unknown force at this level. Expect lots of comments about how they’re trying to “prove Arsene Wenger wrong” – it’s a lot of nonsense, all the poor man said was that he’d struggle to name five of their players | Prediction: Group Stage exit
Algeria | Les Fennecs (The Fennec Foxes) | 24 in world, 2 in Africa
Player to watch: Sofiane Feghouli.
Algeria’s young team go into the tournament in good form and will hope to return to the glories of 1990, when they won the cup on home soil. Their recent tournament form has been patchy though — they couldn’t even beat England at the World Cup and remember when they were thrashed by Malawi? — and key defender Madjid Bougherra misses out. | Prediction: Quarter-finalists
Togo | Les Eperviers (The Sparrow Hawks) | 93 in world, 24 in Africa
Player to watch: Emmanuel Adebayor, if he doesn’t wander off.
Didier Six’s men return to African Cup competition after suspension, and their main player is back too (at least we think he’s back). Will try to keep it tight and carve out chances for Adebayor, but Group D looks an unforgiving draw for the Togolese. | Prediction: Group Stage exit
Tunisia | The Eagles of Carthage | 45 in world, 7 in Africa
Player to watch: Youssef Msakni.
Champions in 2004, the Eagles of Carthage draw many of their players from local club Espérance. Msakni is always dangerous. Never an easy opponent. | Prediction: Group stage exit
Cote d’Ivoire | Les Elephants | 16 in world, 1 in Africa
Player to watch: Lacina Traore.
With a wealth of talent, Les Elephants go in as clear favourites. Past disappointments should have taught them the perils of an overly defensive approach, and with Drogba still around, Yaya Toure terrifying everyone he comes up against, Arouna Kone in great form, and 6’8” striker Lacina Traore finally getting picked (he’s Sammy Eto’o's strike partner at Anzhi and is the same size as Lebron James), they have a side with the potential to bulldoze this competition. But then we say that every time. No doubt if they finally do it, they’ll celebrate with a rapturous whole-team Drogbacité at Soccer City (some guy called Teju Cole used to write about Didier’s dance back in the day). | Prediction: Beaten finalists, as usual
An earlier version of this post formed part of the tournament preview I wrote for Selamta, the in-flight magazine of Ethiopian Airlines (check out their online version).