By Babatunde Koiki @BabatundeKoiki
The 33rd edition of the African Cup of Nations #AFCON2021, after much postponement, finally kicks off in six venues across five Cameroonian cities from Sunday 9th January through to February 6 as Africa seek to crown its first champion of the decade.
In this second of three parts, ace writer Babatunde Koiki runs the rule over all 24 participating teams and gives his expert opinions as to who will emerge champions on the last day…
Qualification: Group E winners (ahead of Mauritania, Central Africa Republic and Burundi)
Last appearance: 2019
Record: Winners (1976)
Coach: Vastly experienced Vahid Halilhodžić was appointed as manager of perennial underachievers Morocco in 2019 and are unbeaten in 16 straight games in over two years. In 20 matches, his team have won 14, drawn five and lost only one. He favours the 4-2-3-1 which seeks to dominate and attack. Blessed with a particularly talented generation of players, he will be under pressure to deliver a first title in 46 years, especially with his controversial decision to leave out Chelsea’s Hakim Ziyech. Federation president Faouzi Lekjaa has declared that Halilhodžić’s contract will be automatically terminated if he fails to reach the semi finals at least.
Key Players: From front to back, Morocco can call on incredible talents. Goalkeeper Yassin Bounou is one of the best in Europe, wingback Achraf Hakimi and central defender Romain Saiss are superb operators, German-born Aymen Barkok has a lot of work to fill the boots of Ziyech while upront, the lethal duo of Youssef En-Nesyri and Ayoub El Kaabi will scare anyone. Both men are superb finishers.
Qualification: Group C winners (ahead of South Africa, Sudan and Sao Tome and Principe)
Last appearance: 2019
Record: Winners (1963, 1965, 1978, 1982)
Coach: Milovan Rajevac returned to manage the Ghana national team for a second time after being appointed in September 2021. He is greatly respected in the West African nation after narrowly missing out on a FIFA World Cup semi final in 2010/ He was named CAF Coach of The Year for his team’s exploits in South Africa. With Qatar 2022 qualification looking shaky after a 1-0 loss away in South Africa, Rajevac turned things around with four win and a draw. And he still favours the 4-2-3-1 that proved so successful many years ago.
Key Players: Daniel Amartey has become the undisputed leader of the defence with his tough tackling and detailed passing. The powerful Thomas Partey and his midfield partner Baba Iddrisu are key components of the side. Questions remain over the talented but injury prone attacking midfielder Mohammed Kuddus of Ajax. The Ayew brothers, Andre and Jordan will be the main strikers. Watch out for the brilliant young winger Kamaldeen Sulemana. His dribbling ability and pace are electrifying.
Qualification: Group D runners up (behind The Gambia)
Last appearance: 2017 as hosts
Record: Quarter finals (1996, 2012)
Coach: Frenchman Patrice Neveu has extensive working experience on the African continent and was appointed in May 2019. He has won seven of his 16 matches in charge, losing seven and drawing just two. He also likes to line up with a 4-2-3-1.
Key Players: Central defender Bruno Ecuele-Manga has loads of experience and physicality while Mario Lemina’s tigerish performance in midfield is invaluable in a team short of star names. That’s because they only have ONE star name, captain and top scorer Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang. Haven fallen out of favour at Arsenal, a good showing in Cameroon for one of the best strikers in the game may help his employers have a rethink or put him in a major shop window to get a move to another big club.
Qualification: Group G runners up (behind Egypt, ahead of Kenya and Togo)
Last appearance: None
Coach: The Comoros Football Federation’s (FFC) decision to appoint as Abdou national team coach back in January 2014 came as a surprise to everyone. Entrusting a struggling team to a 42-year-old coach with no real experience was regarded as a brave move by many. The FFC approached Abdou while he was in charge at Entente Golfech-Saint-Paul d’Espis, a team in France’s sixth tier. Born in Marseille in 1972 and of Comorian ancestry, Abdou was initially offered a position as assistant coach to Henri Stambouli. But when Stambouli turned the job down, the FFC made Abdou their head coach, a decision they did not regret. He prefers to play a 4-4-2 with a double pivot (i.e. two defensive midfielders). His record stands at 10 wins, 14 losses and 15 draws.
Key Players: There are no star names in this national team, with most of its members playing in lower divisions in Europe’s top leagues. However efenders Kassim Aballah and Nadjim Abdou (Martigues), midfielder Fouad Bachirou and forward Youssouf M’Changama are regarded by coach Abdou as the spine of the team.
Qualification: Group E winners (ahead of Kenya, Togo and Comoros)
Last appearance: 2019
Record: Winners (1957, 1959, 1986, 1998, 2006, 2008, 2010) 7times
Coach: An experienced manager who has coached big teams on four continents, the Egyptian Football Association surprisingly announced the signing of Carlos Queiroz to replace Hossam El Badry in September 2021. The Africa Cup of Nations holds sentimental value for Queiroz who was born in Mozambique 68years ago. In charge for just 11 matches which included Qatar 2022 qualifying matches and the FIFA Arab Cup, he has won seven, lost two and drawn one. Another disciple of the 4-2-3-1.
Key Players: Goalkeeper Mohammed El Shenawy is solid and dependable. A good shot stopper and distributor. The defence is built aroung central defender Ahmed Hegazi. Defensive midfielder Mohammed Elneny is also important. But there is no bigger player in Egyptian, African and even world football at the moment than Mohammed Salah. His record-breaking season with Liverpool might be the precursor of glory in Cameroon.
Qualification: Group L winners (ahead of Benin, Sierra Leone and Lesotho)
Last appearance: 2019
Record: Winners (1980. 1994, 2013) 3times
Coach: Long standing coach Gernot Rohr was fired just weeks before the tournament and replaced with Austin Eguavoen in an interim capacity. Eguavoen led the team to a third place finish in 2006 as coach after winning the tournament as a player in 1994. He leads a team devoid of confidence, character and big names to Africa’s number one sporting tournament with less than 10 full training sessions and no tune up game. With a seemingly top-heavy squad with more forwards than midfielders, expect to see a 4-2-3-1 from Eguavoen.
Key Players: Top striker and Africa’s most expensive footballer of all time Victor Osimhen misses out due to injury while in form Emmanuel Dennis seemed disinterested. Defensive midfielder Wildred Ndidi is now the most important player in the team. Top scorer at the last Cup of Nations Odion Ighalo makes a timely return while captain Ahmed Musa brings loads of experience, pace and goals. Watch out for fast and skillful winger Chidera Ejuke as well as Union Berlin striker Taiwo Awoniyi.
Qualification: Group C runners up (behind Ghana and ahead of South Africa)
Last appearance: 2012
Record: Winners (1970)
Coach: Veteran Burhan Tia was appointed after Frenchman Herbert Velus was fired follwing a poor showing by the Falcons of Jediane at the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup, losing all three of their group games while failing to score a single goal and conceding 10. Drawn in Group C, Sudan first suffered a heavy 4-0 defeat to Algeria, before being thumped 5-0 by neighbours Egypt and then surprisingly falling to Lebanon 1-0.
Not only this, but they also finished bottom of their World Cup qualifying group with just three points from six games, also failing to win any game in the group that lined up them with Morocco, Guinea-Bissau, and Guinea. They are 11 games without a win. He has deployed a 4-3-3 double pivot in his two games in charge, a 3-2 loss to Zimbabwe and a goalless draw with Zimbabwe. Both were friendly matches.
Key Players: The team is incredibly light on quality and experience. All but two players play outside the country. Goalkeeper Ali Abu Eshrein has the most caps with 21 and is one of their best players. Striker Mohammed Abdel Rahman. He has 13 goals in 23 appearances. In November 2020, Abdelrahman made history by signing from Algerian side CA Bordj Bou Arréridj to Sudanese side Al-Hilal Omdurman for a Sudanese-record $USD 1 million.
Qualification: Group runners I (behind Senegal and ahead of Congo)
Last appearance: 2019
Record: Group stage (2017, 2019)
Coach: Reappointed in 2017, Baciro Cande is in his second stint as coach of the Wild Dogs after previously handling the team from 2003 to 2010. In 29 matches, he’s just won nine matches, lost 12 and drawn eight, preferring to play a 4-2-3-1. Guinea-Bissau failed to score a goal in their final four World Cup qualifiers, with critics saying it is unacceptable for a team to go so long without finding the net.
Critics claim coach Baciro Cando lacks a game plan. His system is not inspired by lively offensive play because he is more concerned with defending.
Key Players: Most of the squad play in the second division in Portugal and France, but midfielders Moreto Cassama, Alfa Semedo who play in the Ligue 1 and the Portuguese top flight respectively, as well as forward Piqueti, who scored one the best goals of the 2017 Nations Cup against Cameroon and plays in Saudi Arabia, are among their main stars.