The 2013 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) gets underway on Saturday with the hosts South Africa odds on favourites to beat the Cape Verde in the opening match in Johannesburg. Sixteen teams assemble to do battle in what is the 28th edition of the competition, won last year by Zambia. Last year's beaten finalists the Ivory Coast are the short priced favourites with the bookies and as the AFCON continues to grow into a popular betting event, we have a look at the sixteen teams involved.
South Africa - 9/1
Hosts have a good record in the AFCON, winning the tournament ten times when hosting the competition. In fact, South Africa's one victory came when hosting the competition in 1996. There's sure to be plenty of support for the Bafana Bafana and Paddy Power make them their fourth favourites to lift the trophy at odds of 9/1. The majority of their players are playing domestically in South Africa, and the squad has a rather youthful look to it with many of the team who played in the 2010 World Cup now retired from international football, including Everton's Steven Pienaar. Goals may be hard to find if recent results are anything to go by, with Katlego Mphela 16/1 to top score in the tournament and their main goal threat. At 5/6 to win Group A, the hosts should qualify but their lack of firepower might prevent them reaching the final.
Morocco - 12/1
Like South Africa, Morocco have won the African Cup of Nations just the once. They arrive in South Africa as 12/1 chances although they are well fancied at odds on to qualify from Group A and challenge the hosts at the top of the table. Morocco are unbeaten in their last three matches coming into the tournament and have a strong base of players playing their football in Europe. Names that stand out include the Montpellier attacking midfielder Younes Belhanda and the Fiorentina forward Mounir El Hamdaoui. Adel Taarabt was overlooked for this squad and although the squad is rather inexperienced in terms of caps, they look a decent bet at 7/4 with Paddy Power to top Group A ahead of the hosts.
Angola - 33/1
At 7/1 to win Group A, Angola aren't no-hopers and it was only six years ago that they reached the World Cup finals in Germany, drawing twice and losing once to bow out in the group stages but far from disgracing themselves. However, Angola went out in the first round last year and will be pinning their hopes on former Man Utd youngster Manucho up front who now plays his football for Real Valladolid in Spain.
Cape Verde - 66/1
9/1 to top Group A, the Cape Verde have qualified for the AFCON finals for the first time in their history. Many of the squad play their domestic football in Europe, specifically in Portugal and France and players to look out for include Heldon Nhuck and Ryan Mendes up front. The Blue Sharks drew 0-0 with Nigeria in their last warm up game for the finals, but aren't fancied to progress to the quarter-finals in South Africa.
Ghana - 6/1
Ghana are 6/1 second favourites in the betting with Paddy Power. The second most successful team in ACON history with four wins, you have to go all the way back to 1982 for their last success, which seems staggering given the quality of Ghanaian players during the last few decades. The Black Stars have under achieved in recent editions of the African Cup of Nations and were a last minute penalty miss away from reaching the World Cup semi-finals just two years ago. They followed that up by finishing fourth in last year's ACON and you have to think they'll make the last four again in 2013. Ghana are six unbeaten going into the finals and long odds on to top Group B. With the likes of Kwadwo Asamoah and Asamoah Gyan (a much better player for Ghana than his Sunderland form ever showed) pulling the strings they look a good bet to reach the semi finals at least.
Mali - 14/1
Mali are the second seeded team in Group B and a 14/1 chance to win the tournament outright. Runners up in 1972 and third place finishers last year, Mali have reached the semi-finals four times since 1994. The majority of the squad play in Europe and familiar names include Mama Diarra of Fulham and Samba Diakite of QPR. Captain is the former Barcelona midfielder Seydou Keita who is now playing his football in China, whilst West Ham's Modibo Maiga and Cheick Diabate of Bordeaux lead the line. The Eagles have some good players and at the price of 14/1 they look a decent outside bet to reach the final.
Congo DR - 66/1
Ghana and Mali are well fancied to progress from Group B, with the Democratic Republic of Congo 11/4 third favourites to qualify for the quarter-finals. A massive 66/1 to win the title, the Leopards do have a few names from English football in West Brom's defensive midfielder Youssouf Mulumbu, Crystal Palace's bright youngster Yannick Bolasie and former Newcastle forward Lumana LuaLua. However, the betting suggests this will be a hard Group to qualify from and their job isn't made any easier by facing Ghana first up on Sunday.
Niger - 100/1
Niger are one of the rank outsiders to win the AFCON and they could well be the whipping boys of Group B. At 9/2 to qualify they face a really tough task.
Nigeria - 8/1
Much like Ghana, Nigeria could be labelled with the under-achiever tag, having won the African Cup of Nations just the two times, last time in 1994. The Super Eagles have reached the last four five times in the last ten years and at 8/1 they are third favourites in the outright betting with Paddy Power. Stephen Keshi's side have a tough looking group and they're odds against to win Group C with Zambia looking like being the big threat. They have plenty of experience in the spine of the team with the likes of Joseph Yobo, John Obi Mikel and Ikechukwu Uche, whilst the likes of Victor Moses, Ahmed Musa and Emmanuel Emenike do offer up some options up front.
Zambia - 12/1
Zambia were the surprising winners of the 2012 African Cup of Nations and the betting suggests they've got a chance of going deep into the competition again in 2013. They're 6/4 to win Group B and the Copper Bullets still have a lot of last year's winning team in the squad. The squad is very experienced, with just one player outside of the two reserve keepers having played less than fifteen times for their country and it wouldn't be a surprise to see them reach the last four again.
Burkino Faso - 40/1
Burkino Faso are regular qualifiers for the group stages of the AFCON, having done so seven times in the last ten tournaments. However, they have only qualified for the knockout stages once during this period and that was back in 1998 when they finished fourth when hosts. It looks a tall order for them to break into the top two in Group C this time around.
Ethiopia are the rank outsiders of the tournament and are as big as 7/1 to qualify from Group C. The Black Lions will do well to avoid defeat in all three of their group games.
Ivory Coast - 13/8F
The Cote d'Ivoire once again find themselves as tournament favourites going into the African Cup of Nations. They were indeed short priced jollies last year going into their final with Zambia before being beaten on penalties. The Elephants are overwhelming favourites to qualify and win Group D at 4/9, but they do face two decent opponents in Algeria and Tunisia, whilst Togo could well prove to be no push-overs. Despite having the likes of Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure and Gervinho in their ranks they've won the AFCON just once in their history and that was back in 1992. Many of the current batch of players have fluffed their lines in this tournament in the past decade, runners-up twice in the last six years. The names jump off the page such as Kolo Toure, Tiote, Kalou, Kone, Eboue, Zokora, but given their past performances in this competition the 13/8 about their chances offers very little in the way of value.
North Africa have a good record at the AFCO, albeit Egypt are usually the headline grabbers and record winners of the tournament, both Algeria and Tunisia could offer a stern test for the favourites. The Greens were fourth in 2010 but did not qualify last year. The squad is very inexperienced but will be well organised and the betting has it as a coin flip as to who qualifies from Group D behind the Ivory Coast between Algeria and Tunisia.
Tunisia - 16/1
Tunisia won the AFCON when hosts in 2004 and have qualified for every finals since, including three quarter finals appearances. The Eagles of Cathage reached the quarter finals last year and have a squad which is very much based domestically in Tunisia. A notable exception is Issam Jemaa who plays his football in Kuwait and has scored 32 times in 69 appearances for the national team.
Togo - 66/1
Togo are the outsiders in Group D and you have to think a lot of their chances of qualification boil down to the form of forward Emmanuel Adebayor. It's been very much a case of will he, won't he in the build up to the tournament, but the Tottenham striker, who has scored just twice domestically this season and looks like leading the line for the Sparrow Hawks who are 4/1 just to qualify from Group D.
The favourites Ivory Coast certainly have the best group of players in the tournament but if last year's result of Zambia winning told us anything, it's how they gel as a team which is more important. The likes of Drogba and co have failed to win an AFCON to date and now in the twilight of his career, the 13/8 looks very short about their chances. The way the draw could unfold means Mali stand out as a value bet at 14/1. There's a very solid looking spine to the team and if they can pip Ghana to win Group A then the draw should open up for them.
Tip: Mali to win the African Cup of Nations at odds of 14/1 with PaddyPower.com.
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