The 2013 Africa Cup of Nations is drawing near, and 2012 surprise winners Zambia, with a host of players familiar to South African Premier Soccer League fans, will be out to defend their title. Their first order of business will be to survive Group C, which includes Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Ethiopia. Get primed for the action with quick profiles of the teams in the group.
AFRICA CUP OF NATIONS 2013: GROUP C
Zambia began 2012 with an unimpressive goalless draw against Namibia in Johannesburg, but a month later they were crowned Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) champions for the first time in the country's history after edging star-studded Côte d'Ivoire in a penalty shootout in the final in Libreville.
Since then, however, Chipolopolo's form has been iffy, with the team's record in that time reading four wins, four losses and a draw. They will need to lift their game in South Africa.
Luckily for the Zambians, they possess plenty of experience, which should serve them well in the continental finals. Five of their squad also play their football in South Africa; others previously played in the PSL.
At the back, Free State Stars goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene, provides the team with a calming, veteran influence. He was voted Goalkeeper of the Tournament at Afcon 2012.
In front of him, Golden Arrows defender Joseph Musonda is the most experienced player in the Zambian line-up, having played his 100th international in the Afcon final against Côte d'Ivoire in February.
At least three midfielders - Rainford Kalaba, Felix Katongo and Isaac Chansa - have played over 50 internationals. Chansa has extensive experience of South Africa, having played for Orlando Pirates.
Up front, striker and captain Christopher Katongo was the PSL's leading goal scorer in his last season with Jomo Cosmos, 2006/07, before he joined Danish club Brøndby. Having last played his football in China, he could be set for a PSL return. He'll make an announcement after the Afcon finals.
Fellow forward James Chamanga, who succeeded Katongo as the PSL's top scorer in 2007/08 while with Moroka Swallows, remains in China. Both men also have passed the 50-cap mark.
Summing up, Chipolopolo have the experience, they know the South African conditions, and they know what it takes to win the Africa Cup of Nations. They simply need to use those advantages to find their form and make a run at back-to-back titles.
Highest Fifa ranking in 2012: 39
Previous Afcon appearances: 15
Best Afcon results: champions in 2012, runners-up in 1974 and 1994, third in 1982, 1990 and 1996
Players to watch: strikers Christopher Katongo and James Chamanaga, goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene, defender Joseph Musonda, midfielder Rainford Kalaba
Traditionally, Nigeria has been one of Africa's powerhouses, but they missed the 2012 Afcon finals. Before that, though, in the six finals preceding the tournament in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, they were runners-up once, finished third four times and reached the quarterfinals on the other occasion.
After a poor start to 2012, the Super Eagles appear to be finding some form. In recent outings against Liberia in October and Venezuela in November they were impressive, winning 6-1 and 3-1 respectively.
Given their footballing riches on paper, the Nigerians should be in the running for the continental title every time it is held. Football politics, however, have often undermined their team harmony and selections, and thus results.
Much like defending champions Zambia, Nigeria can put together an experienced line-up, if they choose to go that route. The only area where the Super Eagles are relatively inexperienced is in the midfield. Lacking experience, though, does not mean lacking quality.
The most well-known member of the Nigerian engine room is Chelsea star John Obi Mikel, who has had plenty of run-ins with the country's Football Association, which makes his selection far from a certainty.
Football fans should remember goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama well for his heroics during the 2010 Fifa World Cup, which was held in South Africa. He's an athletic and solid performer in the Nigerian goal.
In front of him, captain Joseph Yobo, who made his debut in 2001, leads the defence and is the most capped Super Eagle of all time. At the age of 32, he is still playing for a leading club, Turkey's Fenerbahçe. During his career he has also played in Belgium for Standard Liege, in France for Olympique Marseille, and in England for Everton.
Alongside Yobo, Taye Taiwo offers not only his defensive skills but also an option for dead-ball set pieces.
Up front, there are two clear leading strikers: Yakubu Aiyegbeni and Ikechukwe Uche.
A powerful man, Yakubu has enjoyed an excellent goal scoring record throughout his career, no matter where he has played. He is the third highest international goal scorer for Nigeria of all time. Now, 30, he made his debut for the country at the age of 17 in the Sydney Olympics in 2000. His full international debut followed two years later.
Uche is two years younger than Yakubu and a much smaller man, but he is very athletic as his goal scoring celebrations amply demonstrate. However, close to 80 percent of his goals for the Super Eagles have come at home and he will need to show form away from home to make an impact in South Africa.
Highest Fifa ranking in 2012: 45
Previous Afcon appearances: 16
Best Afcon results: champions in 1980 and 1994, runners-up in 1984, 1988, 1990 and 2000, third in 1976, 1978, 1992, 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2010
Players to watch: goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, defender Joseph Yobo, midfielder John Obi Mikel, strikers Ikechukwu Uche and Yakubu Aiyegbeni
For Burkina Faso, 2012 was a less than satisfying year. Their results were poor and even their qualification for South Africa 2013 was stuttering. They booked their spot with a home win and an away loss to the Central African Republic (CAR), edging the tie 3-2.
Their first nine matches of the year delivered six losses and three draws, but most recently they beat the CAR and Congo DR. They had better hope that is an indication that their fortunes are now on the up because from January 2012, when they were ranked 66th by Fifa, they have since fallen to 89th in the world.
Since finishing fourth in 1998 when they hosted the event, the Stallions have not progressed beyond the group stages of the Africa Cup of Nations, so that will be their first aim in South Africa.
Striker Moumouni Dagano is a proven goal scorer at international level and the Burkinabe will look to him to provide goals again. Now playing for Qatari team Al-Sailiya Sport, Dagano has also played top flight football in France and Belgium, where he won the Ebony Shoe, awarded to the top African player in 2002.
His international debut came three years before that, in 1999, making him, at the age of 31, one of most experienced internationals at Afcon 2013 in terms of years playing for his country. He was the joint top goal scorer in the qualifying stages for the 2010 Fifa World Cup, netting 12 times to match FijiÂ’s Osea Vakatalesau.
At 23, Alain Traoré is a much younger striker, but he, too, has proved effective on the international stage. He scored twice in Burkina Faso's 2-1 victory over the CAR, which gave them a 3-2 aggregate victory and passage to South Africa for Afcon 2013.
Looking back on recent unsuccessful qualifying campaigns, Traoré, whose younger brother Bertrand is also in the national team, told Fifa.com: "There were lots of young players back in 2010. We all lacked experience. Year after year, we have acquired maturity and self-confidence. Most of us now play in good championships and most of us are starters in good clubs. It is quite new for the Stallions."
Highest Fifa ranking in 2012: 66
Previous Afcon appearances: 8
Best Afcon results: fourth in 1998
Players to watch: strikers Moumouni Dagano and Alain Traoré
Ethiopia qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations the hard way, advancing past Benin on the away goals rule after a goalless draw at home and a 1-1 result away, followed by another away goals victory over Sudan, whom they lost 5-3 to away and beat 2-0 at home.
Qualification is a very big thing for Ethiopia, as the last time the country managed that feat was way back in 1982, 30 years ago.
It has been a good year for the Black Lions. They began it ranked 133rd by Fifa and slipped to as low as 140 in March, but by November they had moved up to 102nd place, their highest ranking since 2006.
Their games included a 1-1 draw against Bafana Bafana in South Africa, which led to the dismissal of Bafana coach Pitso Mosimane after a string of unconvincing results.
Striker Saladin Said, who plays for Wadi Degla in the Egyptian Premier League, scored in that draw with South Africa and is certainly the Black Lions' dangerman. Former Belgian international Walter Meeuws, who coached Said at Wadi Degla, told ECDAF the striker could be one of the surprises at the Africa Cup of Nations in January.
“Said is a very skilful player, technically strong, good speed and a good positioning as striker. He reads very well the game and the last year he became stronger in both power and physical strength," Meeuws reckoned.
Adane Girma, who began his career as a defender or defensive midfielder, has since changed to striker and become a consistent goal scorer for his club Saint George FC, the leading club in Ethiopia. In 2010/11 he shared the Ethiopian goal scoring title with Getaneh Kebede and was voted the best player in the Ethiopian Premier League.
Highest Fifa ranking in 2012: 102
Previous Afcon appearances: 9
Best Afcon results: champions in 1962, runners-up in 1957, third in 1959
Players to watch: striker Saladin Said and Adane Girma