Who Will Win This Summer’s African Cup of Nations?
This coming weekend sees the start of one of the biggest football tournaments in the world, although if you are living in Europe, Asia or the America’s you may not be aware of it. The African Cup of Nations (AFCON) will feature 24 teams and some of the world’s top football talent battling it out in Egypt for a month in order to become the new Champions of the continent.
In the 2017 tournament, which is held every two years, Cameroon defeated this year’s hosts Egypt in a tense final, a fifth win in total for Cameroon of the tournament and the defending champions are the second most decorated team in the history of the tournament, with only Egypt winning more (seven in total).
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The tournament will, as always, throw together some of the more established and successful African based teams such as Cameroon, Egypt, Tunisia, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria alongside some teams such as Mauritania, Madagascar and Burundi, who are all making their very first appearance in the AFCON finals.
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Let’s now explore a little about the tournament and the teams that are most likely to have the best chance of winning it.
African Cup of Nations Preview
The action begins in Egypt across six stadia, in four different cities, this coming weekend with the first games taking place on Saturday 22nd June. The competition begins with the 24 teams split into six groups of four, with the teams playing each other once in the group stage.
|Group A||Group B||Group C||Group D||Group E||Group F|
|DR Congo||Guinea||Algeria||Ivory Coast||Mali||Ghana|
The top two teams in each group, plus the four best third-placed sides will progress into the knockout phase of the tournament which starts with the Round of 16.
From the Round of 16 onwards, each game is a single match knockout with extra time and penalties used to decide the winner in the event of a drawn game. Following the Round of 16 will be four quarterfinals, two semifinals, a third-placed playoff game and the final, which will be held at the Cairo International Stadium (capacity 74,100) on July 19th.
African Cup of Nations Factfile
- Egypt are the most decorated team in the competition history with seven wins in total, two ahead of Cameroon with five. A total of ten teams in Africa have won the tournament outright in the past.
- Top stars from the Premier League taking part include Liverpool trio Sadio Mane (Senegal), Mohamed Salah (Egypt) and Naby Keita (Guinea). Also playing are Riyad Mahrez of Manchester City (Algeria), Everton’s Idrissa Gueye (Senegal) and Crystal Palace winger Wilfred Zaha (Ivory Coast). Arsenal winger Alex Iwobi (Nigeria) will also feature.
- The tournament has moved from its traditional place in the calendar in the winter time, to June to fall in line with the FIFA calendar more easily.
- Former England U21 striker and ex-Stoke City man Saido Berahino could feature for Burundi in their first ever AFCON finals appearance.
Who are the teams with the best chance of winning?
The African Cup of Nations is a somewhat unpredictable tournament with teams very evenly matched in many cases. Shock results can and do occur and often the favourites will flatter to deceive. However, I feel this time around the bigger African teams will be the ones that are going to go deeper into the tournament and stand the best chance of winning it.
My four teams for the semifinals would be:-
Egypt – Having home advantage is a really important factor for any team and add to that Egypt’s excellent performances in this tournament over the years, and you have a recipe for a team to go far in the tournament. After they lost in the 2017 final, they will want to have swift revenge for that defeat to Cameroon and I think this is the tournament where they can get it. Mo Salah will be key for them and if the Liverpool man can find his best form for his country, then Egypt could well go all the way.
Senegal – Egypt’s most likely semifinal opponents, if the draw works out as it should, will likely be Senegal. The west African side has not won the AFCON before, but they have a very talented squad, headed by Liverpool ace Sadio Mane. Physically strong and a very pacy side, they have the skill to worry any team but they do struggle for goals at times and that could be a problem in the latter stages of the tournament.
Ghana – Another one of the more successful teams in the AFCON, Ghana are four-time winners who have had something of a transition period over the past few years but have now got the nucleus of a talented team together. Not perhaps as strong as they were in the 1990s and 2000s, but this is still a decent squad and one that should be able to go deep in the tournament.
Ivory Coast – Another west African side with immense potential, the Ivory Coast have a number of hugely talented players, including the in demand Nicolas Pepe, the Lille winger attracting so much transfer interest during the transfer window. On paper, the Ivory Coast team is as talented as any but their problem has always been performing to those levels in major tournaments. If they can do that here then the semifinals are a feasible target.
Who wins it?
Personally, I feel a Ghana – Egypt final would be the most likely outcome and if that is the case then I would strongly fancy the host nation Egypt to claim the victory.