Afcon 2017: Ghana, Uganda, Egypt, Mali battle in Group D

Stade de Port-Gentil
Group D matches will take place at the Stade de Port-Gentil

GHANA:

Nickname: Black Stars

Africa Cup of Nations High Point: Champions (1963, 1965, 1978, 1982)

How they qualified: Won four of their six games and dropped their only points in draws with Mozambique and Rwanda. A 7-1 thrashing of Mauritius in their very first game laid the foundation for qualification.

Team Guide: With four Nations Cup titles to their credit, Ghana's football pedigree is beyond reproach.

But can the Black Stars finally give their long-suffering supporters something to cheer about in Gabon?

They have been stuck on four titles since 1982 when they beat hosts Libya in an epic penalty shoot-out in Tripoli.

The Black Stars have not finished outside the top four in the past five editions, finishing runners-up in 1992, 2010 and 2015.

The Coach: Avram Grant's reign began in December 2014 and all indications are that the Israeli's contract will not be renewed after the Nations Cup. The 61-year-old former Chelsea manager has had a turbulent relationship with Ghana's notoriously demanding media.

Key Player: Ghana's hopes rest largely on West Ham's Andre 'Dede' Ayew, a forward of genuine quality. He has recently come back from injury and if the Black Stars are to have any chance of progressing to the knock-out stages, he will need to be at his creative best in his fifth Nations Cup.

Andre Ayew
Andre Ayew carries the hopes of a nation desperate to end more than 30 years of hurt

How far will Ghana go? Relations between the fans and team are at an all-time low. So the Black Stars go into a major tournament with their fans in pessimistic mood. However, this unusual lack of expectation could also be an advantage.

UGANDA:

Nickname: Cranes

Africa Cup of Nations High Point: Runners-up (1978)

High they qualified: The Cranes qualified as one of the two best-placed runners-up. They had an identical record with group winners Burkina Faso but lost out on top spot because of an inferior head-to-head.

Team Guide: "You have done us proud!," an excited President Yoweri Museveni tweeted after Uganda secured qualification for Gabon.

The Cranes' last appearance at the tournament was in 1978 when they lost in the final to hosts Ghana.

They have a youthful side capable of providing good value in the entertainment stakes, but lack the quality to disrupt the established order.

Uganda are the only East Africa nation in Gabon and this is not an easy group for them at all.

After so long out of the tournament, they will meet Ghana - who they played in the 1978 final - first.

The Coach: When Uganda last played at the Nations Cup finals, Milutin 'Micho' Sredojevic was eight years old. The Serb has now spent 15 years in Africa and coached in six different countries. This is only the second national team he has coached - after Rwanda (2011-2013)

Milutin 'Micho' Sredojevic
Milutin 'Micho' Sredojevic has coached in six different African countries since 2001

Key Player: Goalkeeper Dennis Onyango is an excellent shot-stopper. He was named as the best African-based player of 2016 by the Confederation of African Football after helping South African club Mamelodi Sundowns to African Champions League glory.

How far will Uganda go?: They will need to bring their A-game to every match but even that may not be enough to spare them an early flight back home. It's difficult to predict better than a third-place finish in the group.

EGYPT:

Nickname: Pharaohs

Africa Cup of Nations High Point: Champions (1957, 1959, 1986, 1998, 2006, 2008, 2010)

How they qualified: Won Group G by five points from Nigeria's Super Eagles.

Team Guide: No team has a better Nations Cup pedigree.

The Pharaohs have won the competition a record seven times, including three in a row between 2006 and 2010.

But after winning three consecutive Nations Cup titles, the Pharaohs failed to qualify for the past three tournaments.

They have also been semi-finalists 14 times but are very much a side looking to rediscover their old magic.

Their fortunes dipped dramatically with the onset of political turmoil in the country - just after their last success in 2010.

They are back at the finals for the first time since but what kind of Egypt will we see in Gabon - the side that failed to qualify for the last three tournaments or the team that won the last three Nations Cups they played in?'

Essam El-Hadary
Essam El-Hadary has won the Nations Cup four times with Egypt

The Coach: Hector Cuper is best known for taking Spanish side Valencia to the European Champions League final in 2000 and 2001. The Argentine's only other national coaching job was with Georgia (August 2008-December 2009). He seems to have steadied the ship and sailed the side to calmer waters.

Key Player: If he gets on the pitch, Essam El Hadary (who turns 44 on 15 January) will become the tournament's oldest player- beating the record set by compatriot and former team-mate Hossam Hassan, who was 39 years, five months and 24 days when he played in the 2006 competition. With three Nations Cup titles to his name, a goalkeeper of El Hadary's experience will be expected to stand tall when it matters most.

How far will Egypt go? The Pharaohs will arrive in Gabon with plenty of wind in their sails. Getting out the group should not be a huge problem but as this is not a vintage squad, their adventure is likely to end in the quarter-finals.

MALI:

Nickname: Eagles

Africa Cup of Nations High Point: Runners-up (1972)

How they qualified: Won Group C by five points from Benin with five wins and one draw from their six matches. But the Eagles were far from convincing.

Team Guide: Mali have only played at nine Nations Cup tournaments, but on six of those occasions they reached at least the semi-finals.

The Eagles were runners-up in 1972 (they lost 3-2 to Congo in the final) and semi-finalists in 1992, 2002 (as hosts), 2004, 2012 and 2013.

Nobody should underestimate them as they have a habit of pulling themselves together for Nations Cups.

The Coach: Alain Giresse is now in his second stint with the Eagles. He led them to third place in 2012 - which was then their best finish since finishing runners-up in 1972 tournament. (They did then finish third again in 2013). The Frenchman has also coached in Senegal, Ivory Coast, Morocco and Gabon.

Bakary Sako
Bakary Sako's form will be crucial for the Eagles in Gabon

Key Player: From being over-reliant on the now retired Seydou Keita, Mali seem to be more than a one-man team nowadays with Bakary Sako, the attacking midfielder who plays for Crystal Palace in the English Premier League, one of their key players.

How far will Mali go? Getting out of the group will be a challenge. The Malians will be targeting Uganda to avoid picking up the group's wooden spoon. Anything more would be a bit of a surprise.

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