Ghana continued an impressive build-up to the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations by storming back and defeating fellow qualifiers Tunisia 4-2 in Abu Dhabi at the weekend.
Togo captain Emmanuel Adebayor opted to play for Tottenham in the English Premier League, leaving his countrymen to snatch a 2-1 victory over Niger in a Lome clash of Cup minnows.
Zambia coach Herve Renard says he is not impressed by main first round rivals Nigeria and South Africa handler Gordon Igesund insists his team can be crowned African champions despite another dismal showing.
The championship kicks off Saturday at the 93,000-seat Soccer City stadium in Soweto when South Africa face debutants Cape Verde, and perennial 'chokers' Ivory Coast are title favourites for the fifth consecutive Cup of Nations.
Tunisia, who are in the so-called "group of death" with the Ivorians, Algeria and Togo, seemed to have responded to a pre-match verbal tongue-lashing from coach Sami Trabelsi over poor results by taking a two-goal lead over Ghana.
Leading striker Issam Jomaa scored either side of half-time for the Carthage Eagles only for four-time champions Ghana to hit back with four goals within 24 minutes.
John Boye, Mubarak Wakaso from the penalty spot, captain Asamoah Gyan and Albert Adomah were on target for the Black Stars, whose countdown began with a 3-0 whipping of Egypt in the United Arab Emirates last week.
Ghana, who finished third, second and fourth at the previous three Cup of Nations, are expected to win Group B against the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali and Niger.
Togo got off to a flying start with Placca Fessou on target inside four minutes, Razack Ali levelled three minutes from time and Floyd Ayite snatched victory as the referee checked his watch.
Adebayor is expected to join the Sparrow Hawks in South Africa this week after a last-minute change of heart following the latest of many international retirements.
The gangling star says the national football federation is "sick" and often complains about unpaid match appearance fees and bonuses and poor general treatment of players when called up.
Renard, who led Zambia to a shock African title in Gabon last year, fired the opening salvo in a war of words with chief first round threats Nigeria after the Chipololpolo (Copper Bullets) were held 0-0 by Norway in Ndola.
"You saw Nigeria the other day against Cape Verde. Do you think they were impressive? I do not think so," he said, referring to a goalless draw between the Super Eagles and the islanders in Portugal.
"I have no concerns or worries," insisted Igesund after South Africa hardly created a chance when held 0-0 by Algeria in Soweto -- the fifth time they have fired a blank in eight games under the coach.
Only 14,500 supporters attended the warm-up, signalling disillusionment with Bafana Bafana (The Boys), who might struggle to progress from a first round group with Cape Verde, Angola and Morocco.