Malabo: Few tournaments have thrown up such a tough section as Group C at the African Nations Cup with Algeria, Ghana, Senegal and South Africa battling for two quarter-final places.
Last month`s draw in Malabo brought together four of the continent’s top teams, who all showed tournament-winning potential during the September to November qualifying campaign.
Africa’s top-ranked team Algeria picked up where they left off from their World Cup exploits, where they went past the group phase for the first time and took eventual champions Germany to extra time in the second round before going out.
Algeria won five matches in the Nations Cup qualifiers in a seamless leadership transition as Christian Gourcuff took over as coach from Vahid Halilhodzic without missing a beat.
Senegal were equally impressive even though they did not win the group as they beat Egypt twice and were unlucky to lose to a stoppage time goal in Tunisia as they claimed a qualifying spot.
Coach Alain Giresse has taken a gamble on the fitness of midfielder Sadio Mane, who emerged as a key factor in the preliminaries at about the same time as he moved to Southampton.
However, Mane is doubtful for Equatorial Guinea with Senegal having already lost striker Diafra Sakho to a back injury.
Giresse courted controversy by leaving Demba Ba out of his squad but with Papiss Demba and Mame Birame Diouf as his first-choice strikers he is unlikely to regret omitting the ex-Chelsea forward.
Ghana topped their qualifying group, albeit with a little less conviction, and, with the fallout from a poor World Cup campaign still reverberating around the squad, added more uncertainty by changing coaches halfway through the campaign.
Avram Grant has taken over he but has little time to prepare since his appointment was only finalised in late November.
However, he has already made an imprint with the selection of several young fringe players, although most of the key elements that have seen Ghana reach the semi-finals of the last four successive Nations Cup finals remain.
South Africa have shown a lot of improvement since missing out on last year’s World Cup and were responsible for eliminating Nations Cup holders Nigeria in the qualifiers.
Bafana Bafana finished their six-match programme unbeaten, conceding three goals with a refreshed team that is younger than before but chosen to build towards the next World Cup in Russia.
The side has come on a lot quicker than expected.
Group C is based in Mongomo where a new pitch has been laid at the recently built municipal stadium.