With 100 days to go until the Africa Cup of Nations kicks off in Cameroon on January 9, ESPN’s Ed Dove runs the rule over the top nine contenders for the continent’s grandest prize.
What’s their pedigree? Genuine African giants, Cameroon have won five AFCON’s, the Olympic gold in 2000, and have represented the continent at a record seven World Cups. Their run to the quarterfinals in 1990 has still never been surpassed.
How did they qualify? Qualified automatically as hosts, but Cameroon nonetheless had to compete in Group F of qualification, where their results — three wins, two draws, one defeat — did little for optimism.
Recent results: A 2-0 behind-closed-doors victory at home against Malawi was routine, but the 2-1 defeat away in the Cote d’Ivoire last month was concerning.
Star performers in form? Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa has established himself quickly as a key fulcrum in the Napoli team that has soared to the pinnacle of Serie A, while Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting has been among the goals for Bayern Munich this term. Goalkeeper Andre Onana remains suspended.
Any new faces? He’s not a new face, but Paul-Georges Ntep — twice capped by France — is back in the squad after two years in the international wilderness.
AFCON chances? Many questions abound about manager Toni Conceicao and his ability to get the most out of this squad, and home support could prove to be either a motivating factor or a major burden.
What’s their pedigree? Two-time African champions, including at the most recent edition of the tournament in Egypt, Algeria have also qualified for four World Cups, last reaching the tournament in 2014.
How did they qualify? Held away in Zimbabwe and Zambia, but Algeria nonetheless cruised through qualification, remaining unbeaten and amassing 14 points.
Recent results: Currently enjoying an all-time African record undefeated streak, they smashed Djibouti 8-0 in September, before being held 1-1 by Burkina Faso in neutral Marrakesh.
Star performers in form? It’s been something of an underwhelming start to the season for Manchester City star Riyad Mahrez, who’s started just one Premier League game, although Andy Delort is in fine form in France. Islam Slimani, Mahdi Tahrat and Djamel Benlamri are all on an extensive injury list.
AFCON chances? Favourites for a reason, Algeria have the winning mentality, consistency in selection, and a potential Player of the Tournament in Mahrez. The only concern is the (many) ageing legs.
What’s their pedigree? They were Africa’s top side in the early-to-mid 60s, but Ghana’s star has waned since; they’re without an AFCON title since 1982. However, the Black Stars did reach at least the semifinals in five consecutive tournaments between 2010 and 2017.
How did they qualify? Surprisingly strongly, considering recent turmoil. A 2-0 home victory over South Africa in November 2019 set the tone, although they did need victory over Sao Tome e Principe on the final matchday to guarantee progression.
Recent results: Head coach CK Akonnor paid with his job after falling to a 1-0 defeat in South Africa last month, even though the Black Stars had defeated Ethiopia — albeit narrowly — in their first World Cup qualifier. Milovan Rajevac is the new man at the helm.
Star performers in form? Thomas Partey will hope his injury misery at Arsenal is behind him, while Jordan Ayew‘s extensive period without a goal is an increasing concern. At least Abdul Rahman Baba appears to be enjoying a new lease of life on loan at Reading.
Any new faces? Turkey-based Benjamin Tetteh and goalkeeper Jojo Wallocott of Swindon Town were the new boys in Rajevac’s first squad after returning to the top job.
AFCON chances? Not as strong on paper — as they have been in recent tournaments, while Rajevac will be under pressure to find a winning formula.
What’s their pedigree? They’ve won AFCON titles in three decades (1980, 1994, 2013) but should surely have achieved more considering the talent at their disposal over the years. No African team has ever ranked higher in the FIFA World Rankings than Nigeria’s climb to fifth in ’94.
How did they qualify? Eyebrows were raised when Nigeria conspired to throw away a four-goal lead at home against Sierra Leone, and then also draw with the Leone Stars away, but victories home and away against Benin and Lesotho saw them through.
Recent results: Impressive during the last international break, they cruised past Liberia with Kelechi Iheanacho on song, before a much-changed team — without any Premier League players due to the UK’s ban on players travelling to ‘red list’ countries — dispatched Cape Verde away.
Star performers in form? Victor Osimhen is enjoying the form of his life at Napoli, with seven goals in his last five games, although it’s been a slower start to the season for Iheanacho. Wilfred Ndidi‘s consistency at Leicester City is contrasted with Alex Iwobi‘s inefficacy at Everton, while Watford’s Peter Etebo will miss out through injury.
AFCON chances? Bubbling with talent, but coach Gernot Rohr still doesn’t truly convince, and an unsophisticated strategy may leave them just short again.
What’s their pedigree? Consistent qualifiers, although Tunisia have only reached the final four once, in 2019, since winning the title on home soil in 2004.
How did they qualify? Typically unruffled during qualification campaigns, this time around it was no different for Tunisia, whose haul of 16 points was the best on the continent. A draw in Tanzania was the only blemish.
Recent results: Took firm control of their World Cup qualifying group in September with a 3-0 second-half blitz of Equatorial Guinea and a 2-0 win away in Zambia.
Star performers in form? Three goals in eight Ligue 1 outings for the ageless Wahbi Khazri so far this term, even though Saint-Etienne appear in freefall. Lively Naim Sliti has recently made his return from injury.
Any new faces? Manchester United wonderkid Hannibal Mejbri, despite representing France up to U-17 level, made his debut against the Democratic Republic of Congo in June.
AFCON chances? They appear much weaker than three years ago at the World Cup, but no one will relish coming up against Tunisia in a Nations Cup knockout bout.
What’s their pedigree? Unparalleled in the AFCON with a record seven titles, although ‘lesser’ countries have enjoyed far more success at the World Cup, where the Pharaohs have still never won a match.
How did they qualify? Two draws in their first two matches raised concerns, while failure to beat Kenya home or away dampened hopes of a post-AFCON 2017 bounce back.
Recent results: A 1-0 home victory over Angola and a 1-1 draw away in Gabon weren’t enough for Hossam El-Badry to keep his job, and Carlos Queiroz is the man the EFA have appointed to turn things around.
Star performers in form? Mohamed Salah is one of the hottest players in world football right now, with eight goals and two assists in eight appearances across the Premier League and Champions League so far this season.
Any new faces? Home-based trio Ibrahim Adel, Mohamed Sobhi, and Mohand Lashin were named in Queiroz’s first squad.
AFCON chances? With Salah, they can’t be ruled out, although this team feels far from a vintage Egypt squad.
What’s their pedigree? Initially struggled to build on their AFCON success in Senegal in 1992, but the Ivorians’ Golden Generation reached three World Cups between 2006 and 2014, and won the Nations Cup in 2015.
How did they qualify? Overcame a shock defeat by Ethiopia in Gameweek Two to qualify in style from Group K.
Recent results: Held away in Mozambique in September, but bounced back to defeat Cameroon 2-1 in Abidjan, with Sebastian Haller netting twice.
Star performers in form? The aforementioned Haller has been in magnificent form, netting four on his Champions League debut against Sporting Lisbon. Franck Kessie isn’t enjoying the best start to the season with AC Milan as speculation about his future persists; he was sent off against Atletico Madrid in midweek. Captain Serge Aurier remains without a club, which isn’t ideal, although Wilfried Zaha and Nicolas Pepe can take encouragement from their recent form.
Any new faces? Haller only committed to the Ivory Coast late last year, while coach Patrice Beaumelle has begun to integrate several young players from the talented U-23 side.
AFCON chances? There’s considerable quality, particularly in wide areas, and if things click, Beaumelle could return to the pinnacle of the African game for a third time.
What’s their pedigree? Either chronic underachievers or punching above their weight, depending on who you believe; Morocco have represented Africa at five World Cups, but haven’t won the AFCON since 1976.
How did they qualify? Still finding their feet under Vahid Halilhodzic, Morocco weren’t always fluid going forward, but they were nonetheless resilient. One goal conceded in six qualifiers is an outstanding record.
Recent results: Saw off Sudan 2-0 at home in Rabat in September, their away game against Guinea was postponed due to domestic strife in Conakry.
Star performers in form? It’s been a disappointing start to the season for Hakim Ziyech at Chelsea, but Sevilla duo Bono and Youssef En-Nesyri (three La Liga goals so far) offer reassurance. Achraf Hakimi has made some bright contributions at Paris Saint-Germain so far.
Any new faces? Four fresh faces were called up last month, with Watford’s ex-France U-21 international Imran Louza the pick of the bunch.
AFCON chances? Could this be the year when Morocco end their AFCON wait? They’re not the complete package yet, but with talented options, a genuine goal threat, and an experienced manager, they appear well placed.
What’s their pedigree? The most high-profile African national team never to win the Nations Cup, Senegal have been defeated finalists on two occasions. Their 2002 generation followed up an AFCON silver medal with progress to the World Cup quarterfinal.
How did they qualify? Took 14 points from their six group games, Senegal’s two goals conceded was bettered only by Morocco.
Recent results: Kicked off World Cup qualification with a home victory over Togo and a 3-1 win away at Congo-Brazzaville.
Star performers in form? Sadio Mane and Ismaila Sarr have three and four Premier League goals for Liverpool and Watford respectively. Edouard Mendy and Kalidou Koulibaly are enjoying strong starts to the season, and Idrissa Gueye is enjoying an unusualy purple patch in front of goal.
Any new faces? Senegal have enjoyed a series of excellent recent arrivals; Nampalys Mendy and Abdou Diallo made their debuts in March, Bamba Dieng and Bouna Sarr are expected to join them later this month.
AFCON chances? With so many players in form and at major European clubs, and with a settled structure under Aliou Cisse, Senegal may not have a better chance to finally win the AFCON.
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