This coming weekend it is the African Cup of Nations that will move into the spotlight as 24 of the continent’s most talented teams, each with a squad of 23 players, will battle it out across six venues in four cities in Egypt to become the champions of the continent. Cameroon are the holders after their victory in 2017 where they beat this year’s hosts, Egypt, in the final.
However, the host nation, with Liverpool striker Mo Salah leading their challenge, are more than ready to try and put that disappointment of two years ago to right in front of their home support. However, with a number of other top teams in attendance, plus the prevalence of big shock results in this tournament in recent times, nothing is sure in what will likely be one of the standout international football events this summer.
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Let’s now preview each of the six groups in the tournament and who we think will qualify from each, before bringing you our thoughts on who will win the tournament overall.
AFCON Group Stage Preview
- DR Congo
The home nation won’t be too disappointed ot be drawn in this group. They should be able to win all three of their games to top the group and remain in Cairo for the knockout phase. DR Congo are the team most likely to give Egypt a few worries and I think they’ll be comfortable in second place. Uganda and Zimbabwe are similar teams, still emerging as football nations and I feel they may well draw their game between them, which could well mean both miss out on a qualifying spot in the next phase.
Group A Likely Qualifiers – Egypt and DR Congo
This is a really tough group to call. Normally you’d have Nigeria as the massive favourites here, but I don’t feel this Super Eagles team is anywhere near as strong as those that have gone before it and I can see them being beaten into second spot in this group by Guinea. I think Madagascar will lose all three games and that may well be enough for Burundi, another debut nation in the tournament, to surprise many pundits and claim the third place qualifying spot.
Group B Likely Qualifiers – Guinea, Nigeria and Burundi as a third-place qualifier.
This is a highly competitive group although many will see Senegal and Algeria as the clear favourites, both Kenya and Tanzania are sides who have improved a great deal in recent times and neither will be pushovers for the more familiar names. That said, I do feel both teams will pick up enough points to claim the top two spots in the group, though I fear it could well be a close run thing for Algeria to pip Kenya to that spot.
Group C Likely Qualifiers – Senegal, Algeria and Kenya as a 3rd place qualifier
- Ivory Coast
- South Africa
Arguably this is one of the tougher groups in the first round of competition. Morocco, Ivory Coast and South Africa will all have hopes of progressing from the group, while Namibia are one of the stronger of the lesser nations in the tournament in footballing terms. This is a tough group to predict as I can see there being a few twists and turns in the group and I am fully expecting it to go down to the final games where I feel Ivory Coast will clinch top spot just ahead of Morocco with South Africa beating Namibia into a third spot and a qualifying place.
Group D Likely Qualifiers – Ivory Coast, Morocco and South Africa as a 3rd place qualifier.
After an impressive warm up victory over Croatia last week, Tunisia are very much the team to beat in this group although Mali are always difficult opponents. Mauritania are making their first appearance here and I feel will be the whipping boys of the group and I don’t expect them to pick up any points from their games. I can see Tunisia winning two of their games but perhaps drawing with Mali but earning top spot on goal difference from Mali with Angola third and likely to pick up one of the third-place qualification spots.
Group E Likely Qualifiers – Tunisia, Mali and Angola as a third place qualifier.
Two of the relatively smaller African nations have been drawn against two west African giants who have racked up nine AFCON wins between them in Cameroon and Ghana. In truth, this should be a relatively straightforward qualification for both the two giants and I’d expect the game between the two to be the decisive factor in deciding who wins the group and avoids a potential semifinal with Egypt. My gut feeling here is that it will be Ghana’s greater firepower that may just see them edge this group, with Cameroon second and the other two teams struggling to a point apiece.
Group F Likely Qualifiers – Ghana & Cameroon
Who Wins the Tournament?
Having looked at who we have predicted to make it through the group stage, it becomes tougher to then work through the tournament and work out who faces who in the knockout stages, as of course strange results can happen and teams may not perform as expected.
Even so, I think with home advantage, Egypt have to be favourites and I think they are the solid bet to back as the outright winner here. My outside tip would be Ivory Coast who are a talented side and have some outstanding attacking players.