Senegal counting on Ba, Cisse
Resurgent Senegal boast one of the most potent attacks at the 2012 CAF African Cup of Nations and a first title could well be within their grasp.
After losing a penalty shoot-out to Cameroon in the 2002 Bamako final, the Teranga Lions gradually fell away and did not even qualify for the previous tournament in Angola two years ago, but after several coaching changes appear to be on pace to challenge for the African title.
Amara Traore has taken post as head coach and rebuilt the team around the likes of Moussa Sow, Mamadou Niang, Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba. Sow was the leading scorer in Ligue 1 last season and also helped Lille to a league and cup crown. Cisse, meanwhile, finished second in scoring in the Bundesliga.
Although Niang may have entered the autumn of his career at Asian champions Al-Sadd after spells in France and Turkey, he was the leading Senegalese marksman in the qualifiers with five goals, including a hat-trick away to Congo DR.
But the man of the moment is Newcastle United darling Ba, whose English Premier League goal against defending champions Manchester United last week was a lesson in simplicity, positioning, skill and raw, unstoppable power.
A long clearance, a flick-on, and Ba struck with a volley that flew into the net to open the scoring in a memorable 3-1 triumph for the Magpies amid the electric St James' Park atmosphere.
The physically imposing 26-year-old is the second highest scorer in the Premier League this season with 15 goals, just two less than Robin van Persie of Arsenal, but two more than United's Wayne Rooney.
Newcastle manager Alan Pardew rates the footballer who operated in France, Belgium and Germany before moving to West Ham last year among the top four or five Premier League strikers. "His biggest asset is his personality. Demba is a winner. I have given him two or three different roles and he has done them all to the best of his ability," said Pardew.
Ba oozes pride as he talks about his Senegalese team-mates: "I just love these guys. They are good on and off the field. Training camps are intense, but great fun because we behave like brothers."
Strikers alone cannot assure Senegal of winning the continental showpiece, and France-based pair Kader Mangane and Souleymane Diawara marshal a defence that have kept five clean sheets in six qualifying matches, including two against a Cameroonian attack spearheaded by Samuel Eto'o.
Topping co-hosts Equatorial Guinea, Libya and Zambia and winning Group A is imperative for the Lions as this would set up a likely quarter-final clash with Angola or Burkina Faso. A second-place finish in their pool could set up for an earlier than hoped match against Côte d'Ivoire.
Zambia are first up on 21 January for the Senegalese in round five of an enduring African Cup of Nations rivalry that has seen each country win once and draw twice, followed by Equatorial Guinea and Libya.