The 2012 African Cup Of Nations gets under way this weekend, in what is set to be an explosion of colour, noise and exciting football action. Hosts Gabon and Equatorial Guinea are ready to go, Gaguie the gorilla (the tournament’s mascot) is ready to go and hopefully, so are the players. Here is our African Cup Of Nations 2012 preview.

Group A

Equatorial Guinea
Current best price: 126.00 (BetVictor)
FIFA Rank: 151
Key man: Rodolfo Bodipo (Deportivo La Coruna)

It’s safe to say that Equatorial Guinea are only here because they are co-hosts; they are highly unlikely to have qualified for this year’s tournament otherwise and will surely be brushed aside by the more talented and experienced sides in this Group. Captain Rodolfo Bodipo is past his prime at the age of 34, but his experience and goals will be vital if Equatorial Guinea are to make any impact in the competition.

Current best price: 41.00 (BetVictor, SportingBet, William Hill)
FIFA Rank: 63
Key man: Walid Al Khatroushi (Al Ittihad)

The story of Libya’s qualification for the 2012 African Cup Of Nations is truly inspiring. Set to the backdrop of the toppling of the Gaddafi regime, the team faced a titanic struggle even to get matches played. Experienced coach Marcos Paqueta went unpaid for nine months, but remained keen to work with his side to ensure qualification, while key players like winger Walid Al Khatroushi took up arms to fight for the rebels against Gaddafi and are lucky to be alive. Perhaps the side’s togetherness and battling mentality will allow them to sneak through, in what could be an open contest for second place in the group.

Current best price: 7.50 (Coral)
FIFA Rank: 43
Key man: Demba Ba

Easily the best team in Group A, Senegal should have no problems qualifying and should take the top spot with ease. Newcastle may have lost the prolific Demba Ba in their bid to make the Champions League, but their loss is definitely Senegal’s gain and Ba is a striker in form. Along with Papiss Cisse and last season’s French Ligue 1 top scorer Moussa Sow, the Senegalese have a potent attack, but if their is one chink in their armour, it could be their selection of inexperienced goalkeepers.

Current best price: 67.00 (bwin)
FIFA Rank: 71
Key man: Emmanuel Mayuka (Young Boys)

Zambia made the quarter finals of the last African Cup of Nations tournament, under French coach Herve Renard. Renard left soon after and Zambia qualified for the 2012 campaign thanks to Dario Bonetti, whose reward was a sacking. Renard is back in charge of the side again and with the talents of players like Emmanuel Mayuka of Swiss side Young Boys, Zambia could well prove a surprise package, however, they are usually let down by a lack of strength in depth so injury and suspension must be avoided.

Summary: Senegal will have no problems in qualifying for the knock-out stages of the 2012 African Cup of Nations, but the race for the second qualification spot is wide open. The 1.45 offered by SportingBet about Senegal winning Group A looks like buying money, but if you’re feeling a little more brave, bwin‘s 2.65 about Libya and Senegal both qualifying from the group looks tempting.

Group B

Ivory Coast
Current best price: 2.63 (Bet365, Stan JamesCoral)
FIFA Rank: 18
Key man: Didier Drogba

Côte d’Ivoire – a.k.a. Ivory Coast – are FIFA’s top ranked side in Africa and so are understandably favourites for the 2012 African Cup of Nations. Talismanic Chelsea striker Didier Drogba will be looking to perform well and add to his tally of 51 international goals, in what is likely to be his final African Nations tournament. The 33 year old has yet to win the tournament as the Ivory Coast consistently flatter to deceive, but with the talents of Yaya and Kolo Toure, Arsenal’s Gervinho and Drogba’s Chelsea team mate Salomon Kalou at their disposal, surely this will be their year?

Current best price: 101.00 (bwinWilliam Hill)
FIFA Rank: 120
Key man: Mahjoub El Moez (Al Hilal)

Sudan won the 1970 edition of the African Cup Of Nations, but have only qualified once since 1976 (in 2008, when they didn’t get past the first round) so we shouldn’t be expecting too much from the Falcons. A vastly inexperienced team at international level, all of the Sudanese players are drawn from the local Sudanese league, so players like goalkeeper Mahjoub El Moez and captain Haitham Mostafa will be key to their chances of success, as they are far and away the most experienced campaigners in the side.

Burkina Faso
Current best price: 29.00 (BetVictorCoral)
FIFA Rank: 66
Key man: Charles Kabore (Marseille)

Since making the semi finals in 1998, Burkina Faso are yet to progress beyond the first round of the competition. The current Burkina Faso side lacks strength in depth and the likes of utility player Charles Kabore, the central midfielder who is often seen at right back, will be key to their African Nations 2012 bid. 23 year old Kabore is an exciting prospect and has already won a League title and League Cup medal in France with Marseille. It is likely that the winner of the Burkina Faso vs Angola match will qualify in second place behind the Ivory Coast.

Current best price: 51.00 (bwinBetVictor)
FIFA Rank: 85
Key man: Flávio (Lierse)

Angola will fancy their chances of making it through to the knock-out stages of this year’s competition, but are another side that lack any real match winning, big name players and strength in depth. Their star player is undoubtedly Flávio of Belgian side Lierse, who will be looking to add to his tally of 25 international goals, but unless they manage to beat Burkina Faso, it’s unlikely that Angola will have any chance of exiting Group B. A new batch of players is emerging, but the 2012 African Nations campaign may have come too soon.

Summary: Ivory Coast will breeze through the group stage, just like they did the qualification campaign where they finished with a 100% record. There’s not a huge amount of value in backing them to win Group B (best price 1.28, SportingBet) but it could prove a useful banker to those looking to back the group winners in multiples. A nicer looking bet is Burkina Faso to qualify, at a best price of 2.10 (bwin).

Group C

Current best price: 29.00 (Stan James)
FIFA Rank: 91
Key man: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (St-Etienne)

Gabon is a small country with a poor African Nations record, having only ever made it past the first round on one occasion. Like their co-hosts, you would doubt whether they would have made it through a qualification campaign and to add to their misery, that lack of recent competitive football could well see them rusty. However, Gabon do have a couple of bright prospects with experience in the European leagues, in the form of defender Bruno Ecele Manga and attacker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who has five goals in 20 appearances for his country.

Current best price: 151.00 (Stan James)
FIFA Rank: 98
Key man: Moussa Maazou (Zulte-Waregem)

Niger look likely to be fighting it out with Gabon for the Group C wooden spoon, having only scraped through the qualification round due to South Africa misunderstanding the rules of qualifying, believing that goal difference would take them through. Having qualified for their first ever African Cup Of Nations somewhat fortuitously, Niger look to facing a stuff task against the vastly experienced Moroccan and Tunisian sides and it seems highly unlikely that 2012 will be anything more than a learning experience for the “Mena”.

Current best price: 11.00 (Ladbrokes)
FIFA Rank: 61
Key man: Marouane Chamakh (Arsenal)

Marouane Chamakh has recently expressed his desire to fight for his place at Arsenal and what better way to show Arsene Wenger what he can do by firing his country to success in the 2012 African Cup Of Nations? Chamakh, along with team mates Houssine Kharja and Badr El Kaddouri, is part of an experienced Morocco outfit that has plenty of pace and technical ability too, notably in the form of Adel Taarabt. Morocco should qualify easily from the group and their match against Tunisia will likely decide the group’s winners.

FIFA Rank: 59
Current best price: 12.00 (bwin, Paddy Power)
Key man: Issam Jemaa (AJ Auxerre).

Tunisia are likely to be vying for top spot with Morocco and will be relying on their country’s record goal scorer Issam Jemaa (26 goals in 57 appearances) to fire them into the knock-out stages. In truth though, as experienced as Tunisia’s squad is, they probably lack the individual class of some of the Moroccan team and will probably progress to the next round as runners up.

Summary: Morocco and Tunisia are a class above Niger and Gabon, and should progress easily. The odds of 2.25 offered by bwin about the two sides qualifying from Group C in any order look to be terrific value, as it looks an absolute certainty. That said, it was a “certainty” that Niger would be nowhere near the 2012 African Nations finals, and don’t write off the importance of home advantage in Africa, something that Gabon will be looking to capitalise on.

Group D

Current best price: 5.50 (bwinPaddy PowerWilliam Hill)
FIFA Rank: 26
Key man: Asamoah Gyan (Sunderland)

The key to Ghana’s success in this year’s African Nations tournament could well be the fitness of Asamoah Gyan. The Sunderland man, who is currently out on loan at UAE side Al-Ain, is battling with injury but if he is fit to play, he’ll surely increase his total of 28 international goals. We all saw what he and this Ghana team could on the international stage in the 2010 World Cup, where they qualified fro ma tough group and were cheated out of a place in the semi finals by Uruguay. The “Black Stars” should walk Group D and will feel as though they are genuine contenders to win the 2012 African Cup Of Nations.

Current best price: 126.00 (Stan James)
FIFA Rank: 94
Key man: Modiri Marumo (Bay United)

Botswana were impressive in the qualification campaign, winning the group ahead of Tunisia, but their performance was definitely a shock result and now they find themselves in the African Cup Of Nations proper, it will be interesting to see how they cope. Despite topping the group, they only scored seven times in their eight matches and the 1-0 scoreline with Jerome Ramatlhakwane notching the only goal became a common sight. They made it through thanks to a series of disciplined defensive peformances, conceding just three goals and the experience of 35 year old ‘keeper Modiri Marumo could prove vital.

Current best price: 23.00 (bwin)
FIFA Rank: 69
Key man: Seydou Keita (Barcelona)

Captain Seydou Keita leads a young squad in the 2012 African Cup Of Nations, which may prove something of an advantage given the 2010 performance, where a side of genuine contenders that included the likes of Mahamadou Diarra and Frederic Kanoute failed badly under the pressure, going out in the first round. With the pressure off, younger talents like Abdou Traore and Modibo Maiga could really shine for the “Eagles”.

Current best price: 34.00 (bwin)
FIFA Rank: 79
Key man: Ismaël Bangoura (Al Nasr)

Attacking midfielder Ismaël Bangoura will be a key player if Guinea are to be successful at the 2012 African Nations tournament. Bangoura has scored 12 times in a Guinea shirt and has experience at the highest level, having played for Rennes and in the UEFA Cup with Dinamo Kiev. The likes of Bobe Balde, formerly of Celtic, provide experience and depth to the squad, while bright talents like Ibrahima Traore and Abdoul Razzagui Camara give a youthful confidence. Guinea cudl well prove to be dark horses in this tournament.

Summary: Ghana will almost certainly win Group D and the 1.73 on offer with William Hill to do just that looks enormous (rivals Bet365 are as short as 1.53). It’s quite an open contest as to who will join them in the next round, but Guinea could surprise a few people and might be worth considering.

Knock-out Stages

Should Ghana win Group D, they will face the runners up of Group C. In my eyes, The Black Stars would have no problem in dispatching any of the sides in Group C, which could set up a tie with Senegal in the Semi Finals, should Senegal top Group A and see off the runners up of what is a weak looking Group B.

That would make for a very interesting tie, but the fire-power of Senegal should see them through. If everything works out as planned in the other groups, Senegal’s opponents in the final would realistically be Ivory Coast, but in a one-off cup tie, where anything can happen, I would rather be siding with the bigger prices.

Coral are currently a stand out price of 7.50 about the Senegalese to win the 2012 African Cup Of Nations, and that doesn’t look a bad price at all. Backing Senegal each-way may prove a more sensible play though – just in case – but Coral’s each-way terms of 1/3 the odds are unattractive. If you do fancy the each-way bet, be sure to try one of the few firms offering 1/2 the odds, such as BetVictor who are offering 7.00.

Senegal to win the African Cup Of Nations (Each-Way) @ 7.00 (BetVictor)