Without the participation of Ivory Coast brothers Yaya and Kolo Toure or Ghanaians Sulley Muntari and Kevin-Prince Boateng, and combined with the surprising failures of Nigeria and South Africa to qualify, the tournament should field plenty of surprises once it kicks off on January 14.
Most experienced players: Mame Biram Diouf (Stoke City), Sadio Mane (Liverpool), Idrissa Gana Gueye (Everton), Moussa Sow (Fenerbahçe)
Top qualification scorers: Moussa Sow (3 goals)
Analysis: Manager Aliou Cissé will rely heavily on his captain, West Ham’s Cheikhou Kouyate, to anchor the spine of his defense.
Last finish: 2015 (winner); best finish: 2015, 1992 (2x winner)
Most experienced players: Salomon Kalou (Hertha BSC), Max Gradel (Bournemouth), Wilfried Bony (Stoke City)
Notable absentees: Yaya Toure (Manchester City), Gervinho (Hebei China Fortune)
Top qualification scorers: Gervinho, Max Gradel, Jonathan Kodjia (one goal each)
Analysis: The tournament favorite will miss the experienced Toure brothers, but will feel the absence of Gervinho the most. The former Arsenal and Roma striker, who has 20 career goals for his country, is out for six months after knee surgery.
Egypt (FIFA rank: 35)
Last finish: 2010 (winner); best finish: 2010, 2008, 2006, 1998, 1986, 1959, 1957 (7x winner)
Most experienced players: Essam El-Hadary (Wadi Degla), Ahmed Fathy (Al Ahly), Ahmed Elmohamady (Hull City)
Notable absentees: Hossam Ghaly (Al Ahly) Bassem Morsy (Zamalek)
Top qualification scorers: Mohamed Salah (4 goals), Basem Morsy, Ramy Rabia, Ramadan Sobhi (1 goal each)
Analysis: AS Roma’s Salah — nicknamed the “Egyptian Messi” — will be bolstered by a solid midfield featuring Elmohamady and Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny. The seven-time champion last won the tournament with a foreign-born manager in 1959, under Hungarian Pál Titkos. Argentine Héctor Cúper will try to match that feat for the Pharaohs.
Tunisia (FIFA rank: 36)
Last finish: 2015 (quarterfinals); best finish: 2004 (winner)
Most experienced players: Aymen Mathlouthi (Étoile du Sahel), Aymen Abdennour (Valencia), Ali Maâloul (Al Ahly SC)
Notable absentees: Saber Khalifa (Club Africain), Youssef Msakni (Lekhwiya)
Top qualification scorers: Yassine Chikhaoui (3 goals), Saber Khalifa, Taha Yassine Khenissi (2 goals each)
Analysis: Unlike other top teams in the Cup, Tunisia fields mostly domestic players — which could prove to be a blessing for team chemistry under 70-year-old Polish coach Henryk Kasperczak.
Algeria (FIFA rank: 39)
Last finish: 2015 (6th); best finish: 1990 (winner)
Most experienced players: Carl Medjani (CD Leganés), Raïs M’Bolhi (Antalyaspor), Islam Slimani (Leicester City)
Notable absentees: Rafik Halliche (Qatar SC)
Top qualification scorers: El Arabi Hillel Soudani (7 goals), Slimani (4 goals)
Analysis: Algeria boasts the punishing trio of marksmen Soudani and Slimani alongside creative ace Riyad Mahrez, the English Professional Footballers’ Association Player of the Year. The squad fields European club talent at every position.
DR Congo (FIFA rank: 49)
Last finish: 2015 (3rd); best finish: 1974, 1968 (2x winner)
Most experienced players: Issama Mpeko (TP Mazembe), Dieumerci Mbokani (Hull City), Ndombe Mubele (Al Ahli SC (Doha)
Top qualification scorers: Cédric Bakambu (3 goals), Mubele, Joël Kimwaki, Paul-José M’Poku, Jordan Botaka, Jonathan Bolingi (2 each)
Notable absentees: Yannick Bolasie (Everton).
Analysis: France-born Bakambu of Villarreal will attempt to lead the Leopards through a difficult group featuring Morocco, Ivory Coast and Togo.
Burkina Faso (FIFA rank 53)
Last finish: 2015 (group stage); best finish: 2013 (runner up)
Most experienced players: Charles Kaboré (FC Krasnodar), Bakary Koné (Malaga), Jonathan Pitroïpa (Al-Nasr Dubai)
Top qualification scorers: Six players with one goal each
Analysis: For a repeat finals appearance, Portuguese coach Paulo Duarte must get more out of promising Chelsea striker Bertrand Traore, on loan at Ajax. The 21- year-old has just three goals in 30 caps.
Ghana (FIFA rank 54)
Last finish: 2015 (2nd); best finish: 1982, 1978, 1965, 1963 (4x winner)
Most experienced players: Asamoah Gyan (Al Ahli Dubai), André Ayew (West Ham), Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu (Udinese)
Notable absentee: Jeffrey Schlupp (Leicester)
Top qualification scorers: Jordan Ayew (3 goals), Christian Atsu, Gyan (2 goals each)
Analysis: Asamoah Gyan could break the 100-cap barrier in the tournament and remains a threat up front alongside the Ayew brothers, Andre and Jordan. A talented back line includes the experienced Harrison Afful, who plays in the MLS with Columbus Crew and Leicester’s Daniel Amartey.
Morocco (FIFA rank 57)
Last finish: 2013 (group stage); best finish: 1976 (winner)
Most experienced players: Medhi Benatia (Juventus), Karim El Ahmadi (Feyenoord), Moubarak Boussoufa (Al-Jazira)
Notable absentees: Younes Belhanda (Nice), Hakim Ziyech (Ajax)
Top qualification scorers: Youssef El-Arabi (4 goals), Nabil Dirar (2 goals)
Analysis: French manager Hervé Renard, who managed Zambia and the Ivory Coast to African Cup titles, will handle a team of seven Ligue 1 professionals, but isn’t taking Ajax’s Hakim Ziyech. Youssef El-Arabi will be relied upon for goals.
Cameroon (FIFA rank 62)
Last finish: 2015 (group stage); best finish: 2002, 2000, 1988, 1984 (4x winner)
Most experienced players: Nicolas Nkoulou (Lyon), Vincent Aboubakar (Besiktas)
Notable absentees: Alex Song (Rubin Kazan), Joel Matip (Liverpool)
Top qualification scorers: Vincent Aboubakar (2 goals), five players with one goal each.
Analysis: Although coach Hugo Broos unsuccessfully pleaded with Liverpool center-back Matip to rejoin the side, he still fields a team brimming with experience from Brazil 2014. Proven goal scorer Aboubakar is chief among them.
Mali (FIFA rank 63)
Last finish: 2015 (group stage); best finish: 1972 (2nd)
Most experienced players: Modibo Maïga (Al-Nassr), Sambou Yatabaré (Werder Bremen)
Notable absentee: Modibo Maïga
Top qualification scorers: Abdoulay Diaby (3 goals), Moussa Doumbia, Modibo Maïga (2 goals each)
Analysis: French legend Alain Giresse is in his second term coaching the Eagles, following a third-place finish in 2013. Monaco’s promising 21-year-old Adama Traore could shine.
Guinea-Bissau (FIFA rank 68)
Last finish: First time qualifying
Most experienced players: Zezinho (Levadiakos), Jonas Mendes (S.C. Beira-Mar), Bocundji Ca (Paris FC)
Top qualification scorers: Five with one goal each
Analysis: The first-time qualifier is the biggest outsider in the tournament, at average odds of 200-1. Escaping the group, which includes hosts Gabon and Cameroon, will be a stretch.
Uganda (FIFA rank 73)
Last finish/best finish: 1978 (2nd)
Most experienced players: Tony Mawejje (Throttur FC), Godfrey Walusimbi (Gor Mahia), Geofrey Massa (Baroka)
Top qualification scorers: Six with one goal each
Analysis: Finishing runner-up in 1978 was the sporting peak of Idi Amin’s brutal reign. Although he was deposed a year later, the country endured a 39-year footballing drought until now. The Cranes will have to go some to get past Ghana and Egypt in their group, however.
Togo (FIFA rank 90)
Last finish: 2013 (quarterfinals); best finish: 1972, 2013 (quarterfinals)
Most experienced players: Abdoul-Gafar Mamah (Dacia Chișinău), Emmanuel Adebayor (free agent), Alaixys Romao (Olympiacos)
Top qualification scorers: Five with one goal each
Analysis: It’s been seven years since Togo’s bus was horrifically ambushed traveling to the African Cup in Angola. Adebayor, who then briefly retired from national duty, is without a club, but available for the Sparrow Hawks. The 32-year-old has 31 goals in 66 appearances for Togo.
Zimbabwe (FIFA rank 103)
Last finish: 2006 (group stage), best finish: 2004, 2006 (group stage)
Most experienced players: Hardlife Zvirekwi (Caps United), Knowledge Musona ( K.V. Oostende)
Top qualification scorers: Khama Billiat, Knowledge Musona (3 goals each)
Analysis: The Warriors are the second-biggest outsiders in the tournament at 100-1 odds. Coach Callisto Pasuwa follows Brazilian José Claudinei, whose lack of payment from the Zimbabwean Football Association sparked an expulsion by FIFA from 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
Gabon (FIFA rank 108)
Last finish: 2015 (group stage); best finish: 2012, 1996 (quarterfinals)
Most experienced players: Didier Ovono (K.V. Oostende), Bruno Ecuele Manga (Cardiff City)
Top qualification scorers: Automatically qualified as hosts
Analysis: Never mind the world ranking, host Gabon has a good shot at going far thanks to its modest group (Guinea-Bissau, Cameroon, Burkina Faso), plus the 2015 African Footballer of the Year Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The pacey 27-year-old is averaging nearly a goal per match with Borussia Dortmund.