Football

3 things about the tourney

Disqualified Equatorial Guinea play last-minute hosts

Central African nation Equatorial Guinea stepped in as hosts barely two months ago, after designated hosts Morocco pulled out amid fears over Ebola.

Equatorial Guinea, with a population of just over 700,000, were initially kicked out of the qualifiers for fielding an ineligible player.

A change of coach has not helped their cause, with Andoni Goikoetxea a victim of a leadership change, after the Equatorial Guinea football federation elections last November.

A new president wanted Stephen Keshi, who led Nigeria to the African Nations Cup title in 2013, but the negotiations stalled.

Instead, Esteban Becker, an Argentinian with little experience, has been moved across from his job with Equatorial Guinea’s women’s team and with just two weeks to prepare.

Holders Super Eagles lose grip during qualifying

Nigeria, who won the 2013 African Nations Cup, are conspicuously absent from this tournament.

The Super Eagles, who reached the Round of 16 at last year’s World Cup, failed to qualify after notching two wins, two draws and two losses in their qualifying group, finishing behind South Africa and Congo.

Seven-time champions Egypt missed out too, losing four of their six qualifying matches.

Algeria, who also reached the Round of 16 at last year’s World Cup and are the highest-ranked African team (18th) on the Fifa rankings, have emerged as the favourites, but must negotiate their way past a tough Group C which includes Senegal, Ghana and South Africa.

EPL rivals reunite for continental contest

EPL fans will find familiar faces in this tournament.

For instance, Senegal will likely have Newcastle United’s Papiss Cisse and Stoke City’s Mame Biram Diouf leading the line, and West Ham’s Cheikhou Kouyate in midfield.

When they meet Algeria in their group clash, they are likely to face Tottenham Hotspur’s Nabil Bentaleb and Leicester’s Riyad Mahrez.

Over in Group D, Ivory Coast will parade Manchester City’s talisman Yaya Toure, whose brother, Liverpool defender Kolo, will also feature.

In Group B, Crystal Palace’s Yannick Bolasie and West Brom’s Youssouf Mulumbu will be turning out for the Democratic Republic of Congo. — Wire Services.