Senegal boast one of the most formidable line-ups in African football and will be the most star-studded side in Cameroon with players such as Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy and Liverpool’s Sadio Mane in their ranks. Some of their key players include Paris Saint Germain midfielder Idrissa Gueye, Napoli star Kalidou Koulibaly and Crystal Palace’s Cheikhou Kouyate. The Lions of Teranga are the highest-ranked team in the official FIFA rankings and enter the tournament as favourites. They topped the group with 14 points, winning four matches, and did not lose a single game in their qualifying campaign. Having lost last edition’s final to Algeria, the Teranga Lions will be determined to have success in Cameroon.
The excitable murmurs have begun! It’s Africa’s greatest showpiece. Senegal and Egypt are obvious options to win AFCON this year – and rightly so. However, as a sort of outsider bet, I really like the look of Cameroon. Backed by history and pedigree in continental competition, the Indomitable Lions can reach African glory on home soil. This team has come a fair distance since the uncomforting experience of 2019, and Toni Conceicao’s men will look to recreate the heroics of 2017. With home ground advantage, I’m backing the hosts to once again stun the continent at incredible odds of 8/1.
Let’s start by making it clear that I will not support any nation that isn’t South Africa at the Africa Cup of Nations, especially Ghana. However, being a football lover and “Gegenpressed” to give you the winner, I’d say Egypt look the strongest squad on paper and boasting one of the world’s best players, Mohamed Salah, will surely inspire Pitso Mosimane’s current crop of champion Al Ahly players within this camp to deliver the goods at even higher levels. Salah inspired Egypt to qualification for the FIFA World Cup after a 28-year-long wait but unfortunately was unable to properly compete at the tournament following the infamous UEFA Champions League final incident with Sergio Ramos that saw the Liverpool talisman leave the pitch in tears with a shoulder injury. My prediction – the Egyptian King will be crowned on Sunday 6th February.
Among Africa’s giants Ivory Coast always come to punch their name as the best! The Elephants are known for their quality in player and have made the statement of winning the AFCON as recent as 2015. Since then, there have been internal struggles among the best players but a recent coming together under the young 43-year-old French coach Patrice Beaumelle has seen them produce great football. I am not sugar-coating it, the team failed to get across the line for the World Cup qualifiers but did manage 13 points. With a spine of Eric Bailey and Serge Aurier in defence, Franck Kessie and Maxwel Cornet in the midfield, spearheaded by Nicolas Pepe, Wilfried Bony and this season’s Champions League leading scorer Sebastien Haller, I am confident Ivory Coast can do damage to any team that steps in their way.
How can one look pass Senegal for this year’s AFCON with a goalkeeper like Edouard Mendy, a centre-back like Kalidou Koulibaly, a midfielder like Idrissa Gana Gueye and a forward like Sadio Mane, the 2019 African Footballer of the Year? The Lions of Teranga have world class players that play for the world’s best teams, and have all the pieces to make the perfect puzzle. After finishing runners up in the last competition, they definitely will be trying hard to go one better this time. At 5/1, you are guaranteed to have a good run for your money.
It may seem like an uphill task for an Arabian country to step into west African ground and conquer the enemy, but looking at the manner in which Algeria won the tournament last time around and kicked off since then, it would be near-impossible to back against them. The Desert Warriors, led by Riyad Mahrez, will be looking to defend their crown for the first time in their history, and given the players Djamel Belmadi has at his disposal, this could be as comfortable as it was two years ago for Algeria.
Having last won the tournament in 2008, Egypt now has enough firepower to go for their eighth title. They will be led by one of the most in-form forwards in world football, Mohamed Salah, and have great experienced players in their midfield, notably Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny and Hamdi Fathi of Al Ahly in Egypt. The experience of the Al Ahly players, who have won the last two CAF Champions Leagues will be key, but so will be that of the Zamalek players, who gave the Red Devils of Egypt a run for their money, winning the Egyptian Premier League last season. They also have one of the most experienced coaches in Carlos Queiroz, who’s task will be to win this competition and get Egypt to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar.
For me, this AFCON tournament is a three-horse race between Senegal, Egypt and the defending champions Algeria. These three teams seem to be well clear of the rest. In the last addition, I backed Senegal to go all the way and the Lions of Taranga lost in the final by a solitary goal to Algeria. It’s hard for me to look past Senegal and I will again put my money on Sadio Mane and his boys to be the first Senegalese generation that is crowned the kings of Africa. With players such as Mane and Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy in their ranks, they are strong favourites to challenge for the trophy. To back it up, they have been ultra-consistent since losing in the final in Cairo. Senegal totally dominated the AFCON and World Cup qualifiers.
It’s extremely difficult to look past the current Senegalese vintage. Their squad is littered with top-class European-based talents. In Aliou Cisse, they have a coach that has been in the job since 2015 and guided the side to the final in 2019 before going down 1-0 against Algeria. This kind of continuity in terms of management is rare in football and will stand them in good stead heading to Cameroon. Their results in the lead up to this tournament have also been really positive. Since their second-string side lost the COSAFA Cup final against South Africa, they’ve gone on to win five of their last six matches (the other being a drawn encounter against Togo). In that time, they’ve found the back of the net 15 times and conceded just four. Still not convinced? Just listen to some of the names in this squad: Edouard Mendy, Kalidou Koulibaly, Idrissa Gana Gueye, Sadio Mane, Ismaila Sarr and Keita Balde. This really is their tournament to lose.