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I think with every new tournament winning the Africa Cup of Nations is getting tougher and tougher with most of the teams having so many European based players and some squads like those of Ghana, Nigeria and Ivory Coast for example being composed of mostly European based players with some of them being key players in their teams.
The sixteen teams that qualified for the Nations Cup are divided into four groups of four teams and are based in four different cities for the group stages. I will try to briefly look at each of the groups and give my verdict on whom I think will reach the quarter-finals stage.
In Group A I think Ghana as the hosts nation will come through that group and I think they will be joined in the quarter finals by Morocco. While Guinea have a very good team I still think Morocco will use their experience to power themselves into the quarters.
Although Nigeria are the seeded team in Group B, I think Ivory Coast will win that group. Ivory Coast is one of the most balanced teams in the competition with a solid defence marshalled by Arsenal's Kolo Toure and a strike force led by Chelsea's Didier Drogba and a midfield that could feature Didier Zokora and Yaya Toure. I would actually tip them to go and win the tournament itself after losing out to hosts Egpyt the last time around.
While Mali will cause problems and will be a real threat I still think Nigeria should be able to hop past them and I think debutants Benin will prop that group. Nigeria's greatest strength lies in their strike force where they are blessed with an array of talent that includes Obafemi Martins, Nwankwo Kanu, Ayegbeni Yakubu and Stephen Makinwa.
In Group C only Zambia haven't won the competition before but they have reached the finals twice but they look to me like the weak team in the group that boasts past winners Cameroon, Egypt and Sudan.
I think Cameroon and Egypt should be able to fill the top two places of this group. Cameroon missed the last World Cup and since then they have been playing well despite having problems with coaches. Their biggest threat will still be Barcelona's Samuel E'too whilst current holders Egypt should have enough depth to negotiate their way into the quarters.
I think that Group D is probably the trickiest of all the groups. Here we have teams who are all capable of reaching the quarter-finals and I think there will be no run-away leader in this group.
The seeded team in this group is Tunisia but we have a resurgent Senegalese team who I think will be trying to reclaim their success of 2002 in this tournament. Senegal ill once again be looking at Henri Camara, El Hadji Diouf and Mamadou Niang for goals whilst in defence they will miss Ferdinand Coly.
Then there is South Africa who under coach Brazilian Carlos Alberto Parreira are trying to build a team that will take them at least into the knockout stages at the next World Cup which they will host and I therefore expect them to be very competitive.
The South African squad does not include Benni McCarthy but every player who will be chosen to play will know that a good performance here could mean a place in the squad that will be playing at home in 2010 and that will be a big incentive to perform.
One can also not discount Angola who held their own at the last World Cup in Germany despite going out at the group stages and are also scheduled to host the next edition of the Nations up. So I am sure they would like to be hosts having done well in this competition.
All I can say is that there is a high chance that Tunisia will be in the quarters but at the moment its very hard to see who might join them.
The Nations Cup has been won nine times by the hosts and when Ghana has hosted the tournament on their own they have won it. It is also worth noting that the previous two tournaments have also been won by the hosts. That would probably point to a Ghana winning it but I think that Ivory Coast will win it this time.
Looking at the schedule, for Ghana to avoid Ivory Coast in the quarter-finals, they have to finish in the same position in their groups, that is both first or both second otherwise they will meet in the quarters assuming they both finish in the top two positions.
For the first time I will be participating in a Nations Cup tipping competition on TipsChallenge and it
is there I hope to test my knowledge of African football.