All eyes will be on defending champions Cameroon as well as one of the pre-tournament favourites, Senegal, when both countries begin their campaign to be crowned champions at the 32nd Africa Cup of Nations kicking off on June 21 in Egypt.
While Senegal have been drawn in Group C along with Algeria, Kenya and a Tanzania side led by head coach and former Super Eagles star, Emmanuel Amuneke, Cameroon find themselves in Group F where they will face former champions, Ghana, as well as Benin Republic and Guinea-Bissau.
And with the competition fast approaching, DailyAdvent gives an overview of all teams both groups, weighing each one’s chances of making it to the knock-out stages of the competition which would see 24 teams taking part for the first time in its history.
Group C – Senegal, Algeria, Tanzania, Kenya
While it is not the Group of Death, this group is bound to be exciting as it consists of teams that favour an attacking style of play more and that means fans could be seeing quite a number of goals being scored during the battle to qualify from the group.
Already, Senegal are favourites to win the group going by the talented pool of players available to them and strong displays over the last year. However, the highest-ranked African team in the world should be wary of the threat posed by the Desert Foxes of Algeria as well as Tanzania and Kenya.
Head coach Aliou Cisse has the likes of Sadio Mane, Kalidou Koulibaly, Cheikhou Kouyate, Keita Balde, Idrissa Gueye, Moussa Wague, Ismaila Sarr, M’Baye Niang and Mbaye Diagne at his disposal to guide Senegal through the group stages with ease – probably not the same ease with which they sailed through qualifying without defeat.
That is because of the likes of Algeria who stand as the biggest threat to Senegal making it to the knock-out stages for the second successive AFCON edition as the north Africans, formerly Africa’s best ranked team in the world as at three years ago, still have a good crop of players to make the team one of the strong outsiders to challenge for the title.
Yacine Brahimi, Adam Ounas, Sofiane Feghouli, Islam Slimani and Ismael Bennacer are among the players that make Algeria one to watch at AFCON on the back of their stellar seasons at club level, while former African footballer of the year, Riyad Mahrez, remains a great attacking threat to any team as he showed in the closing stages of the title-winning Premier League season with Manchester City.
The ability to play a fluid passing game as well as their blistering pace on the counter sets Algeria and Senegal apart from the rest in Group C, thus, making them outright favourites to finish in the top two places which guarantee automatic spots in the round of 16.
But in Tanzania and Kenya, the two favourites in Group C come up against teams with great potential to cause an upset or two in their quest to leave a lasting impression in AFCON history.
Since his appointment in August 2018, Amuneke has transformed the fortunes of Tanzanian football for better, guiding the national team to AFCON in commendable manner as the team finished second in their qualification group which also had table-toppers Uganda, as well as Lesotho and Cape Verde.
Group F – Cameroon, Ghana, Benin Republic, Guinea-Bissau
Cameroon rose from the disappointment of missing out of the FIFA World Cup in 2018 by beating the likes of more-fancied teams such as Senegal and Egypt to 2017 AFCON glory in Gabon, though, the mission to defend that title could prove even tougher for Clarence Seedorf’s Indomitable Lions.
That said, the five-time African champions are expected to have enough firepower to make it to the last 16 based on the good dose of talent, agility and experience in the squad led by the likes of Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Clinton N’jie, Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, Gaeten Bong and Karl Ekambi.
However, Cameroon will be wary of the threat of a Black Stars side desperate to taste AFCON glory again having come close to winning a first title since 1982 by finishing as runners-up to Ivory Coast in 2015 before falling to the Indomitable Lions at the semi-final stage in 2017.
There has also been internal battles to overcome, with controversy trailing the Ghana FA last year which led to Kwesi Nyantakyi’s exit as president.
Coupled with that was the issue of captain Asamoah Gyan retiring from international football in May only to rescind his decision just a day later after intervention by the country’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo.
Those internal distractions could still be playing on the minds of the Ghana players who still pose a threat with the likes of the Ayew brothers, Christian Atsu, Thomas Partey, Mubarak Wakaso, Kwadwo Asamoah and Baba Rahman among others.
Ghana’s state of mind opens a window for Benin and Guinea-Bissau to take advantage in their quest to cause an upset and sneak into the round of 16 in Egypt.
Benin made it to AFCON 2019 in impressive manner after finishing second in their qualification group, just a point behind of Algeria, and well ahead of the more fancied Gambia and Togo.
Guinea-Bissau on their part were relatively impressive in their run to the finals, beating of the challenge of Namibia, Mozambique and 2012 champions Zambia to qualify from what was a keenly contested group in which all four teams were separated by just two points at the end.
However, both nations must step up their game considerably in order to challenge Cameroon and Ghana, who are undoubtedly the favourites to sail through to the knock-out stages.
How do you see Groups C and F playing out at the AFCON finals? Will there be an upset in either or both of the groups? Share your views about this with us in the comments section.