A last-eight place is bottom line for Angola
Another Africa Cup of Nations last-eight place will be the bottom line for Angola at the 2012 tournament in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
After three first-round exits, Palancas Negros (Black Antelopes) reached the 2008 and 2010 quarter-finals of the continental showpiece, losing narrowly to Egypt in Kumasi and Ghana in Luanda.
But getting to the knockout phase again is not going to be easy as Group B is completed by joint title favourites Ivory Coast, highly rated Burkina Faso and outsiders Sudan.
It is advantageous for the team from south-west Africa that they remain in Equatoguinean capital Malabo for all three matches, dodging a time-consuming flight from the island to mainland city Bata for the final fixture.
Angola launch their campaign against Burkina Faso at the 15,000-seat Nuevo Estadio Malabo -- the smallest capacity for a Cup of Nations venue in recent tournaments.
It will be a big occasion for both teams with victory for either putting them in a favourable position to accompany likely group winners Ivory Coast to the quarter-finals.
The Angolans have never played Burkina Faso in the continental showpiece, nor Sudan, while memories of Ivory Coast remain extremely painful thanks to a 5-2 hiding at the 1998 championship.
Defensive midfielder and captain Andre Makanga, who plays for Kuwaiti club Al-Jahra, insists there will be no inferiority complex against an Ivorian side boasting 2011 African Footballer of the Year Yaya Toure.
"We have defeated Ivory Coast in a friendly and all their stars played," he told national news agency ANGOP. "I believe we can beat them again in this Cup of Nations."
His focus is on the January 22 night-time showdown with Burkina Faso, though, admitting that a good start was vital to avoid retreating gloomily to Luanda after the mini-league phase.
Coach Jose 'Lito' Vidigal, who spent virtually all his playing and coaching career in Portugal, made an instant impact when he took charge by guiding a home-based squad to second place in the 2011 African Nations Championship.
Some of those stars will be heading to central Africa next week, including defensive marshal Carlos 'Kali' Alonso from Luanda-based military outfit Primeiro Agosto.
While Makanga provides midfield steel, Felisberto 'Gilberto' Amaral from Belgian club Lierse promises to make life uncomfortable for defences as he launches raids down the left flank.
'Gilberto' spent many years at record six-time African champions Al-Ahly of Egypt as did compatriot and striker Flavio Amado, who also plays for Lierse and will be appearing at his fourth consecutivve Cup of Nations.
Angola look formidable up front with Spain-based Mateus 'Manucho' Goncalves, Djalma Campos of Portuguese champions Porto and Arsenio 'Love' Cabungula from petroleum company side Petro Atletico.
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