Our final two groups are quite a contrast. Outside of Tunisia, Group E appears to be relatively open. Defending champions Cameroon are alongside Ghana in Group F, who would both be expected to qualify. However, both are prone to underachieving which could pave the way for Benin and Guinea-Bissau to qualify.
The Palancas Negras have qualified for their first AFCON since South Africa 2013 and will certainly be hoping to qualify from Group E, where after favourites Tunisia, second place appears very open. In qualification Angola topped the group ahead of fellow Group E side Mauritania.
The squad is led by Serbian manager Srdjan Vasiljevic and includes a mixture of domestic Angolan players and foreign players, including Lazio defender Bastos, who only managed around 18 appearances for the Rome based side. With Bastos at the back hoping to keep sides out, going forward Angola will be looking to Egyptian based Al Ahly winger Geraldo to provide opportunities for other attacking players such as Wilson Eduardo, who scored 13 goals for Braga of the Portuguese league this season. Attacking young player Gelson Dala of Rio Ave FC also looks like one to watch this tournament.
Tunisia are clear favourites for the group, but Angola certainly have some quality players who could make them an exciting side to watch.
The Eagles may not be the force they used to be, yet they still have some good players and on paper would probably be slight favourites over Angola and Mauritania to get out of the group. Since their 3rd place finishes in 2012 and 2013 editions of the tournament, Mali have twice failed to get out of the group, on both occasions not winning a single game.
Manager Mohamed Magassouba led the Eagles to an unbeaten qualification campaign and will be hoping the team finally win a game at an AFCON tournament. Mogassouba will have to do without Troyes goalkeeper Samassa, who declined to join the team as the manager would not guarantee him a starting spot in the tournament. The Eagles will be looking to Porto star Moussa Marega, who impressed with 6 goals in the Champions league, to lead the line. Unfortunately Mali were dealt a blow with the news that Brighton midfielder Yves Bissouma is likely to miss the tournament.
Even without Samassa and Bissouma, Mali do have a decent side that should perform better than the Eagles have at the previous two tournaments.
Another surprising addition to this year’s tournament, the Lions of Chinguetti will make their AFCON debut in Egypt after coming through qualification alongside Angola. Mauritania pipped Burkina Faso to qualification and will hope to spring further surprises in Group E.
The majority of Corentin Martins squad will be unknown to even die hard football fans, especially the 6 players who play in the domestic leagues of Mauritania. Of those who play outside of the country, some fans may recognise winger Adama Ba, who spent a few years at Bastia and Auxerre in France, as well as El Hacen EL Id of Real Valladolid in Spain. These two, alongside Ismail Diakite of Tunisian side US Tataouine, were the players who got the goals in qualification.
Like the other debutants at this year’s AFCON, Mauritania have already achieved so much in getting to Egypt. They will hope to take advantage of their underdog status and cause a few upsets in Group E.
At last year’s World Cup, Tunisia were minutes away from holding England to a draw in their opening game of the tournament. The Eagles of Carthage fell at the group stages, but did manage to win their first World Cup game since 1978, against Panama. At this year’s AFCON, they will be seen as favourites to get out of Group E.
Part way through the qualifiers, Tunisia changed manager, putting former Mali and Senegal manager Alain Giresse in charge. Of those players expected to be in the squad for Egypt, attacking midfielder and former Sunderland player Wahbi Khazri will be key. Tunisia will also be looking to players such as Olympiacos defender Yassine Meriah and recently promoted Paderborn defender Mohamed Dräger to keep teams out. Naïm Sliti is another player Tunisian fans will be looking at to create and finish chances for the side.
Tunisia are known as a defensive side, and will be hoping that the few creative players they have, such as Khazri and Sliti, will be in good form to help them progress through the group.
The Squirrels qualified for their first AFCON since Angola 2010, beating both Gambia and Togo to qualification. With Cameroon and Ghana also in Group F, Benin are outsiders to qualify for the next round. However, both Cameroon and Ghana can blow hot and cold, and the Squirrels will hope they can catch them on a bad day.
Former Sunderland and West Brom player Stephane Sessegnon is Benin’s most capped player and will likely captain the side during the tournament. Aged 35 now, Manager Michel Dussuyer will be hoping Sessegnons experience can help guide the side through Group F, despite his suspension for the first game against Ghana. Alongside Sessegnon, Benin fans will be looking to Huddersfield Town striker Steve Mounie, who found the net a few times during qualifying, to provide the side with a goal scoring threat. The rest of the squad is made up of players from domestic African leagues and many from Europe’s second and third tiers.
With Ghana and Cameroon in the Group, it is unlikely that Benin will qualify from Group F. However, if one of those sides doesn’t turn up, Benin will hope to take advantage.
Despite missing a plethora of big name players during the last AFCON, Cameroon surprised everyone by winning the tournament thanks to a late goal from Vincent Aboubakar. Since Egypt in 2010, no team has been able to defend their title. The Indomitable Lions will hope they can buck the trend and defend their crown.
Since the last tournament, Cameroon have appointed former AC Milan legend Clarence Seedorf as manager. Seedorf is joined by another footballing legend, Patrick Kluivert, and together they will hope that they have picked a squad capable of defending the title. In goal, the Lions will be looking to Andre Onana to repeat the brilliant performances he put in for Ajax during the season. Going forward, goal scoring hero Aboubakar has been included, alongside Paris Saint Germain forward Choupo-Moting. 2017 AFCON MVP and Henan Jianye forward Christian Bassagog will be looking to repeat his performances of the last tournament.
While Cameroon have undoubted quality, and are the defending champions, I wouldn’t consider them favourites for the tournament. On paper there are better teams, however, as they proved last time, what you have on paper doesn’t matter.
The Black Stars have not won AFCON since 1982, despite having reached the final in 2010 and 2015. Even when they haven’t reached the final, Ghana have at least got to the semi-final stages. They will be desperate to finally get over the hurdle and bring the trophy back to Accra.
Returning manager Kwesi Appiah’s squad is not as strong as previous versions, putting them outside the list of favourites. However, this lack of pressure compared to past years may suit Ghana, who could look to pull off a Cameroon style shock this year. Many experienced players, such as Aston Villa’s Albert Adomah, Frank Acheampong and Mubarak Wakaso have not made the provisional squad. Instead, Black Stars fans will hope that leading goal scorer and legend Asamoah Gyan’s return from international retirement, alongside the return of both Andre and Jordan Ayew, will help inspire the side. At the back, John Boye also returns, and will line up alongside right back Andy Yiadom, who had a good season for Reading and was key in helping them avoid relegation from the championship. As someone who has seen a lot of Yiadom this season, I wouldn’t be surprised if he impresses many at the tournament.
Despite missing some experienced players who have performed for them in the past, the Black stars should still have enough to get out of the group. Whether they can finally lift the trophy remains to be seen.
The final team in Group F, the Djurtus topped their group in qualification, finishing ahead of Namibia, Mozambique and 2012 winners Zambia. Guinea-Bissau failed to get out of the group stages in 2017, so will hope to spring a few surprises and get out of the group this time around.
The majority of Baciro Candé side will not be household names to many, however having qualified for two AFCON’s in a row highlights how they have to be taken seriously. Of the preliminary squad, players such as Piqueti and Frédéric Mendy scored some crucial goals in qualifying. Monaco defensive midfielder Pele, who made only a few appearances this season on loan at Nottingham Forest is also included, as well as right back Nadjack of Portuguese side Rio Ave, who finished 7th in Liga NOS this year. Leading the side will be captain Zezinho, who personally impressed me with some of his performances in the 2017 AFCON. Playing his football in Slovakia means he will not be known to many, but hopefully he can show what he can do at this year’s tournament.
Like Benin, Guinea-Bissau will be outsiders to progress from the group. Beating Benin and then getting points against the two favoured sides could help them progress.
Featured image | Cameroon celebrating winning 2017 Africa Cup of Nations | wikimedia commons
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.
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