James Eastham fancies underdogs Burkina Faso to cause an upset against Stephen Keshi's Super Eagles on day three of the tournament.
"On paper the difference in quality between these sides is smaller than the market suggests"
Lay Nigeria v Burkina Faso @ [1.82]
Zambia v Ethiopia (Mon)
Live on British Eurosport, 15:00 GMT, Match Odds: Zambia [1.57], Ethiopia [7.6], The Draw [4.0]
In the year since Zambia's African Cup of Nations triumph, little about their results or performances has suggested The Copper Bullets are a smart bet to retain their trophy. Defeats to opponents you would expect them to beat and a general feeling that last year's shock victory was as good as it will ever get explain why you can find the holders as big as [18.0] (eighth favourites) in the outright betting.
Yet I give Zambia a decent chance of enjoying a respectable tournament. Once the action starts they should click back into competition mode, especially as the squad is made up largely of the same players that triumphed 12 months ago.
Ethiopia have made it to the finals for the first time since 1982. At [7.2], they are ranks outsiders to make it out of this group. Their 23-man squad contains 20 players based in Ethiopia, the exceptions being midfielder Yussuf Saleh and attackers Saladin Said and Fuad Ibrahim, who play in Sweden, Egypt and the United States respectively. Ethiopia reached the finals thanks to a 5-5 aggregate away goals win over Sudan but there's little evidence they are equipped to upset the odds.
Zambia's price of [1.57] looks about right but will be too short for many bettors. Instead, the less than expansive football Zambia played last year and the tournament's low-scoring start (the day's two opening games finished 0-0) makes under 2.5 goals a more appealing prospect. In a game with few strong selections, unders would be my pick.
Nigeria v Burkina Faso (Mon)
Live on British Eurosport & ITV4, 18:00 GMT, Match Odds: Nigeria [1.79], Burkina Faso [5.4], The Draw [3.5]
I've already tipped Burkina Faso to win Group C at [6.2] and I'm amazed they're as big as [5.4] to beat Nigeria on Monday afternoon. Nigeria have a vastly superior pedigree at continental and global level but looking at the potential of two sides the difference in the match odds (see above) simply looks too big to me.
Burkina Faso were one of the tournament's major disappointments 12 months ago, falling at the first hurdle without picking up a single point, but that their team contains outstanding individual quality is undeniable. Winger Jonathan Pitroipa is one of Africa's finest players in his position, Alain Traore an attacker with a magical left foot and Charles Kabore, the strong man of the midfield, a far more influential figure for the national team than Marseille. The same applies to Bakary Kone, generally a bench-warmer at Lyon but potentially one of the better centre-halves you'll see at this tournament.
Nigeria was once made up almost exclusively of foreign-based stars but there's more of a homegrown flavour to Stephen Keshi's team these days. A sense the squad is more meritocratic may foster a better team spirit but also means there's less of the fear factor about the Super Eagles.
At the available prices the smart selection is siding with Burkina Faso in some way - laying Nigeria at [1.82], backing the underdogs with some sort of start on the Asian Handicap (such as +0.5&+1.0 at [1.88]) or simply to win at [5.4] as mentioned above if you're feeling brave.
Despite Burkina Faso's much-improved defensive record I also like the odds-against price on 'Yes' in the Both Teams to Score? market. I expect Burkina Faso to have a real go thanks to the attacking talent in their ranks, and a Victor Moses-inspired Nigeria are good enough to score.