With less than two weeks until the start of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, it’s time to take a look at the continent’s most prestigious football tournament. In 2017 we saw Cameroon beat Egypt 2-1 to claim the title, but this year’s main contenders include Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria and the host nation of Egypt.
Whilst the AFCON tournament was traditionally held in winter, this year’s event is taking place in the summer months. So if you want another chance to see Premier League legends like Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Riyad Mahrez in action, the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations is definitely worth keeping an eye on.
When is the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations?
This year the Africa Cup of Nations will run from 21 June until 19 July. As the competition will be held in Egypt, the month-long contest was switched from the traditional January/February period so as to avoid clashing with Ramadan.
As a result, it won’t clash with the schedules in the Premier League and other top European leagues, so we should expect all of the biggest stars of African football in attendance. However, the extreme heat means that we could see plenty of fatigue over the course of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.
A quick look at the format of the Africa Cup of Nations
This year’s edition of the AFCON tournament will promises to be the biggest and best yet. The competition will see the number of teams included increased from 16 to 24.
In terms of the tournament format, it will feature a standard round-robin group stage where the top two teams and the four best third-placed teams go through to the knockout rounds. From here, there will be a round of 16, quarter-finals, semi-finals and the final itself that will take place on 19 July. Here’s a look at the teams in each group.
- Group A: Egypt, DR Congo, Uganda, Zimbabwe
- Group B: Nigeria, Guinea, Madagascar, Burundi
- Group C: Senegal, Algeria, Kenya, Tanzania
- Group D: Morocco, Ivory Coast, South Africa, Namibia
- Group E: Tunisia, Mali, Mauritania, Angola
- Group F: Cameroon, Ghana, Benin, Guinea-Bissau
What is the Africa Cup of Nations?
The Africa Cup of Nations is the biggest international football competition in the continent of Africa. The AFCON tournament takes place every two years, and it has been in existence since 1957.
Recently we have seen prize monies awarded to the AFCON winners in excess of $4 million, and with players from top leagues such as the Premier League, La Liga and Ligue 1, the Africa Cup of Nations has grown to become of the most hotly anticipated footballing tournaments.
Past successes at the Africa Cup of Nations
Egypt are the most successful country in the AFCON tournament having been champions no less than seven times. We’ve also seen nations such as Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and DR Congo picking up the Africa Cup of Nations trophy on more than one occasion. Here’s a quick look at the results of the finals of the past decade’s AFCON competitions.
- 2017: Cameroon 2-1 Egypt
- 2015: Ivory Coast 0-0 Ghana (Ivory Coast won 9-8 on penalties)
- 2013: Nigeria 1-0 Burkina Faso
- 2012: Zambia 0-0 Ivory Coast (Zambia won 8-7 on penalties)
- 2010: Egypt 1-0 Ghana
- 2008: Egypt 1-0 Cameroon
The favourites to win the Africa Cup of Nations
This year sees the largest-ever Africa Cup of Nations with 24 teams competing for the trophy. Whilst there’s always the chance of an outsider like Guinea, Uganda or Kenya getting lucky, the following teams look much better placed to win the 32nd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations.
It will be the fifth time that Egypt have hosted the AFCON tournament. This bodes well for the Pharaohs as they have won the competition on home soil three out of the previous four times.
Obviously we can’t forget that Javier Aguirre’s team will be including Mo Salah in the side. Salah was once again on great goal-scoring form in Liverpool’s Premier League campaign this season with 22 goals to his name.
But the Pharaohs also have plenty of other talented players such as Basel’s Mohamed Elneny, Apollon Smyrni’s Shikabala and Kasimpasa’s Mahmoud Hassan.
All of which means that Egypt should be well-placed to put in a tournament-winning performance to erase the disappointments of the 2018 World Cup. Whilst DR Congo should put up some decent competition in Group A, Egypt are widely expected to make light work of Uganda and Zimbabwe to book their place in the knock-out rounds.
Liverpool fans will also get to see Sadio Mane in action at this year’s AFCON tournament. Mane makes up an important part of Senegal’s formidable attack that has helped them become FIFA’s highest ranked African team. Aliou Cisse’s side are currently 34 places above the favourites and hosts, and they will be keen to pick up their first-ever Africa Cup of Nations title.
Other key players to look out for in Senegal’s ranks include Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly, Galatasaray’s Mbaye Diagne and Malaga’s Alfred N’diaye. Senegal face a tough prospect against Algeria in their Group C matches, but the likes of Kenya and Tanzania should give Mane plenty of chances to showcase his goalscoring talents.
Ghana are another strong African team who are in with a decent chance of winning the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations. Whilst James Kwesi Appiah’s team haven’t picked up the AFCON trophy since way back in 1982, the Black Stars will be relying on their captain, Fernabahce’s Andre Ayew, to help them improve on their fourth place of 2017.
Expect to see Crystal Palace’s Jordan Ayew spearheading the Ghana attack, whilst Newcastle United’s Christian Atsu and Atletico Madrid’s Thomas Partey should be commanding figures in the midfield. All of which should work in their favour as they seek to fight off Cameroon, Benin and Guinea-Bissau in Group F.
2019 marks the first time that Nigeria have qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations since they won the tournament back in 2013. Nigerian football has recently been transformed, and anybody who saw the team shock Iceland 2-0 in the 2018 World Cup will know that the Super Eagles are a tricky team to beat.
Much of this can be put down to the guiding influence of their head coach, Gernot Rohr. But the Nigerian squad is also packed with quality players like Arsenal’s Alexander Iwobi, Middlesborough’s John Mikel Obi and Al Nassr’s Ahmed Musa. Keep an eye out for the in-form Villarreal winger Samuel Chukwueze, but Leicester City fans will be disappointed to find that Kelechi Iheanacho hasn’t been included in the Nigeria AFCON squad.
Ivory Coast shocked Ghana with a 9-8 penalty win in the final of the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations, and Ibrahim Kamara’s team are well-placed to perform strongly at this year’s tournament. If Ivory Coast can deliver the goods in their opening games against South Africa and Namibia, they should face Morocco in the final match to see who tops Group D.
Expect to see the ex-Swansea striker, Wilfried Bony, in the Ivory Coast attack alongside the likes of Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha and Aston Villa’s Jonathan Kodjia. Some fans might be surprised to find that the former Arsenal player, Gervinho, didn’t make the Ivory Coast squad. But with the likes of Tottenham’s Serge Aurier and Toulouse’s Max-Alain Gradel making up the ranks, it looks like the Elephants could work wonders this year.
Morocco’s last major tournament was the 2018 World Cup that was a fairly forgettable affair despite a commendable 2-2 draw against Spain. Hopes are still high that Herve Renard’s team can build on strong results in recent years, and improve on their relatively disappointing form in AFCON competitions.
The last time that Morocco won the Africa Cup of Nations was back in 1976. But the team now boast key players like the Ajax stars Hakim Ziyech and Noussair Mazraoui, and so we should expect the Atlas Lions to perform well in Egypt this summer.
There will be little surprise with the fact that Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez forms a pivotal part of the Algeria AFCON squad. Alongside Mahrez, you can expect to see Porto’s Yacine Brahimi and Galatasary’s Sofiane Feghouli helping the Desert Foxes aim to edge ahead of Senegal, Kenya and Tanzania in Group C.
Cameroon were the surprise winners of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations. However, due to the lack of adequate preparations made, Cameroon were stripped of their hosting rights and they will face a tougher time in Egypt. But with strong players like Christian Bassogog and Torino’s Nikolas Nkoulou in their ranks, there’s hope that Clarence Seedorf’s team could once again shock the continent with their second successive AFCON triumph.