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Africa Cup of Nations 2013: Predicting the Countries to Finish Atop Each Group

PORT ELIZABETH, SOUTH AFRICA - NOVEMBER 12: Yaya Toure of Cote D'Ivoire (L) and Kagisho Dikgacoi of Bafana Bafana  in action during the Nelson Mandela Challenge match between South Africa and Ivory Coast at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on November 12, 2011 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. (Photo by Richard Huggard/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
Gallo Images/Getty Images
Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistJanuary 18, 2013

The 2013 Africa Cup of Nations is shaping up to be a great month of football.

It's an opportunity to see some of the best African countries showcased in a way that isn't available at the World Cup.

Group A action kicks off on January 19 with South Africa facing off with Cape Verde Islands. For those interested, ESPN will be airing the 16-team tournament, though most matches will be online (h/t the Washington Post).

Here's a quick preview of who will win each of the four groups before the knockout stage begins.

 

Group A: South Africa

South Africa can no longer rely on former captain Steven Pienaar, who has retired from international football (h/t Ed Aarons of the BBC).

Last year's AFCON was nothing but embarrassment for South Africa, as the country celebrated a draw, believing it advanced though qualification.

It had not realized that goal differential was the tiebreaker, and as a result South Africa finished runner-up in its group and did not qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations.

That wasn't a problem this year since it's hosting the tournament.

The hosts benefit from what is easily the weakest of the four groups. Despite a third-place finish in Group A at the 2010 World Cup, the Bafana Bafana had a rather disappointing time the last time it hosted an international tournament.

In a group where one team fails to excel over its competition, South Africa is where the smart money should be.

 

Group B: Ghana

Ghana is a team that should have been one of the massive favorites for this tournament.

However, Sulley Muntari has been largely disappointing during his career. Andre Ayew, who's done well at Marseille, has been left out of the roster for the Africa Cup of Nations (h/t Edmund Okai Gyimah of Goal.com).

Much like South Africa, Ghana won't have what would be a key player. A year after the 2010 World Cup, Kevin-Prince Boateng chose to retire from international football (via Ibrahim Sannie of the BBC).

Regardless, the Black Stars still have one of the best midfields in the Africa Cup of Nations with Anthony Annan, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu and Kwadwo Asamoah.

The strength of that midfield could still get Ghana very far in this tournament.

 

Group C: Nigeria

Group C will almost certainly come down to either Zambia or Nigeria. Burkina Faso and Ethiopia don't pose a huge threat.

Zambia captivated world football fans across the globe with its title at last year's Africa Cup of Nations. It was both a poignant and incredible run. Creating that kind of momentum and luck again will prove very difficult.

Nigeria was one of the best African countries in the mid-'90s to early 2000s. Recently, though, the country has fallen off a bit.

Manager Stephen Keshi has shifted out some of the more experienced players in favor of building around young players. It's worked very well, with Nigeria looking like a very solid unit.

 

Group D: Cote d'Ivoire

The Cote d'Ivoire squad is going to be the heavy favorite in this year's Africa Cup of Nations simply by virtue of having more star players than anybody else.

The Elephants can rely on the likes of Didier Drogba, Gervinho, Wilfried Bony, Yaya and Kolo Toure and Cheick Tiote.

Unfortunately, Cote d'Ivoire's recent history has been full of nothing but heartbreak. Journalist Jonathan Wilson did a very good job of recapping the disappointment on this week's Football Weekly Extra podcast.

At last year's AFCON, the Elephants did not give up a single goal. They ended up losing to Zambia in a penalty shootout.

Algeria will be tough competition in Group D, but there's no way Cote d'Ivoire finishes anywhere outside the top spot.

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