Africa Cup of Nations kicks off on January 17

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Ghana fans at the opening game of the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations [Jake Brown, Flickr}

The 30th tournament of  the Africa Cup of Nations is about to kick off, despite a last-minute change of hosts in December.

Equatorial Guinea took over the competition after  the original host country Morocco was refused permission to defer the competition because of concerns over the spread of Ebola.

It’s not the first time that the Confederation of African Football (CAF)  has had to take difficult decisions in the run up to the annual competition.

In 2010, an Angolan guerrilla group attacked a bus carrying the Togo national football team two days before the start of the tournament in Angola. Three people were killed  while many of the Togolese staff were injured in the bloody shoot-out. Other teams and their supporters questioned whether they would be safe, but  CAF decided to go ahead as planned in with the tournament in Angola, saying  it was too late to postpone the tournament or find an alternative host country.

In 2013, Libya was scheduled to host the tournament, but CAF asked South Africa to take over because of Libya’s civil war.

Photo by Jake Brown, Flickr

Painted Fan

Sixteen nations are competing for Africa’s top football prize but the notable absentees this year are the defending champions Nigeria after failing to make it through the qualifying rounds.

Tournament groups

Host nation Equatorial Guinea,  the lowest ranked team at the tournament placed 118 in the FIFA World Rankings, will play the first game against Congo. The other two teams in Group A are Gabon and Burkina Faso.

Group B comprises Cape Verde, Zambia, Tunisia and DR Congo. Cape Verde reached the quarter-finals in 2013, the first time the country had qualified for a major competition.

Group C features four-time African champions Ghana, with captain and forward Asamoah Gyan hoping to bring the Black Stars to victory after their loss in the 2010 final against Egypt and finishing as semi-finalists in 2013 and 2014. Gyan’s side will have to overcome the 2014 World Cup surprise package Algeria, as well as South Africa and Senegal if they are to reach a place in the knockout stages.

Ivory Coast, Mali, Cameroon and Guinea round up Group D in this year’s competition. Manchester City midfielder Yaha Touré will be captaining The Elephants for the first time following Didier Drogba’s retirement from international football last year with Toure’s potentially new Manchester City team-mate Wilfried Bony leading the line for the Ivorians.

The tournament’s first match is at 4pm on 17 January with ITV4 showing selected games, including the final on February 8.