The 31st edition of the Africa Cup of Nations is set to kick off this weekend.
The exciting showdown between African nations will begin on Saturday 14 January. Hosted in Gabon this year, champions, Ivory Coast are set to defend their title. The team won for the first time in 2015, after beating Ghana 9-8 on penalties.
It is expected that there will be ‘thrilling’ matches – the outcome of the tournament is said to be ‘unpredictable’. In this year’s tournament there will be 32 matches which will take place over 23 days. 16 teams will compete to lift the cup at the final on 5 February.
The winning team will also take home $4m [£3.29m]. The tournament is exciting for the continent, where it has become the biggest sporting event. It is expected that there will be surprises and historic moments, which will highlight Africa’s best sporting talents.
There will be ‘familiar faces’ taking part in the competition. Professional Football Association (PFA) player of the year, Riyad Mahrez, will be a key player for team Algeria.
Liverpool F.C.’s Sadio Mane – who cost Liverpool £34m – will be Senegal’s key figure. Mane has been viewed by many to be the stand-out player of the first half of the current Premiere League.
A total of 23 Premiere League players will be competing in Gabon. This long list also includes Manchester United’s defender, Eric Bailly, who will be playing with Ivory Coast.
West African country, Guinea-Bissau, enter the tournament for the first time. Most of their players are based in Portugal. The team enter as ‘the underdogs’.
Hosts Gabon will face Ginea-Bissau in the opening match. The quarter finals take place on 28 and 29 January 2017. The semi-finals will take place on 1 and 2 February 2017.
African teams are becoming stronger. As a result some football fans find it difficult to predict a winner at this moment.