—- The 34th edition of the Africa Cup of Nations kicks off on Saturday, running until February 11, and will be hosted by Ivory Coast for the second time. Here, The Times gives a rundown of everything you need to know before the tournament.

Which teams are favourites to win the Africa Cup of Nations?
Nigeria are always among the favourites when it comes to Afcon. The three-times winners disappointed last time out in Cameroon two years ago, falling to Tunisia in the round of 16, so will be hoping to bounce back and win their first title since 2013.

The Nigerians were the highest-scoring team in qualifying, netting 22 times across six matches thanks to their riches in attack, including Napoli’s Victor Osimhen, Leicester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho and Nottingham Forest’s Taiwo Awoniyi — though the latter will miss the tournament through injury. If the coach, José Peseiro, can get the team balance right, they will be a tough side to stop.

Nigeria’s Osimhen top-scored in qualifying with ten goals and won African player of the year last month
Nigeria’s Osimhen top-scored in qualifying with ten goals and won African player of the year last month
PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP
Morocco’s fairytale run to the semi-finals of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar just over a year ago captured the imagination of fans across the globe. They are a well-organised and tactically disciplined team, with a strong collection of players plying their trade across leagues in Europe. Morocco have not won Afcon since 1976 but will be heavy favourites this time around.

The reigning champions Senegal will be looking to defend their crown having won Afcon for the first time two years ago. Aliou Cissé’s side are built on the solid foundation of their defence, only conceding two goals on their way to the trophy last time out. This tournament could be a last hurrah for their ageing golden generation, with Sadio Mané, Kalidou Koulibaly and Édouard Mendy all in their thirties. Cissé will want the likes of Chelsea’s Nicolas Jackson and Tottenham Hotspur’s Pape Matar Sarr to step up and make their mark on the team.

ADVERTISEMENT
Which Premier League clubs will be most affected?
The newly appointed Nottingham Forest head coach, Nuno Espírito Santo, will be without six of his players due to Afcon call-ups, with his defensive options particularly depleted. Serge Aurier, Willy Boly, Moussa Niakhaté and Ola Aina have all departed to represent their respective countries, while the midfielders Ibrahim Sangaré and Cheikhou Kouyaté will also be travelling to the tournament.

Forest will lose six players to Afcon, including Sangaré, centre, and Niakhaté
Forest will lose six players to Afcon, including Sangaré, centre, and Niakhaté
GRAHAM WILSON/REX
Liverpool must continue their bid for the Premier League title without Mohamed Salah, who is Egypt’s star man; injury-hit Tottenham Hotspur will be further weakened in midfield by the absences of Sarr (Senegal) and Yves Bissouma (Mali); and Manchester United will lose their first-choice goalkeeper, Cameroon’s André Onana.

Fulham have had three players called up for the tournament. Calvin Bassey and Alex Iwobi have been mainstays in Marco Silva’s side but will depart to represent Nigeria, while the left back Fodé Ballo-Touré will join up with Senegal.

Which players should I look out for?
Victor Osimhen (Nigeria)
Club: Napoli. Age: 25. Position: Striker
Osimhen was voted African Footballer of the Year last month, crowning what has been an outstanding 2023 for the Nigerian. He has cemented himself as one of the best strikers in the world, scoring 26 league goals as he led Napoli to their first Scudetto since 1990. Osimhen has also been a constant source of goals for Nigeria since making his debut in 2017, scoring 20 times across 27 matches. He finished as the top scorer in qualifying with ten goals.

Mohamed Salah (Egypt)
Liverpool, 31, forward
Egypt are historically the most successful team in the tournament (winning it seven times) but the Liverpool forward is yet to lift the trophy, losing in the final in both the 2017 and 2021. At 31, Salah looks to be having one of his best seasons at club level, with 18 goals and nine assists in all competitions. Can he translate that form to the international arena and bring Egypt their first Afcon title since 2010?

Hakimi, left, has been granted more attacking freedom at PSG, but can he have the same impact with Morocco?
Hakimi, left, has been granted more attacking freedom at PSG, but can he have the same impact with Morocco?
LIONEL HAHN/GETTY IMAGES
Achraf Hakimi (Morocco)
Paris Saint-Germain, 25, right back
Hakimi has become one of the best in his position over the past few years, capable of dominating the right-hand side by himself due to his incredible pace and technical ability. The full back has impressed under Luis Enrique, who has given him more freedom to join in with attacking play since taking over at PSG in the summer. Morocco will need him to replicate the impact he has had in the final third at club level if they want to be successful.

Who are the young players to look out for?
Ousmane Diomande (Ivory Coast)
Sporting Lisbon, 20, centre back
Diomande looks to be the ideal modern central defender. Standing at 6ft 3in, the Ivorian is physically dominant and a threat from attacking set pieces while also being quick enough to catch up with most forwards. He is also comfortable with the ball at his feet, capable of carrying possession out of defence and delivering an incisive pass.

• Alyson Rudd: Afcon can flourish in summer, but try telling that to Fifa overlords

ADVERTISEMENT
Lamine Camara (Senegal)
Metz, 20, attacking midfielder
Having come through the famed Génération Foot academy in Senegal, Camara has taken well to European football. The box-to-box midfielder is an elegant dribbler and passer but is also physically robust enough to ride challenges from opponents. He is also a very good set piece taker, posing a threat from free kicks and corners. The attacking midfielder won the Under-20 Afcon with Senegal last year, and was named the tournament’s best player.

Camara, pictured celebrating for Metz against Monaco in Ligue 1, was the Under-20 Afcon player of the tournament last year
Camara, pictured celebrating for Metz against Monaco in Ligue 1, was the Under-20 Afcon player of the tournament last year
VALERY HACHE/AFP
Ernest Nuamah (Ghana)
Lyon, 20, forward
Nuamah put Europe’s big clubs on notice last year after a stellar campaign in which he scored 15 goals for Nordsjaelland in his first full season on the continent. The pacey right-winger is direct and a strong dribbler who poses a threat when coming inside on to his left foot. Nuamah came through Ghana’s prestigious Right to Dream academy that produced West Ham United’s Mohammed Kudus and Brighton & Hove Albion’s Simon Adingra.

Who could be the surprise packages?
Mali, under Éric Chelle, could cause a few upsets. They qualified top of their group, collecting 15 points from a possible 18, and have a strong collection of midfielders, with Bissouma, RB Leipzig’s Amadou Haidara and Mohamed Camara of Monaco, who can go toe-to-toe with most of the midfields in the tournament.

Zambia, the 2012 champions, look dangerous on their return to Afcon, having failed to qualify for the tournament since 2015. They topped their qualifying group, ahead of the hosts Ivory Coast, and carry a real threat in attack with Leicester City’s Patson Daka and the former Rangers attacker Fashion Sakala.

Afcon fixtures
Group A
Ivory Coast vs Guinea-Bissau, Jan 13, 8pm (all UK time)
Nigeria vs Equatorial Guinea, Jan 14, 2pm
Equatorial Guinea vs Guinea-Bissau, Jan 18, 2pm
Ivory Coast vs Nigeria, Jan 18, 5pm
Equatorial Guinea vs Ivory Coast, Jan 22, 5pm
Guinea-Bissau vs Nigeria, Jan 22, 5pm

Group B
Egypt vs Mozambique, Jan 14, 5pm
Ghana vs Cape Verde, Jan 14, 8pm
Egypt vs Ghana, Jan 18, 8pm
Cape Verde vs Mozambique, Jan 19, 2pm
Cape Verde vs Egypt, Jan 22, 8pm
Mozambique vs Ghana, Jan 22, 8pm

Group C
Senegal vs Gambia, Jan 15, 2pm
Cameroon vs Guinea, Jan 15, 5pm
Senegal vs Cameroon, Jan 19, 5pm
Guinea vs Gambia, Jan 19, 8pm
Gambia vs Cameroon, Jan 23, 5pm
Guinea vs Senegal, Jan 23, 5pm

Jackson, right, and Senegal face Gambia as they bid to defend their title from 2021
Jackson, right, and Senegal face Gambia as they bid to defend their title from 2021
FRANCOIS NEL/GETTY IMAGES
ADVERTISEMENT
Group D
Algeria vs Angola, Jan 15, 8pm
Burkina Faso vs Mauritania, Jan 16, 2pm
Algeria vs Burkina Faso, Jan 20, 2pm
Mauritania vs Angola, Jan 20, 5pm
Angola vs Burkina Faso, Jan 23, 8pm
Mauritania vs Algeria, Jan 23, 8pm

Group E
Tunisia vs Namibia, Jan 16, 5pm
Mali vs South Africa, Jan 16, 8pm
Tunisia vs Mali, Jan 20, 8pm
South Africa vs Namibia, Jan 21, 8pm
Namibia vs Mali, Jan 24, 5pm
South Africa vs Tunisia, Jan 24, 5pm

Group F
Morocco vs Tanzania, Jan 17, 5pm
DR Congo vs Zambia, Jan 17, 8pm
Morocco vs DR Congo, Jan 21, 2pm
Zambia vs Tanzania, Jan 21, 5pm
Tanzania vs DR Congo, Jan 24, 8pm
Zambia vs Morocco, Jan 24, 8pm

Round of 16 Jan 27-30
Quarter-finals Feb 2-3
Semi-finals Feb 7
Third/fourth place play-off Feb 10
Final Feb 11

Where can I watch the action?
Sky Sports will be broadcasting the games, starting with the tournament opener between Ivory Coast and Guinea-Bissau at 8pm on Saturday, on Sky Sports Football.

##