The 33rd Africa Cup of Nations gets underway in Cameroon on Sunday, having been delayed a year by the coronavirus pandemic.
Here, BBC Sport Africa runs the rule over Group E, which includes holders Algeria, two-time winners Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and Equatorial Guinea.
|Appearance: 19th||Best finish: Winners (1990 and 2019)|
|Coach: Djamel Belmadi||Captain: Riyad Mahrez|
|Fifa ranking: 29||Nickname: Desert Foxes|
Maher Mezahi (Algerian sports journalist): Algeria will travel to Cameroon not only looking to defend their title, but also hoping to set a new record for the most consecutive matches without defeat in international football.
Italy set the record at 37 last year after winning the European Championship, but the north Africans would be worthy holders after putting Colombia, Mexico, Senegal, Nigeria and Tunisia to the sword during their impressive 33-match run.
Algeria will look to Riyad Mahrez to step up in crucial moments with timely goals and assists. Opposite the Manchester City winger is the unsung hero of the Algerian national team, Youcef Belaili. The 30-year-old is just as deft a dribbler as Mahrez and possesses uncanny chemistry with his childhood friend and Algeria pointman Baghdad Bounedjah.
Coach Djamel Belmadi will return virtually to the same starting line-up that helped him win the 2019 title. Although he stuck to a dynamic 4-3-3 in Egypt, Belmadi has also employed a more direct 4-4-2 which produced satisfactory results in qualifying.
With their tactical flexibility, airtight chemistry and proven star-power, Algeria are definite favourites to repeat in Cameroon.
|Appearance: Third||Best finish: Group stage (1994 and 1996)|
|Coach: John Keister||Captain: Umaru Bangura|
|Fifa ranking: 108||Nickname: Leone Stars|
Mohamed Fajah Barrie (Sports journalist, Sierra Leone): Sierra Leone are returning to the continent’s biggest football competition after an absence of 26 years.
Leone Stars are hoping to at least go beyond the group stage for the first time, but will have to be at their very best if they’re to achieve their dream.
Knowing the tough task at hand, coach John Keister tried to beef up his squad with new players ahead of his country’s third participation at Nations Cup finals.
One player Leone Stars will be relying on is veteran striker Kei Kamara, fifth all-time leading goal scorer in Major League Soccer, whose goal from the penalty spot against Benin sealed qualification.
It’ll be a difficult task to overcome two-time winners Ivory Coast and defending champions Algeria.
|Appearance: Third||Best finish: Fourth place (2015)|
|Coach: Juan Micha||Captain: Emilio Nsue|
|Fifa ranking: 114||Nickname: Nzalang Nacional (National Thunder)|
Juvenal Edjogo (Former international): It’s a success for Equatorial Guinea to qualify, because the other two times they played the competition at home, as organisers. They got good results at home in qualification and I hope that this trajectory can be continued at the Nations Cup.
It is like a Cinderella story. The players aren’t in the top leagues in Europe but one of the secrets is that they have had a lot of time to play together.
The best player is Pedro Obiang, but he is injured, and there are only a couple in La Liga while Jose Machin (Monza) is in the second division in Italy. Iban Salvador (Fuenlabrada) is a midfielder who is good at arriving in the area.
Emilio Nsue is the captain but hasn’t had a club this season. I know he has been training hard but the rhythm of competition is the most important thing for a player.
There are a lot of quick players in attack. The poor zone is in defence – it’s a historic problem – but the team has other threats.
|Appearance: 24th||Best finish: Winners (1992 and 2015)|
|Coach: Patrice Beaumelle||Captain: Serge Aurier|
|Fifa ranking: 56||Nickname: The Elephants|
Carinne Kassi (Journalist at La Nouvelle Chaine Ivoirienne): After a disappointing run during the World Cup qualifiers with a team in total reconstruction, the Ivorian selection goes to Cameroon on tiptoes. Serge Aurier, Eric Bailly, Max Gradel and even Serey Die are names that no longer make you dream.
The arrival of Wilfried Zaha, Sebastien Haller, Maxwell Cornet and other reinforcements didn’t bring any magic to the Elephants, who continue to underperform.
A squad sure to win the Nations Cup? The response remains mixed when we have attackers who have trouble finding the net, an almost non-existent defence and no real leader to boost the team like in Didier Drogba’s time.
As for the coach Patrice Beaumelle, a mastery of the dressing room is lacking – as are his playing tactics. There is a challenging road ahead.
The Elephants will therefore be in Cameroon without much conviction, and the supporters, for their part, attach little importance to this team at the moment.
Group E Fixtures
Tuesday, 11 January: Algeria v Sierra Leone
Wednesday, 12 January: Equatorial Guinea v Ivory Coast
Sunday, 16 January: Ivory Coast v Sierra Leone, Algeria v Equatorial Guinea
Thursday, 20 January: Ivory Coast v Algeria, Sierra Leone v Equatorial Guinea
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