African football powers Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire are long overdue a CAF African Cup of Nations title. It has been 30 years since the Black Stars enjoyed the last of four successes in the biennial championship and 20 years since the Elephants lifted the Cup for the only time.
They enter the continental showpiece, set to begin on 21 January in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, as co-favourites alongside Senegal in a 16-team field. Notable absentees from the 23-day tournament include the likes of Egypt, Algeria, Cameroon, Nigeria and South Africa.
Ghana coach Goran Stevanovic backs Mali, while Ivorian midfielder Yaya Toure believes Morocco and Burkina Faso pose a serious threat. Meanwhile, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger pegs the Ivorians as the most likely to win the title, concluding Côte d'Ivoire as "an incredible team and hot favourites".
"They have a midfield of English Premier League stars Cheik Tiote, Yaya Toure and Gervinho and Cameroon are not there, Egypt are not there and Nigeria are not there," Wenger said.
Many suspected Côte d'Ivoire would win the 2008 edition of the tournament, but despite cruising into the semi-finals, were ultimately denied by Egypt. And, in 2010, the Elephants conceded a late equaliser against Algeria in the quarter-finals, losing after extra time.
"We have got a big problem in Côte d'Ivoire - we do not respect opponents," coach Francois Zahoui said. "We go to each Cup of Nations as super favourites and come back disappointed."
Ghana eye continental glory
Fellow title challengers Ghana finished third when they hosted the competition in 2008, and went on to just miss out on championship silverware in 2010 as they fell to Egypt in the final.
While Ghanaian striker Asamoah Gyan battles to recover from a hamstring injury, team-mate and 2011 African Footballer of the Year bronze medalist Andre Ayew says the time has come for the Black Stars to conquer Africa again.
"I believe we have the confidence to finally lift the trophy. It is not going to be easy, though, because we are going into a tournament and anything can happen," said the Marseille-based son of Black Stars legend Abedi 'Pele' Ayew.