A prelude of sorts to this year's World Cup in Germany is playing out in Cairo, where the African Cup of Nations soccer tournament began on Friday. The tournament pits the continent's sixteen top teams against in each other in four groups of round-robin play.
Among the contenders are African World Cup participants Tunisia, which survived poor first-half play to defeat Zambia 4-1 in their opening match; civil-war wracked Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast); Togo, which is suffering from intra-team conflict; Ghana; and Angola. Other qualifying teams include host Egypt; former World Cup fan pleasers Nigeria and Cameroon, neither of whom qualified this go-round; South Africa; Guinea; Senegal; Morocco; Libya; and two countries better known for their ongoing internal sociopolitical crises, Zimbabwe and Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire).
Group D, comprising Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, and Zimbabwe, is considered the toughest unit, and any of the first three teams could win the championship, though Senegal has fallen off since its 2004 World Cup success, Nigeria has been known to self-destruct despite having some of the most talented players in the world, and Ghana, a four-time winner of the Nations Cup, will have to outscore Senegal and Nigeria to advance, a tall order. None of the other three draws has as many contenders. Other potential winners include host country Egypt, which has also won 4 Nations Cups and had the most appearances over the tournament history, Tunisia, and Ivory Coast. Togo's coach, Nigerian native Stephen Keshi, and star player, Emmanuel Adebayor, are at loggerheads, and will have to make up if they're to advance out of their group, and down the road, to succeed in Germany. If you're really up on African soccer, you can predict the winners on the BBC's interactive site.
Some photos from before and during the tournament (the official site's photo section is awful):
Tunisia striker Chawki Ben Saada, center, vies with Ghana's Stephan Appiah, left, and Daniel Idouzai, right (AFP, Fethi Belaid)
Tunisia's Kaies Ghodhbane, left, takes the ball past Ghanaian defender Samuel Kuffuor in Tunis (AFP, Fethi Belaid)
The Ivory Coast team train at Cairo football stadium (AP, Ben Curtis)
Angola's Flavio celebrates goal against Cameroon during African Nations Cup match in Cairo (Reuters, Tara Todras-Whitehill)
Congo's Lomana Tresor Lua Lua, right, challenges for the ball with Togo's Emmanuel Matthias at the African Nations Cup soccer match between Togo and C (AP, Ben Curtis)
Arsenal defender Kolo Toure, right, and Arouna Kone of PSV Eindhoven, both playing for the Ivory Coast team, challenge for the ball during a training session (AP, Ben Curtis)
Morocco's Talal El Karkouri and Ivory Coast's Didier Drogba, right, fight for the ball during the African Nations Cup soccer match between Ivory Coast and Morocco (AP, Ben Curtis)
Ivory Coast's Didier Drogba celebrates his penalty goal during the African Nations Cup soccer match between Ivory Coast and Morocco (AP, Ben Curtis)
Tunisian Jaidi Radi waves to supporters as his team was qualified for this year's World Cup finals in Germany after a qualifying match against Morocco (AP Photo/Jalil Bounhar)
Egypt in red, vs. Libya in Green (©Mena, Cup of Nations site)
Nigeria's Jay-Jay Okocha, past international sensation, now on the verge of retirement from international play (BBC)
Guinea's Ousmane Bangoura, center, celebrates his goal with teammates Pablo Thiam, left, and Kanfory Sylla, right, during the African Nations Cup soccer match between South Africa and Guinea (AP, Ben Curtis)