- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 11, 2017

JOHANNESBURG (AP) - A look at the teams, key players and coaches in Group B at the African Cup of Nations:

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ALGERIA

Algeria was ultra-impressive in qualifying, going undefeated in the final round with five wins and a draw. The North Africans scored 25 goals in those six games, highlighting their array of attacking options: African player of the year Riyad Mahrez of English champion Leicester, El Arabi Hilal Soudani, the top scorer in qualifying, and Mahrez’s Leicester teammate Islam Slimani. If Algeria’s attack fires, it’ll be very hard to stop.

KEY PLAYER: Riyad Mahrez

“The Magician” was at the heart of unfashionable Leicester’s startling Premier League title last season and although he’s had a dip this season, he possesses the skill and trickery to beat any defense.

COACH: Georges Leekens

The Belgian coach is into his second stint in charge of Algeria and also has previous experience of North African soccer with Tunisia. That’ll put him in good stead when Algeria meets Tunisia in the group stage. Leekens appears to be finding the right combinations at the right time with Algeria beating Mauritania 6-0 in a final warmup game.

BEST RESULT: Winner, 1990.

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TUNISIA

African Cup champion in 2004, Tunisia has slipped in recent years, failing to get past the quarterfinals since that victory as host. Still, Tunisia always provides a stern challenge, with an abrasive, physical style - sometimes too physical for the referees - that makes it difficult to beat. The North African derby against Algeria in the second round of games will be fiercesome and possibly telling in a tough group that also contains Senegal.

KEY PLAYER: Wahbi Khazri

The attacking midfielder may be bursting to prove himself after being overlooked for the early part of this season by Sunderland in the Premier League.

COACH: Henryk Kasperczak

A veteran coach with tons of experience in African football, the Pole has also taken charge of Ivory Coast, Morocco, Senegal and Mali, and is on his second assignment as coach of Tunisia.

BEST RESULT: Winner, 2004.

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SENEGAL

Senegal has yet to realize its enormous potential at the African Cup despite a memorable run to the quarterfinals of the World Cup in 2002. Somehow it just hasn’t worked out for Senegal, which regularly sends players to Europe’s top leagues. Only one of Senegal’s 23-man squad plays his soccer at home, testament to the talent but also a challenge for the players to gel when they return for international duty. Senegal was the best team in qualifying with six wins from six games and a solid defense that conceded only two goals. The test, again, is to make that promise count.

KEY PLAYER: Sadio Mane

What Senegal does have this tournament is a focal point: Mane is the man. The speedy Liverpool winger has been outstanding for his club with nine goals already this season and arrives in Gabon at the top of his game.

COACH: Aliou Cisse

Senegal turned back to a Senegalese after a failed experiment with French coach Alain Giresse. Cisse is a former player who was given a chance and responded by leading Senegal on that outstanding run in qualifying.

BEST RESULT: Runner-up, 2002.

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ZIMBABWE

One of the three big surprises at the tournament alongside debutant Guinea-Bissau and Uganda. Despite a crumbling economy at home and players’ constant gripes with their federation over unpaid wages and bonuses, Zimbabwe qualified for the first time in 10 years. The problems flared again this week, though, with some players delaying their departure for the tournament in protest at outstanding pay.

KEY PLAYER: Khama Billiat

Billiat helped propel South African club Mamelodi Sundowns to the African Champions League title last year, breaking the long-running dominance of North and West African clubs. With Zimbabwe the only southern African country at the tournament, it’ll be a similar challenge for Billiat, who can play as a striker or an attacking midfielder.

COACH: Callisto Pasuwa

Pasuwa led the Zimbabweans back to the African Cup after a decade but he’s also had arguments with bosses over wages and in 2015 he walked out of the job. Luckily for the team, the federation convinced him to come back. Facing Algeria, Tunisia and Senegal in the tournament’s toughest group is a huge test.

BEST RESULT: Group stage, 2004 and 2006.

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Associated Press writer Justin Palmer in London contributed to this report.


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