IN the Fifa rankings‚ Algeria‚ Senegal and Tunisia all sit among the top African contenders.
But although these three protagonists share an impressive profile‚ they can boast of just two previous African Nations Cup titles between them.
The trio share Group B at the upcoming tournament in Gabon‚ playing their matches in Franceville‚ along with outsiders Zimbabwe‚ whose preparations for the tournament have been clouded by a weekend strike over money.
Algeria were Nations Cup victors when they hosted the tournament back in 1990 and played in a single final before that.
Tunisia lost in the 1996 final to South Africa at Soccer City but eventually won the event on home soil in 2004.
Senegal‚ despite a bevy of big name players and the distinction of a quarter-final place at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea‚ have never won the African championship — although they came within a penalty shootout in 2002 when Cameroon edged them after a drawn final in Bamako.
Algeria and Senegal are among the tournament favourites for Gabon but should be wary of both Tunisia and Zimbabwe turning out to be spoilers.
Algeria were Africa’s success story at the last World Cup in Brazil where they went past the first round and lost 2-1 to eventual winners Germany in extra time in the knockout round match.
But six months later‚ at the last Nations Cup in Equatorial Guinea‚ they got to the quarter-finals before being easily disposed of by the Ivory Coast.
Since then Algeria have botched the start of their bid to get to the next World Cup in Russia with two poor results and three coaches in one year attest to the turmoil they have gone through‚ leaving their Gabon chances a major question.
Senegal have a quality outfit‚ as South Africa found out in Polokwane in November‚ but also seem to struggle in tournament situations.
Two years ago Senegal also shared a first round group at the Nations Cup finals with Algeria and Bafana Bafana in Mongomo but bombed out‚ as they had on their previous finals appearances.
Tunisia were quarter-finalists two years ago but while they have a solid squad they lack decisive individual talent.
They also have a propensity to implode when the going gets tough‚ losing their tempers and focus when they feel forces are conspiring against them.
It is often a red mist that descends over the Tunisia team and costs them.
Zimbabwe’s mental attitude will have to be questioned after their strike at the weekend to try and force more money out of Zifa.
It is the first Nations Cup finals appearance in 10 years for the Warriors but their mindset might not be in the right place.
With eight South Africa-based players in the squad‚ their fortunes will be keenly followed and the ability of the likes of Khama Billiat and Knowledge Musona has proven match-winning in the past.
They do have the potential of an element of surprise in their favour but need a singular focus if they are to effectively use it. — TMG Digital.