Equatorial Guinea 2015 is shaping up as one of the most competitive Africa Cup of Nations football tournaments in recent years.
The 16-team tournament, which kicks off January 17th, features nine former champions, but not the reigning titleholder, Nigeria, which failed to qualify.
Longtime African football analyst David Legge, soccer writer for Agence France-Presse, says he counts seven teams that could possibly lift the trophy on February 8th in the seaport city of Bata.
They are, in alphabetical order, Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia.
The Desert Foxes of Algeria kicked sand in the faces of many World Cup experts by reaching the Round of 16 for the first time in the country’s history at last year’s football showpiece in Brazil.
However, the Algerians haven’t won the Nations Cup since 1990 when they hosted the African championship and captured their only crown.
Of the seven teams that Legge mentioned, Ghana and Cameroon have the proudest Nations Cup pedigrees. Each has won the Cup four times.
The Black Stars of Ghana, like the Desert Foxes, have gone through a long dry spell at the Nations Cup. Their last African title was in 1982.
Cameroon’s last championship was in 2002, when it beat Senegal, 3-2 on penalty kicks, in Mali. That was Senegal’s best ever Nations Cup showing.
Legge’s dark horse picks for the 30th edition of African football’s premier event are Gabon, Cape Verde and Congo-Brazzaville, which plays Equatorial Guinea in the tournament’s opening match in Bata.
He says “the sly French fox” Claude Le Roy, the head coach of Congo-Brazzaville, makes the Congolese a threat to go far in Equatorial Guinea.
The 66-year-old Le Roy has had successful coaching stints in the past with Cameroon, Senegal, Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in Legge’s words, “has a magical effect” on the teams he guides.
Equatorial Guinea, which co-hosted the 2012 Nations Cup with Gabon, has had only about nine weeks to get ready for staging the tournament at a cost estimated at $40 million.
Morocco, the original host, wanted the competition postponed because of Ebola fears and Equatorial Guinea stepped in as a last minute replacement.