Three former champions -- Zambia (2012), Tunisia (2004) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (1974 and 1968) -- and Cape Verde, the darlings of the last edition of the tournament who reached the quarterfinals in 2013, make up a group that will attract much interest. Although it contains neither outright favourites nor obvious underdogs, the potential for tough tussles should make for exciting clashes.
Tunisia and Cape Verde are ranked third and fourth on the continent and 31st and 33rd in the world, respectively, and will be confident of advancing. They have played consistently good football over the last year and finished in that order in their 2014 World Cup qualifying group.
Zambia will not want to make it that easy for them, especially on Cape Verde, who finished above them in qualifying. Having won the 2012 edition of the tournament, which was partly played in the same country as this year's competition (Equatorial Guinea), Zambia will want to show that was no fluke. DRC qualified as the best third-place team and will have to work hard to ensure they are competitive.
Zambia: After being crowned champions three years ago, Zambia dropped off the radar and left it to a penalty shootout to qualify for the 2013 tournament. There, they failed to get out of a group which included both eventual finalists, Nigeria and Burkina Faso, and did not win a single game. They have since undergone a change of coach, with Herve Renard making way for Honour Janza, and a last-minute change of captain, with Stopilla Sunzu stepping aside 10 days before kickoff and Rainford Kalaba taking over. Zambia are undergoing a period of transition even as they enter a major tournament.
Tunisia: A decent recent run saw Tunisia advance to the final round of 2014 World Cup qualifying (in which they lost to Cameroon) and they go into this competition as one of the in-form sides. Despite losing Tunis midfielder Anis Ben Hatira and Lens striker Yoann Touzghar to injury, their squad includes many of their regulars, such as goalkeeper Moez Ben Cherifa and forwards Youssef Msakni and Fakhreddine Ben Youssef. With the bulk of their outfit home-based, the sense of team spirit might be what triumphs for them.
Cape Verde: The islanders stole hearts with a stunning run to the last eight two years ago and an eye-catching style of play based on quick running and smart defending. They return to the tournament with much of the same squad and will look to Heldon and Ryan Mendes to do the damage up front. With access to significant resources, including a pre-tournament training camp in Portugal, Cape Verde will want to go even further this time.
Democratic Republic of Congo: The connotations of being "the lucky loser" might rule DRC out of contention in this tournament, but a gutsy side who got better as qualifying continued cannot be written off. Although they are without star forward Tresor Mputu, they have an eye-catching front-line with Dynamo Kiev's Dieumerci Mbokani and West Brom's Youssuf Mulumbu leading the pack, and if all else fails, Robert Kidiaba's goal-scoring celebrations will brighten up any match.
Best individual battle
The DRC's Mbokani is the highest-profile striker in the group and will be up against some of the better keepers on the continent, most notably Zambia's Kennedy Mweene. The South African-based shot-stopper was instrumental in Zambia's run to the trophy in 2012 and has built his reputation on strength and an astute eye for the game. Whether his defence can back him up against forceful forwards could be a decisive factor in this group.
Zambia and Cape Verde were grouped together in qualifying and picked up a victory (2-1 and 0-1) and scored exactly the same number of goals against each other. They are probably regraded as being on fairly equal footing in this tournament and might find themselves fighting it out for a place in the knockouts when they meet in the last round of matches on Jan. 26.
X-factor: Two local coaches
There are only three homegrown managers among the 16 teams at the tournament and two of them, Zambia's Janza and DRC's Florent Ibenge, are in this group. After the last ANC, which Nigeria won under Stephen Keshi, the argument that a familiar face might fare better than a fancied foreigner was strengthened, and this pair will want prove that theory correct. There might be as many eyes on the pitch as on the touchline in this group.