African Nations Cup preview Group C: Heavyweights ready to impress
Africa's highest-ranked team, Algeria -- who sit 15th in the world -- four-time former champions Ghana, previous winners South Africa and a Senegal side that seems to have found its soul make up the group of death. This is the pool to watch and it is expected the best football from the first round will come from here.
Too tough to call but here's an attempt: Algeria should advance, given the way they dominated the continental game over the last 12 months. Anything less than a quarterfinal finish will be a failure for them and they will know some are tipping them to go all the way.
Ghana would be the next most fancied team, and are next highest on the rankings where they are rated fifth-best in Africa, three higher than Senegal. But this may be where numbers do not matter. The Black Stars have had behind-the-scenes battles which saw them return red-faced from the 2014 World Cup. On top of that, they appointed a new coach, Avram Grant, just seven weeks before kick-off. That will give both South Africa, unbeaten under Shakes Mashaba, and Senegal, who have been promised handsome bonuses for victory, hope they may sneak past Ghana. Watching how those three teams actually stack up will be the intrigue of this group.
Ghana: Despite improvements between the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, Ghana have not asserted themselves on Africa's biggest stage as they would have liked. They last won an ANC in 1982 and have been semifinalists in four editions before this one, thus earning something of a bridesmaids' tag. Shaking that off will be difficult with an almost brand new squad that is without a dozen of the players who appeared in the 2013 tournament. Asamoah Gyan will still headline them and they will hope new faces such as Cambridge United's Kwesi Appiah and Norway-based Mahatma Otoo will combine forces with the likes of brothers Andre and Jordan Ayew, Mubarak Wakaso and Jonathan Mensah to form a formidable team.
Algeria: After a respectable showing at the 2014 World Cup, Algeria are a side on the rise. Since being allowed to lure French-based players with Algerian heritage to their country, they have identified and groomed talent to form an eye-catching outfit. Among their squad is BBC's African Footballer of the Year, Yacine Brahimi, Valencia's Sofiane Feghouli, Tottenham's Nabil Bentaleb and UAE-based defenders Madjid Bougherra and Rafik Halliche. Their mix of youth and experience makes them a complete outfit and the team to beat at this tournament.
South Africa: How does a team recover from the loss of its leader? By making sure they are good as he would have wanted them to be. South Africa were sailing through qualification when their skipper, Senzo Meyiwa, was murdered in October. Far from derailing them, it galvanised them to come out on top of their pool. They have a new captain, Dean Furman, and a new man in goal, Darren Keet, but the same sense of determination Meyiwa left them with. The days of mediocrity and underperformance are over. They have promise but they will only make good on their word if their strike force fires when needed most.
Senegal: Perhaps Africa's most recognisable team on a global stage after their 2002 World Cup heroics, some will be surprised to discover Senegal have never won an ANC title. They are an intimidating, physical side but have struggled to turn that into anything more substantial largely because of infighting and administrative bungling. This time has been no different, with Demba Ba omitted from the squad despite success in the Turkish league and Diafra Sakho ruled out with a back injury, which Senegal believe West Ham mismanaged. But if they can get it together, they could add to the spectacle.
Best individual battle
Algeria and Ghana were the teams with the most goals in qualifying while Senegal were one of only two teams -- Cameroon being the other -- who conceded just one goal. That suggests the battle lines will be between the likes of Brahimi and Gyan, who netted three times each in the qualifiers, and the defences of their opposition.
Every match in this group should be worth watching, but the one between Algeria and Ghana is likely to be the headliner. The two teams are among those fancied to go all the way and may end up battling it out for top spot, or to keep South Africa or Senegal at bay. Expect an exciting encounter.
X factor: Ambition
All four teams in this group come with big dreams. Algeria want to continue an impressive run while Ghana are eager come back from a particularly poor period. South Africa want something tangible to show for their gains and Senegal want to finally live up to their reputations. For their lofty goals to come to fruition, they will have to be at their best.