Top teams feel the call of Nations

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The greatest tournament you won't be able to see kicks off Sunday: the African Cup of Nations. You won't get an exclusive peek at Africa's World Cup-bound power trio, Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Ghana. You won't get an advance scouting report on Algeria, the U.S.' final group-stage opponent in June. That is, unless you're a Dish Network subscriber and have the French-language package. Or, you're willing to pay for a Web feed. Better yet, you're a resourceful pirate-feed finder. (There's some good info on how to find all of the above here.)

In any case, European club teams hate the Cup of Nations, and for good reason: Some of their best players disappear for two-plus weeks to represent their countries while the club calendar soldiers on. "I don't know why FIFA allow[s] this," says Avram Grant, whose debt-ridden and relegation-endangered Portsmouth squad loses four players this month. "The players go two weeks before and need one or two weeks afterwards to recover."

Obviously, Pompey's in no danger of cracking our Rankings. But some of the best clubs in the world are about to get hit hard while the drama unfolds in Angola. Much as we did two years ago, we'll assess which teams will be affected most by extended absences of key players.

Note: All rankings, records and statistics are through Jan. 6.

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