It is not just in Asia where there is an international tournament taking place this month. Africa stages its showpiece Africa Cup of Nations, which gets underway in the Ivory Coast on Saturday as the best the continent have to offer look to win the prestigious title.
Senegal won this title two years ago and they will be heading to the Ivory Coast looking to make a successful defence of their crown but there are a number of emerging lights in African football who will be out to stop them from winning it again.
2021 – Senegal
2019 – Algeria
2017 – Cameroon
2015 – Ivory Coast
2013 – Nigeria
2012 – Zambia
2010 – Egypt
2008 – Egypt
2006 – Egypt
2004 – Tunisia
This tournament has retained the format that was used in the last renewal three years ago. That means it is a 24 team event like the European Championship. The 24 teams have been placed into groups of four where the top two in each after everyone has played each other progress along with the best four third placed sides. The knockout stage now consists of a round of 16 as well as the quarter finals onwards. The champions will be crowned in Abidjan on February 11.
Groups A + B
Two standout sides have been drawn in Group A of the competition. It is where the host nation Ivory Coast will look to win on home soil from but a talented Nigeria side are also in this section with all the firepower that they have at their disposal. Equatorial Guinea will be looking to take advantage of being in pot three to come through here while Guinea-Bissau will be out to do more than just make up the numbers. Many people think Egypt will go well in this tournament and they are the headline act in Group B. They might not have things all their own way either because Ghana are in this section and they are a capable side too. Cape Verde and Mozambique will be out to show they can be competitive in a tough group.
Groups C + D
Two more standout sides meet in Group C when the defending champions Senegal will look to progress while the hosts of two years ago in Cameroon will also look to showcase their talents. Guinea are the third seeded team in this group while Gambia will be hoping to show they can perform. Group D would appear to be all about Algeria, although Burkina Faso are one of the improving sides in this part of the world. You would imagine those two will finish as the top two as Mauritania and Angola look a little bit behind the big boys in this section.
Groups E + F
Two more teams who will have eyes on the trophy have been drawn in Group E. Tunisia probably haven’t delivered what they should have done in recent times while Mali are probably better than the achievements that they have registered. South Africa would have had high hopes had Lyle Foster joined up with them but his absence feels a real blow. Namibia are the lowest ranked side in this section. Morocco had a brilliant World Cup and they will be favoured by many to be the champions of this tournament. They are the top dogs in Group F while DR Congo will look to be their closest challengers. Zambia and Tanzania are the other two teams in the group.
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Usually I like to look for a bit of value in the outright betting market but I think the cream of African football will rise to the top over the course of this tournament and one of those I think will go well are Algeria. I think this is probably the last chance of success for this generation of top level Algerian talent and they will want to make the most of their chance. Even the next Africa Cup of Nations is probably too far down the line for the likes of Islam Slimani, Sofiane Feghouli and perhaps even Riyad Mahrez.
While those three in particular are in the twilight of their careers, they still have the quality to compete right now. In 90 minute play this Algeria outfit are undefeated in 22 matches and with quality at the top end of the pitch and a decent back line I think they are going to be tough nuts to crack here. If they win their group, which I would be surprised if they don’t, they won’t have to face another group winner until the semi-final so the draw has been kind to a team who have enough quality they feel they can leave Said Benrahma out of their squad. I think Algeria are the ones to be on here.
I was very close to backing Morocco to win this thing but a combination of the price and the fact that they can sometimes flatter to deceive away from North Africa put me off of that but they have a nice draw that I think the World Cup semi-finalists can score a few goals before they make their way out of this tournament. If you look at Group F, Morocco have the lowest ranked team in pot two and four in their section and a Zambia side who don’t keep clean sheets very often.
That makes me want to side with someone from them in the top goalscorer market and that is the man who leads their attack in the form of Youssef En-Nesyri, the Sevilla marksman who bagged a couple of goals in the most recent friendly and who certainly isn’t going to be short of ammunition with the likes of Sofiane Boufal and Hakim Ziyech roaming in the wider areas. En-Nesyri led the line well at the World Cup and against weaker foe here I think he can get in the mix in the early stages of the competition and last home.
There isn’t a huge amount that I like in the group betting stakes because as I eluded to before I do see the cream rising to the top in this competition but Group B has me interested because if Ghana can contain Mo Salah when they meet Egypt I’m not convinced the Pharoahs have a lot more to offer and this much younger Ghana side, with a lot more depth than the Egyptians have, could well cause a betting upset in the section, even though I’m no massive fan of their coach Chris Hughton.
Ghana have left six English based players at home which is the depth from which they are choosing from these days and Inaki Williams and Mohammad Kudus are emerging as two of the better talents in Africa. Kudus has had an excellent season for West Ham and he could be player of the tournament potential here while the likes of Antoine Semenyo and Ernest Nuamah are talents at the top end of the pitch. I don’t think the other two in the group are going to be competitive enough to live with the big two so the wider array of options available to the Black Stars makes me like them in this group.
Back Algeria to win Africa Cup of Nations (e/w) for a 2/10 stake at 8.00 with William Hill (1/2 1-2)
Back Y.En-Nesyri Top Goalscorer (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 13.00 with William Hill (1/4 1-4)
Back Ghana to win Group B for a 3/10 stake at 2.38 with William Hill
Back them here: