The 31st edition of the Africa Cup of Nations will kick off at 18:00 (GMT +2) today, Saturday when hosts Gabon take on debutants Guinea-Bissau.
Sixty years have passed since the first Nations Cup, which took place in Sudan in 1957, consisted of only three teams and was won by Egypt.
This year’s edition has 32 matches over 23 days, featuring 16 teams – who begin their quest in four groups of four – and will end on 5 February with the winning finalists lifting the Italian-made trophy and taking home $4m.
Africa remains enthralled by the tournament, which has steadily grown to become the continent’s biggest sporting event, and the 2017 finals are guaranteed to provide a mix of flair, surprise, controversy and historic moments.
Gabon welcomes back the cream of African football only five years after it co-hosted the Nations Cup with Equatorial Guinea.
The country was awarded the finals by the Confederation of African Football as replacement for Libya, which had been due to host in 2013 but swapped years with South Africa which had been selected to host in 2017.
The civil war in Libya meant it had to withdraw entirely and in stepped Gabon.
However, the oil-rich country with a population of 1.8m has been experiencing its own troubles since incumbent President Ali Bongo was declared the winner of a contested election in August. His victory was followed by deadly clashes on the streets.
Opposition activists have called on citizens to boycott the tournament as part of their plans to highlight their protests against Bongo’s rule.
On the pitch, Gabon are the lowest ranked team in the finals, occupying 108th spot in Fifa’s world rankings for January.
But they do have in their side one of the world’s most coveted strikers in Pierre-Emerick Aubamenyang. The Borussia Dortmund forward goes into the tournament in scintillating form, having scored 20 goals in 22 games this season for his German club.
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