While Senegal and Algeria are certainly the favourites in Group C, Group D is definitely this tournaments group of death, which will see at least one of the strongest teams fail to progress to the quarter-finals.
Another one of the pre-tournament favourites, the Desert Foxes undoubtedly have the quality to worry most teams at the tournament. However, they struggled in Gabon and failed to get out of the group, which was followed by failure to qualify for the World Cup in Russia last year. In 2018 former national team player Djamel Belmadi was named manager, and he will be tasked with leading Algeria on a deep run through the tournament.
Clearly the headline player of the Algeria squad is Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez. On his good day he can be deadly, and the Foxes will be hoping he can be the X factor they need to go all the way. Alongside Brahimi and Slimani, Algeria should have no trouble scoring enough goals. At the back, Algeria will hope that goalkeeper Rais M’Bolhi will be at his cat like best to keep other teams at bay.
The Harambee Stars are back at the AFCON for the first time since the tournament took place in Tunisia in 2004. With Sierra Leone disqualified, Kenya finished comfortably second to Ghana in qualification, only losing one game to the Black Stars. With Senegal and Algeria in the group, they will be looking to beat Tanzania and then cause an upset in order to escape the group.
Manager Sebastien Migné’s squad includes many players who play their football in African domestic leagues. Of note, he has included Tottenham star Victor Wanyama who will provide some quality in the midfield. While Wanyama may be the most recognisable player in the squad, Kenyan fans will be hoping that other players can show their quality alongside him. They will need to play at the top of their game if they are to have any chance of getting out of the group.
The Lions of Teranga are the team that, in my opinion, should be considered as strong favourites to win the competition. Despite struggling at the World Cup, Aliou Cissé’s side looked arguably the best out of all the African teams in Russia and should have gone further than they did. They were unbeaten in qualifying for Egypt, winning 5 and drawing one. With the talent they have in the side there can be no excuses for not improving on their quarter-final loss in Gabon.
Everywhere you look there is quality in this side. With Kalidou Koulibaly, who is certainly one of the best defenders in the world, at the back, teams will struggle to create chances against them. Going forward, the likes of Sadio Mane and Ismaila Sarr, who was in fine form at last years World Cup, will provide a threat. In between you have the class of Idrissa Geuye who will look to control the midfield and link the attack and defence. On paper, Senegal have everything required to win the tournament.
Kenya’s neighbours Tanzania join them in Group C and will be hoping to spring a few surprises in order to upset the clear favourites in Algeria and Senegal. The Taifa Stars have qualified for AFCON for the first time since 1980, when the tournament took place in Nigeria. They finished second to neighbours Uganda, ahead of a disappointing Cape Verde and a surprise Lesotho side in qualification.
Domestic players from Simba feature heavily in the provisional squad, as well as other players from around the continent and further afield. The stars will be hoping that Mbwana Samatta of KRC Genk in Belgium will be able to continue his domestic form, where he scored 20 goals in 28 games. Manager Emmanuel Amunike has also included exciting youngster Kelvin John, who featured in the recent U17 AFCON. It is still unclear whether he will make the final squad, but if he does it will be interesting to see if he gets a chance to show what he can do.
Even though the big names of Les Elephants have retired from international football, the team should still be considered one of the stronger sides at the tournament. During the years of the so called ‘golden generation’ of Drogba, the Toure brothers and others, the Ivory Coast were constantly considered the favourites for the tournament. Having won it in 2015, they struggled in 2017. Perhaps going slightly under the radar as opposed to previous tournaments could benefit them.
With Wilfred Zaha and Nicolas Pepe in the side, les Elephants will always be a threat going forward. Both have been heavily linked with moves to bigger clubs than Crystal Palace and LOSC Lille respectively. Performing at this tournament could increase the substantial transfer fees already being touted by journalists. Alongside these two obvious stars, the provisional squad includes players such as champions league finalists Serge Aurier and the experienced striker Wilfred Bony. Personally, I am excited to see how Franck Kessie and Jean-Philippe Gbamin perform, as both have been in fine form for their clubs this season and are less talked about than others. For Gbamin, I would be surprised if he is still a Mainz player by the end of the summer, especially if he performs at the AFCON.
While not being able to pick Eric Baily due to injury hampers the Ivory Coast slightly, they have enough quality to worry a few tournament favourites.
Led by Mr AFCON himself, the Atlas Lions will be hoping Hervé Renard and his lucky white shirt will help them have a successful tournament. While the team was unable to win a game at the 2018 World Cup, their performances were encouraging and they were a good side to watch. Unfortunately, they just did not have enough quality in the attacking areas to put the ball in the net. Last AFCON they reached the quarter-finals, and will be hoping to at least make this stage again.
Renard’s provisional squad shows that the Atlas Lions are bringing a good side. Hakim Ziyech has been in scintillating form for Ajax this season, with his performances in the Champions League leading him to be linked with nearly all the top clubs in Europe. Alongside the creativity of Younès Belhanda and the defensive experience of Mehdi Benatia, the team is strong in most of the important areas. Like at the World Cup, it will be the ability of the strikers to find the net that will be the difference between success and failure for Morocco. Lions fans will be hoping players such as Khalid Boutaïb, who plays his football for Zamalek in Egypt, and Ayoub El Kaabi from the Chinese Super League, will have packed their shooting boots.
Another surprise attendee at this year’s tournament, the Brave Warriors will certainly have to live up to their nickname if they are to get out of this group of death. Namibia are competing in their first AFCON since 2008 where they failed to win a game. They will be hoping the other Group D teams will be so focused on each other that they take their eye off the ball against the Warriors.
Ricardo Mannetti has already announced his 17 man squad for the tournament, made up of players who play their club football outside of Namibia. This includes players such as Carl Zeiss Jena attacker Manfred Stark, who has provided 7 goals and 9 assists in the German third division. He will be hoping that alongside Bidvest Wits winger Deon Hotto they can create enough chances to worry their fellow Group D opponents. At the back Ryan Nyambe played 29 times for Blackburn in the Championship this season, and will be a key member of the defence for the Warriors.
If Namibia can spring one or two upsets they could really mess things around in the group, however I can’t see them qualifying ahead of Ivory Coast, Morocco or neighbours South Africa.
Since hosting the 2010 World Cup, Bafana Bafana have only qualified for two AFCON’s prior to this one, making the quarter-finals when they hosted the tournament in 2013. Despite their strong domestic league and obvious talent, South Africa have failed to live up to expectations at many a tournament. Experienced coach Stuart Baxter, who has had success in the domestic leagues, will hope to get Bafana Bafana out of this incredibly tough group.
Baxters squad is, as usual, heavily reliant on players from the domestic leagues. Unfortunately injury has ruled out a long-time favourite of mine, goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune from taking part, so Bafana fans will be looking to players like Darren Keet to step up between the sticks. With defender Rivaldo Coetzee having been removed from the squad due to personal issues, South African fans will be hoping experienced defender Daniel Cardoso can martial the defence in his absence. Going forward, the side will be hoping talented young striker Lebo Mothiba of Strasbourg, who bagged 10 goals this season, alongside exciting young talent Percy Tau of Brighton will provide the attacking edge needed.
Bafana Bafana certainly have the quality to get out of the group. Baxter will have to ensure his players hit the ground running to avoid repeating past disappointments. In my opinion it will be between them and Morocco for second place in the group.
Featured image | Yacine Brahimi in Algeria’s traditional Green away kit | wikimedia commons
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.