Ahead of the 2017 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament in Gabon, the best of the continent’s football stars are gearing up for Africa’s most important prize in football. The 2017 African Cup of Nations, the 31st edition of the biennial AFCON, will occur from January 14th to February 5th. With 15 national teams scheduled to play, Gabon qualified to host the event from a total of 51 countries that attempted to seize the distinction.
When the competition kicks off, it will feature the cream of Africa’s football talents, with many also plying their trade in top European clubs where they have become household names.
Four-time winners, the Black Stars of Ghana are an unpredictable team, with Mali, Egypt, and Uganda rounding out Group D. The Black Stars have chosen the United Arab Emirates as a training camp ahead of the tournament.
The Black Stars’ team includes brothers Jordan and Andre Ayew (pictured) of Aston Villa and West Ham United, respectively, and Thomas Partey of Athletico Madrid.
Leicester City’s Thomas Amartey, who has enjoyed a relatively decent season so far, was the only surprise omission from the squad.
The Black Stars will play its group qualifiers in the city of Port-Gentil. Their first match will be against Uganda on January 17th.
Already defending champions, Ivory Coast has shown its readiness to retain the prestigious trophy by opening an intense training camp in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates — away from the soccer crazy public back home and media attention. The two-time champions are scheduled to play warm-up friendly matches against Sweden and Uganda next week.
The Ivorians will be without their inspirational captain Yaya Toure (pictured), who led them to victory in 2015 but retired last November. They will, however, enjoy the benefit of established names, such as Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha who switched his international allegiance from England to the Ivory Coast last year and Manchester United’s Eric Bailly as well as long time veteran Saloman Kalou formerly of Chelsea.
The Ivorians are in Group C alongside DR Congo, Togo, and Morocco. They will kick off their tournament with a match against Togo on January 16th at the Stade d’Oyem in Oyem.
Two weeks ago, the Zimbabwean national team was given a check of $250,000 by a mobile network provider to kick off its AFCON 2017 campaign. That donation has not prevented the team from fighting over accommodation and the payment of allowances, though, which often characterizes African team preparations ahead of major tournaments.
Reports say the team was unable to use the national sports stadium for training because a $60 fee had not been paid. It resorted to using a high school football field instead.
Zimbabwe’s squad for the 2017 Afcon includes Tendai Ndoro (Orlando Pirates), Willard Katsande (pictured, Kaiser Chiefs), and Onismor Bhasera (Super Sport United) — all from South Africa. Zimbabwe is in Group B along with Senegal, Algeria, and Tunisia. The team will play its first match against Algeria on January 15th in Franceville.
Cameroon is in Group A alongside hosts Gabon, Burkina Faso, and Guinea Bissau. Unfortunately, the Indomitable Lions will be without a number of its established names, such as Liverpool’s Joel Matip and West Brom’s Allan Nyom who have elected to not participate in the competition to avoid losing their starting places at their clubs.
The Cameroonians can, however, count on the services of Fabrice Ondoa (Sevilla), Nicolas Nkoulou (Lyon), and Clinton Njie (pictured, Olympic Marseille).
Cameroon kicks of its Cup campaign with a game against Burkina Faso on January 14th in the city of Libreville, Gabon’s capital.
The winner of the 2017 AFCON tournament will go home with $4 million (£3.26m) in prize money, which is a significant increase from a previous $1.5 million (£1.2m).