Thanks to Nigeria's foibles, Chelsea do not have to deal with the inconvenience this time around that is the Africa Cup of Nations smack dab in the middle of the league season — though Chelsea's contingent of players from Africa is also smaller than it's been the norm over the years: with Mikel's departure, we're down to just Nigeria's Victor Moses.
That said, with the biennial event kicking off today, Chelsea do have rooting interest in the form of four loanees from three different nations getting the call.
Managed by former Chelsea
undertaker head coach Avram Grant, the Black Stars are looking to do one better than two years ago, when they lost to Cote d'Ivoire in the final, 9:8 in a penalty kick shootout. Christian Atsu, currently impressing on loan at Newcastle, was named the Player of the Tournament then and he will once again be relied on to provide the firepower alongside the Ayew brothers André and Jordan as veteran striker Asamoah Gyan, who's back in the UAE on loan from Shanghai SIPG. Young left back Baba Rahman, currently on loan at Schalke 04, played every single minute of the 2015 tournament and he should do that same this time around as well.
Ghana are certainly one of the favorites, but will first have to get out of a Group D containing fashionable Mohamed Salah and Egypt (who eliminated Nigeria in the qualifiers), sometimes surprising Mali, and feel-good story Uganda who are at their first Cup of Nations in 38 years.
Jan 17: vs. Uganda
Jan 21: vs. Mali
Jan 25: vs. Egypt
The defending champions have been less than impressive in qualifying, but should not be counted out, especially with Wilfried Zaha making the decision recently to join them instead of England at international level. He joins a talented forward group that includes Wilfried Bony, Jonathan Kodjia, and of course the lovely Salomon Kalou, who's the second oldest member of the squad these days.
The second youngest is Chelsea loanee Victorien Angban, who, just like at Granada, isn't expected to play much. The one player younger than him is Chelsea transfer target Franck Kessié; he is expected to contribute quite heavily. The Elephants should make short work of Group C, which also includes Togo, Morocco, and DR Congo.
Jan 16: vs. Togo
Jan 20: vs. DR Congo
Jan 24: vs. Morocco
Thousand Upper Volta almost won this thing back in 2013, only losing to Victor Moses & Co in the final, but have failed to follow that up with consistent success. The core talent of that team is still around, but the likes of Jonathan Pitroïpa and Aristide Bancé are both north of 30, and have since traded Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga for the UAE and Ivorian Premier Division, respectively. Bertrand Traoré will be relied upon heavily to improve on his 1-in-10 strike ratio at international level.
The Stallions are in a potentially tough Group A alongside hosts P.E.Aubameyan-Gabon, debutants Guinea-Bissau, and the always dramatic Cameroon.
Jan 14: vs. Cameroon
Jan 18: vs. Gabon
Jan 22: vs. Guinea-Bissau
There are no Chelsea players in Group B, which does include big favorites Algeria (Leicester pair Mahrez and Slimani, Napoli's Faouzi Ghoulam, Porto's Brahimi, etc.), other big favorites Senegal (Merseysiders Sadio Mané and Gana Gueye, West Ham's Cheikhou Kouyaté, bicycle kick merchant Moussa Sow, and the big man at the back Kalidou Koulibaly), Tunisia, and Zimbabwe (who count that marvelously named Marvelous Nakamba of Vitesse amongst their number). Before you ask, no, there's Lord Papy in the Senegal squad as he apparently does not get along with the national team coach.