The Africa Cup of Nations kicks off on the January 14, with Gabon facing off against Guinea-Bissau in the opening fixture.
You may be aware that Ivory Coast are the holders and that the Premier League is about to lose some of its favourite stars for the next month and a bit, but here are 10 facts you may not be aware of…
10. Africa NOT African
It’s called the ‘Africa Cup of Nations’ NOT ‘African Cup of Nations’.
Got it? Ok, good.
9. Gabon Are Hosts
For the second time in five years, Gabon will play hosts.
The west coast state is CAF’s go to emergency back up, having filled in as host nation with neighbouring Equatorial Guinea in 2012 after Morocco dropped out, before substituting for war-torn Libya this year, who were originally selected as hosts.
The games will take place in the four cities of: Libreville, Franceville, Oyem and Port Gentil.
8. Senegal Are the Form Team
The Lions of Teranga are the only side to complete qualification with a 100% record, and boast a strong side featuring the likes of Liverpool’s Sadio Mane and Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly, alongside Fenerbahce’s bicycle-kicking Moussa Sow and Everton’s energiser bunny Idrissa Gueye.
Ivory Coast, Mali, Morocco, Egypt, Algeria, Cameroon and Ghana all also came through their groups undefeated.
7. There Are Some Big Name Managers
Two-time Real Madrid and ex Spain manager Jose Antonio Camacho is Gabon’s current coach, while Hector Cuper (formerly of Inter and Valencia) is at the helm of Egypt and Avram Grant is Ghana’s head honcho.
Double AFCON winner Herve Renard will take charge of Morocco for this tournament, and is the only man to have won the trophy with more than one nation (Zambia and Ivory Coast).
6. Nigeria Won’t Be There but Guinea-Bissau Will
2013 winners Nigeria failed to make this year’s cut, finishing second in their qualifying group behind Egypt, meaning Victor Moses, Odion Ighalo and Kelechi Iheanacho will all remain on Premier League duty this January.
Guinea-Bissau, in contrast, have qualified for the first time in their history, and as one of the tournament’s smallest nation’s will aim to be AFCON 2017’s very own Iceland.
Another surprise entrant is Uganda, who have reached the finals for the first time since 1978.
5. Algeria Were Top Scorers in Qualifying
Striker El Arabi Hillel Soudani was the qualification round’s top marksman with seven, while the team overall scored an impressive 25 times in six matches, including a 7-1 victory over Ethiopia and a 6-0 humbling of Lesotho.
With Riyad Mahrez, Islam Slimani and Yacine Brahimi among their ranks, Algeria are a force to be reckoned with.
4. Egypt’s Captain Is 43-years-old
Once described by Didier Drogba as his toughest opponent, Egypt’s captain Essam El-Hadary has an incredible four AFCON titles (in six tournaments) and 147 caps in a 20-year international career.
The 43-year-old could make his seventh tournament bow this month, only Rigobert Song and Ahmed Hassan have appeared played in eight.
The stopper won his first Cup of Nations in 1998, before AC Milan’s Gianluigi Donnarumma was even born.
3. Zimbabwe Have 3 Players From Chicken Inn FC
Zimbabwe’s 31-man provisional squad includes three stars (Teenage Hadebe, Lawrence Mhlanga, Tafadzwa Kutinya) from the gloriously named Chicken Inn FC – who are titled (you guessed it) after a fast food joint.
The ‘Spicy Wings’ (yes, that really is their nickname) were the country’s Premier League Champions on 2015.
2. Amazing Nicknames
We all know Cameroon are the ‘Indomitable Lions’ and Ivory Coast are the ‘Elephants’ but did you know…
Uganda are the ‘Cranes’, Togo are the ‘Sparrow Hawks’, and Gabon are known as the ‘Brazilians’ – for reasons obvious when looking at their kit (above).
1. The Mascot Is Samba the Black Panther
Yep, there he is. I don’t think that’s a real ticket somehow. That smile might be wiped off Samba’s face when he gets to the turnstiles.