Afcon Power Rankings: Who can challenge Mohamed Salah's Egypt?
Who are the favourites to win the expanded 24-team Africa Cup of Nations, and which teams face an uphill struggle to advance past the group stage in Egypt.
Ahead of the big kick-off on June 21, here's ESPN's Power Ranking for all 24 Afcon qualifiers, delivered, in time-honoured fashion, in reverse chronological order.
A recent 1-0 friendly victory over Ghana has offered some hope that Namibia can trouble the big boys, but they'll need more than that after being pitted alongside South Africa, Ivory Coast and Morocco in Group D.
The 4-1 thumping by Zambia in qualifying was a fairer reflection of their quality, and they face a tough - and likely brief - summer experience in Egypt.
The debutants overachieved to qualify, but may fancy their chances of progressing ahead of either Burundi or Guinea. However, an ageing -- if seasoned -- attacking unit, a limited defence, and a lack of tournament experience suggests they've reached their ceiling.
Over-achievers under Corentin Martins, although Mauritania's physicality and direct approach means they can't be written off just yet.
A bruising opening derby against Mali won't be pretty, but it'll be instructive as to whether the debutants can cut it at this level.
First-time qualifiers after neutralising Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's Gabon during qualification, Burundi are perhaps the best placed of the 'debutants' to advance.
They won't be fazed by Guinea or Madagascar, and they could be the surprise package of the summer if the attacking duo of Fiston Abdul Razak and Saido Berahino, and the prompting Cedric Amissi, can ignite.
Emmanuel Amuneke has cultivated an attractive style in this Tanzania team, who have qualified for the first time since 1980, and the 3-0 victory over Uganda in March may represent a genuine coming of age.
A lot will be expected of attacking duo Simon Msuva and Mbwana Samatta, but they risk being outgunned -- and outclassed -- by Algeria and Senegal.
Like Group C stablemates and neighbours Tanzania, the Harambee Stars face the ominous prospect of facing two genuine heavyweights in their opening two matches.
However, unlike Tanzania, Kenya have a recent track record of taking down on of the continent's big boys, and a 1-0 victory over Ghana in qualifying should serve them well if lessons have been learned.
Sturdier than they were in 2017, but with no less offensive threat, Zimbabwe could have been one of the outsiders for the final four had they not been drawn into such a tough opening group.
The Warriors will hope the defensive rigour they've demonstrated under Sunday Chidzambwa can form the basis upon which they can mount an escape from Group A, but they risk falling just short.
Older and wiser than upon their debut appearance in Gabon two years ago, but their limitations were evident in a weak qualifying group.
Consistent underachievers at the Africa Cup of Nations, Angola have only twice reached the quarterfinals despite being one of Africa's 13 World Cup qualifiers.
They'll back themselves to progress this time around, particularly considering the good work done by Serbian coach Srdan Vasiljevic in recent years, but detractors will point to the fact that they haven't truly been tested as they will be in Egypt.
The Cranes are one of Africa's emerging forces, having taken great strides under Milutin Sredojevic and, latterly, Sebastien Desabre.
They boasted a magnificent defensive record in qualifying, remaining un-breached until the final qualifier against Tanzania, but a nightmarish group-stage draw may halt their progress.
Of the 'smaller' teams in the tournament, Uganda are the best placed to stifle stronger opponents; but will it be enough for them to reach the knockouts for the first time since 1978?
Returning to the high table for the first time since 2010, Benin can call upon the nous of coach Michel Dussuyer -- bouncing back after his failed spell with the Ivory Coast -- and an experienced spine of Khaled Adenon, Stephane Sessegnon and Mickael Pote.
A 1-0 victory over Algeria in October could be the blueprint for them to launch similar surprises against Ghana and Cameroon.
After finishing third in 2015, and producing a strong showing two years later, the DRC have struggled to kick on under Florent Ibenge.
The turning point may have been the two World Cup qualifiers against Tunisia, when their hopes of reaching Russia faded, and they staggered to the Afcon with only two qualifying victories.
There's immense talent here, but a tricky opening group and a lack of consistency suggests they could be in trouble early on.
Much hinges on the fitness of Naby Keita, who hasn't been seen since picking up an adductor injury in Liverpool's UEFA Champions League semifinal against Barcelona.
He's a talismanic presence for Guinea -- witness his single-handed demolition of the Ivory Coast during qualification -- and the Syli Nationale risk being one dimensional if he's absent or unfit.
11. SOUTH AFRICA
Defensively stout during qualification - Bafana Bafana conceded just twice -- they held their nerve to defeat Libya away in Tunisia to qualify on matchday six.
Stuart Baxter's team will be stronger for that experience, although a 0-0 draw against minnows Seychelles in October raises significant concerns about their firepower.
Things haven't been helped by the injury-enforced absence of Keagan Dolly.
Mali cruised through qualification and can be delighted with their draw.
Moussa Marega, fresh from scoring six in the UEFA Champions League this season, will be a threat, and they have quality across the squad, even if Brighton & Hove Albion's Yves Bissouma -- out with a shoulder injury -- is a big loss.
The Black Stars are serial Afcon semifinalists, having reached the final four in the past six editions of the tournament.
However, Kwesi Appiah's second tenure in change has been unconvincing; defeat by Kenya during qualification was the low point, while the rift that saw Asamoah Gyan quit the national side after being informed he'd lost the captain's armband, only to be coaxed back by a presidential intervention, threatens to divide the camp.
As if that wasn't enough, the Black Stars are also ravaged by injuries, and will take to Egypt without a swathe of potentially key contributors.
For reigning champions, Cameroon are taking a pretty lowly spot in our power rankings, although they've enjoyed muddled fortunates since a patched-together team took gold in Gabon 2017.
Clarence Seedorf was drafted in following the miserable Confederations Cup showing, and promptly alienated captain Benjamin Moukandjo -- since retired -- and declared himself to be happy with a draw against the Comoros... !
There's talent and title-winning experience here, but can the untested Seedorf pull it all together in time?
7. IVORY COAST
Ivory Coast have a tricky opening group, but they cannot be underestimated, due primarily to an offensive unit that will be the envy of their rivals.
Wilfried Zaha, Max-Alain Gradel, Nicolas Pepe and Maxwel Cornet will vie for roles supporting Wilfried Bony, who put his recent toil behind him with a barnstorming two-goal display in a recent friendly victory over the Comoros.
A midfield of Jean Seri, Franck Kessie and Ibrahim Sangare could also compensate for the injury absence of Eric Bailly.
Bounced back from a disappointing World Cup to breeze through qualification, including impressive victories -- home and away -- over Libya.
However, there are concerns over various key positions -- goalkeeper, central defender, centre-forward - and it remains to be seen whether John Obi Mikel, at 32, can enjoy the influence he once did.
No Afcon-bound team left more talented individuals at home than Algeria, with Ishak Belfodil, Faouzi Ghoulam, Said Benrahma, Nabil Bentaleb and Saphir Taider all overlooked from a squad brimming with quality.
If they click, offensively, they could be a joy to watch, particularly with goal machine Baghdad Bounedjah leading the line and the likes of Youcef Atal and Ismael Bennacer are coming off fine campaigns.
Could there be any success sweeter than winning the Afcon in the home of their fiercest rivals?
The Carthage Eagles are going somewhat under the radar ahead of the Afcon, even though they pipped Egypt to top their group in qualifying.
The excellent Wahbi Khazri is an underrated attacking threat; he shone at the World Cup, and finished the Ligue 1 season with 13 goals.
An overall lack of star power need not be fatal, although the absence -- through injury -- of Mohamed Amine Ben Amor, and ongoing fitness concerns around influential playmaker Ferjani Sassi, may dampen expectations.
Home advantage should ensure that Egypt are one of the last teams standing this summer, while the presence of Mohamed Salah -- a genuine superstar, and one of the world's finest players -- will help as well.
Salah and the Pharaohs also have a point to prove after their first World Cup since 1990 proved to be a miserable, point-less affair.
They haven't had the luck of the draw this time around, but an organised structure, the experience of Javier Aguirre, and Salah, who heads into a major tournament in full fitness after his injury nightmare 12 months ago, sets them among the favourites.
The Teranga Lions look to be the strongest of the sub-Saharan African contenders.
They were unfortunate to miss out the knockout stages of the World Cup, where they became the first team eliminated on yellow cards accrued, and were largely untroubled through qualification, taking more points than any other team.
Sadio Mane has only embellished his reputation after another fine season at Liverpool -- and a UEFA Champions League winner's medal no less -- while the emergence of Mbaye Diagne gives Senegal a powerful all-round centre-forward who'll offer a greater goal threat than M'Baye Niang.
Defensively, the central triangle of Salif Sane, Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye will be a match for the continent's best attacking units.
There's a lot that's in Morocco's favour as they aim to win the Afcon title for the first time since 1976.
In terms of tactical approach, style and professionalism, few, if any, teams in the continent can match them, and they were unfortunate to fall at the first hurdle at the World Cup, where their intense pressing style and movement won many admirers.
In Hakim Ziyech, they have one of the continent's finest players, while Herve Renard is a tournament master -- and the only coach to win the Afcon with two different sides.
They'll enjoy the 'familiar' confines of North Africa, and have improved significantly since a quarterfinal showing in 2015.
However, their opening group is tough, their intensity will be tested in the peak of the Egyptian summer, and recent warm-up defeats by Gambia and Zambia should serve as a reminder that they aren't the complete package just yet.