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Afcon 2017

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2017_Africa_Cup_of_Nations_logo.pngThe 31st edition of the Africa Cup of Nations will kick off at 4pm on Saturday when hosts Gabon take on debutants Guinea-Bissau.

Sixty years have passed since the first Nations Cup, which took place in Sudan in 1957, consisted of only three teams and was won by Egypt.

This year’s edition has 32 matches over 23 days, featuring 16 teams – who begin their quest in four groups of four and will end on 5th February with the winning finalists lifting the Italian-made trophy and taking home $4m (£3.28m).

Africa remains enthralled by the tournament, which has steadily grown to become the continent’s biggest sporting event, and the 2017 finals are guaranteed to provide a mix of flair, surprise, controversy and historic moments.

Some of the world’s best players will grace the tournament which will be shown on Eurosport.

Gabon have one of the world’s most coveted strikers in Pierre-Emerick Aubamenyang, who goes into the tournament in scintillating form, having scored 20 goals in 22 games this season for Borussia Dortmund. Many eyes will be on reigning BBC African Footballer of the Year and Caf African Footballer of the year Riyad Mahrez and Africa’s most expensive player Sadio Mane.

Leicester winger Mahrez will be a key figure in an Algeria team which until recently had been ranked the best team in Africa.

Mane, who cost Liverpool £34m, leads the line for Senegal. The Teranga Lions have never won the event but Mane could be the key to changing that statistic.

Twenty three players from English Premier League clubs will be in Gabon including Mahrez, Mane, Manchester United’s Ivorian defender Eric Bailly, West Ham’s Ghanaian Andre Ayew, Leicester’s Algerian Islam Slimani and Crystal Palace’s Ivorian Wilfried Zaha.

Winger Zaha has only just switched international allegiance from England and started his career with the Elephants in sensational style by scoring on his second appearance for the team in a friendly against Uganda earlier this week.

Egypt’s Mohamed Salah has been outstanding since his switch from Chelsea to Italian giants Roma. Once labelled the African Messi, the winger has recently recovered from injury but if he can find his best form he could light up the tournament.

At the other end of the spectrum, Guinea-Bissau skipper Bocundji Ca was playing for third division French club Paris FC last season.

Ivory Coast start as favourites with Ghana, Senegal and Algeria all fancied. Guinea-Bissau are making their first appearance at the finals. Their qualification is virtually the stuff of fairytales: one of the world’s poorest countries overcoming 2012 champions to top their group, having previously won only four of 32 matches in their history.

With a squad almost entirely made of expatriates who are based in the lower leagues of Portugal, few expect Guinea-Bissau’s run to continue but what a story it is already.

I hope to see some of the games here. A guide to the nations is here and the full schedule can be found here.

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