THE standard of African soccer has improved so much that it is difficult to predict who will win the 27th Africa Cup of Nations title starting in Angola on Sunday.
Legends attributed the improvement in African soccer to an array of players not only dominating the European leagues, but also helping their teams win various competitions.
Big name stars in Angola include Emmanuel Adebayor (Togo), Samuel Eto'o (Cameroon), Nwankwo Kanu (Nigeria), Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast) and Michael Essien (Ghana).
Former Bafana Bafana captain Lucas Radebe said: "It is unfortunate Bafana Bafana are not going to Angola. This is a tough one, it's difficult to make a prediction. I think the big four teams in the tournament - Ghana, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Cameroon - will be in the running for the continental title.
"I know many people have been saying it will be Ivory Coast, but for me I think they will do well during the 2010 Fifa World Cup."
Development coach and soccer analyst Mike Ntombela is tipping Egypt to make it three in a row after winning the title at home in 2006 and in Ghana in 2008.
"My argument is based on their experience, despite the absence of injured Mohammed Aboutrika. Ivory Coast were expected to win in Ghana but lacked experience."
Former Bafana strong man Linda Buthelezi said: "It will be between Ivory Coast and Nigeria, they have solid teams with some excellent players whom I have no doubt will set Angola alight."
But another former Bafana ace midfielder, Doctor Khumalo, paints a different picture: "I know that during the qualifiers Ivory Coast performed extremely well, but I don't think they will win it. I foresee a situation where we will end up with a surprise winner.
"We will be having the 2010 Fifa World Cup in five months' time, so coaches of the teams that have qualified for the World Cup will be in Angola on a spying mission. I don't think the five African teams that have qualified for the World Cup will avoid exposing their strengths and weaknesses."
Zambian soccer icon Kalusha Bwalya said: "It is not easy to make a prediction. Many people are tipping Ivory Coast but it's going to be tough for all."
Former Mamelodi Sundowns star midfield Roger Feutmba has backed his home side Cameroon to bag the Afcon title in Angola.
"We did not have a very smooth qualifying path, so that could be a problem. However, Cameroon have the fighting spirit necessary, and should be able to position themselves as serious contenders," Feutmba said.