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Hosts Equatorial Guinea will be desperate to get off to a winning start in Group A.
Having been reinstated in the competition only after stepping in to replace Morocco as hosts in November, the team will want to give their fans – and the whole country – a boost, and help redirect attention from off-field issues affecting the tournament.
Three years ago, when Equatorial Guinea co-hosted the finals with Gabon, the team surprised everyone by reaching the last eight.
It would be an even greater achievement should they go as far this time, given a lack of competitive football and the fact they appointed a new coach in Argentine Esteban Becker only 11 days before the opening game.
However, Becker said: “We want to surprise a few people. We will take things one game at a time and try to do well for the people of the country who are all behind us.
“We have a new, young squad of players who play in the lower leagues in Spain. I called up hungry young players and I hope they do well.”
Survivors from the 2012 campaign include Javier Balboa, Sipo and Juvenal Edjogo, and they will again be expected to inspire the oil-rich country far beyond most expectations.
Meanwhile, Congo’s veteran coach Claude LeRoy has put the host nation under extra pressure after he openly dismissed as “catastrophic” his team’s hotel in Bata, where the tournament final will be staged on 8 February.
The Red Devils have returned to the top table of African football in style after a long absence from a tournament they won in 1972.
They upstaged defending champions Nigeria to reach Equatorial Guinea 2015 and with the class and goals of Spain-based forward Thievy Bifouma and the towering Fode Dore, they will not be a team to be taken lightly.
- The host nation (including joint-host) has not lost their opening AFCON game since 1998, when Burkina Faso were beaten 1-0 by Cameroon (W6 D4 since then)
- Equatorial Guinea’s one previous tournament as co-hosts in 2012 saw them open with a 1-0 win over Libya. They qualified through the group before being comprehensively beaten by Ivory Coast in the quarter-finals
- Congo are without a win in 12 Nations Cup matches (drawn 5, lost 7); a run that stretches back to 1974
- Only two teams in the history of the competition have gone longer without registering a victory (Burkina Faso 18 and Kenya 13)
- The Red Devils have failed to score in six of their last eight matches in this tournament, netting just twice in total
- Congo have won five of their six previous internationals against Equatorial Guinea