The continent’s top sides will learn their fate on Friday in the Africa Cup of Nations group-stage draw, as four pots of six teams become six groups of four.
The draw will take place outside Cairo, Egypt, where some of the Afcon favourites will be desperate to avoid the various banana skins in Pots two, three and four.
Ahead of the draw, here’s Ed Dove’s pot-by-pot guide to the 24 qualifiers.
Hosts Egypt are probably the team to avoid here, as they’ll boast both home support and the presence of Africa’s best player—Mohamed Salah. Tunisia will also be a particularly tough prospect after topping the Pharaohs in qualification, while Senegal, who will be emboldened by their World Cup experience, can call upon the kind of quality that few other sides could match.
There’s no easy team in Pot One, although Ghana stuttered during qualification—including a defeat by Kenya—while holders and former hosts Cameroon haven’t been truly convincing under new coach Clarence Seedorf.
Ivory Coast, the sixth team in Pot One, have immense offensive options—including in-form Nicolas Pepe—although they are vulnerable, having been defeated 3-2 at home by Guinea during the qualifiers.
Morocco look like the team to avoid in Pot Two.
The Atlas Lions are polished after three years under the guidance of Herve Renard, and will present a more sophisticated style than any of their rivals in Egypt.
Nigeria and Algeria, who should be well supported in North Africa, both have the potential to go far in the tournament. The Super Eagles cruised through qualification after a poor World Cup, but there are still problem areas in Gernot Rohr’s squad.
Mali, Guinea and the Democratic Republic of Congo complete the pool, and all three will be confident of progressing.
There are plenty of banana skins here, even though the six teams in Pot Three fall into the ‘bottom half’ of the draw.
South Africa conceded just two goals during qualification, and even though they left it late to book their tickets to the tournament, they’re a well organised unit who aren’t too far from being a genuinely menacing prospect.
Zimbabwe and Uganda ought to be stronger than they were two years ago, and Guinea-Bissau will also be desperate to prove that they’ve learned lessons from 2017’s first-round exit.
Angola and debutants Burundi complete the pool, with the latter potential wildcards after dumping out Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s Gabon.
On paper, the six teams in Pot Four are the tournament minnows—and ‘favourites’ to fall at the first hurdle.
However, a few will enter the competition quietly confident that they can upset the odds after strong qualifying campaigns.
It remains to be seen whether Madagascar and Mauritania can translate their qualifying form to the bigger stage, although Benin—vanquishers over Togo in qualifying—have the experience to sneak into the knockouts.
After being thrashed 4-1 by Zambia in their final qualifier, Namibia could well be the tournament’s whipping boys.