African Cup of Nations 2015 Equatorial Guinea is Well Under Way

Orange Africa Cup of Nations - Equatorial Guinea 2015 - Tournament Logo / BadgeIt was the North-Western Saharan nation of Morocco that got the chance to host the African Nations Cup of 2015. But the considerable presence of teams from West African nations coming out of a deadly Ebola epidemic weighed heavily on the minds of the Moroccans causing them to back out as hosts. After Egypt, Ghana, South Africa and Sudan declined offers of hosting the AFCON 2015 the tournament venue finally shifted to the tiny central African nation of Equatorial Guinea (ranked 144th in the world size-wise). Morocco was barred from competing for their refusal to host the competition.

Of the 51 nations of the African continent competing through a system of qualifiers, 16 made it to the finals. The teams have been divided into four groups. The top two teams of each group will advance to the round of 8 or the Quarter-finals.

The four Equatorial Guinea cities hosting the matches, that already commenced on 17 January, will be Malabo, Bata, Mongomo and Ebebiyin. The final will be played out in the capital, Malabo, on February 8.

GROUP A: Burkina Faso, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Congo

Burkina Faso should be easy contenders to make it to the Round of 8 and expected to top this group. They have begun their campaign well by beating Gabon 2-0 in their first game. Being finalists in the AFCON 2013 they are no strangers to big occasions. Interestingly Nigeria who happened to be the previous champions failed to even qualify this time around. Congo could be the second team in line in this group to qualify for the next round, but were held to a 1-1 draw by an inspirational performance by the hosts Equatorial Guinea. The going for the other favorite in this group, Gabon, would get even tougher now.

GROUP B: Cape Verde, DR Congo, Tunisia and Zambia

Tunisia under manager George Leekens and having players like Monaco's Aymen Abdennour, QPR's Bilel Mohsni in their ranks look clear favorites in this group. But tiny Cape Verde have announced themselves as the Dark Horse by holding the mighty Tunisians to a 1-1 draw. Nuno Rocha, their 22-year old midfielder will be a talent to keep an eye on. Zambia are the other favorites in this group though their current form doesn't in any way suggest that they were the African champions of 2012. A lacklustre 1-1 draw with DR Congo in their opener is testimony to that.

GROUP C: Algeria, Ghana, Senegal and South Africa

This happens to the toughest group of all. But despite that, the Algerians can be expected to top it. They are a highly motivated bunch after their great outing at the Brazil 2014 World Cup when they qualified for the first time in the knock-out rounds. The way they came from being a goal down to beat the South Africans 3-1 in their opener on Monday is in itself an early warning to their rivals. Yacine Brahimi of Porto FC is someone to watch out for and is considered one of the best midfielders in contemporary football ; goalkeeper Rais Mbolhi is another. Senegal is the other favorite in the group. Striker Dame Ndoye of Lokomotiv Moscow and Stephane Badji ,one of the better midfielders of the Norwegian League, make the core of the Senegalese team. Ghana is still recovering from their World Cup fiasco and are a long way out from finding their feet. Even having Avram Grant, the ex-Chelsea manager, as their coach hasn't helped matters. Their first outing was a 1-2 loss to Senegal.

GROUP D: Cameroon, Guinea, Ivory Coast and Mali

Even without the legendary Didier Drogba not around, Ivory Coast are the bookmakers' hot favorites to make it all the way in AFCON 2015 what with Yaya Toure, Wilfried Body of Man City and Gevinho of Roma in their ranks. But they were in for a rude jolt on Tuesday when lowly Guinea held them to a 1-1 draw. The Guineans drew first blood and the score would have remained that way had a 72nd min Seydou Doumbia equalizer from a Wilfried Bony assist not come. Guinea are a team hardened by having to play all their home matches away in Morocco thanks to the Ebola outbreak and will be a tough nut to crack. Although Cameroon are without the services of Samuel Eto'o they have in their ranks a strike force comprising of Njie, Vincent Aboubakar and Eric Choupo-Moting. But their opener with Mali was far from impressive. At late equalizer from Oyongo Bitolo in the 84th minute saved the day for the Cameroonians. This group could hold some surprises as the tournament progresses.

The AFCON 2015 promises to be a very open one competitively. Ivory Coast and Algeria look the favorites for the moment. Although the latter have a shaky history south of the Sahara, they will draw inspiration from their remarkable showing at the World Cup 2014 and take a genuine shot at the African title this time around.

Since 1957 when it was first held, the African Cup has come a long way. With the phenomenal rise in talent emerging from Africa of late and more and more big names from the continent dotting the European club circuit, the African Nations Cup competition has the potential to draw in viewership in great multitudes going into the future making it probably the most watched international football event after the World Cup and the European Cup.