AFCON 2019 Tournament Preview

AFCON 2019 Tournament Preview

The six groups for the expanded Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) which starts on Friday, June 21 were drawn in a glamorous ceremony in Cairo, as the 24 teams learned their first-round opponents.

The tournament runs from June 21 to July 19 in Egypt; and will be the first to be played in the summer. This came after CAF decided to move it from being held in January and February.

With the group stage mapped out, what should fans expect from the opening round of fixtures? Where are the potential upsets? And who are the players to watch in African football’s biennial showpiece?

 

Group A

Teams: Egypt, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Zimbabwe

Overview:

Egypt had already qualified through their position in Group J before being named as hosts in January; while Uganda breezed through Group L, not conceding until a final-day 3-0 hammering by Tanzania.

Zimbabwe and the DRC both advanced from Group G, with the Warriors topping the pile on 11 points, four of which were taken from the Leopards.

Scope for an upset?

Pretty high. Uganda are well organised under Sebastien Desabre; and are hard-working and defensively stout; and, critically, defeated Egypt during the recent World Cup qualifying campaign.

Both Zimbabwe and the DRC have talented attackers who could also trouble the hosts; and the Pharaohs can’t take anything for granted after this draw.

 

Group B

Teams: Nigeria, Guinea, Madagascar, Burundi

Overview:

Madagascar and Burundi are making their AFCON debuts; the former were the first team to book their ticket after taking 10 points from their opening four matches; while Les Hirondelles saw off Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s Gabon to advance.

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Nigeria and Guinea topped Group E and H respectively.

Scope For Upset:

Madagascar held Senegal at home during the qualifiers; while Burundi were undefeated in double-headers against both Mali and Gabon.

Both are capable of stymieing a Nigeria side who can run out of ideas in the final third.

 

Group C

Teams: Senegal, Algeria, Kenya, Tanzania

Overview:

Senegal qualified as Group A winners and were among the top seeds for the draw; while Algeria were less convincing, falling to Benin in October and taking just two points from The Gambia.

Kenya and Tanzania both surpassed expectations, the former defeating Ghana en route to Egypt, and the latter smashing previously imperious Uganda 3-0 in Dar es Salaam in their final qualifier.

Scope for an upset?

High. Despite their wealth of creative, attacking resources, Algeria failed to beat tiny Gambia home or away in qualifying; and now will have to improve significantly against a Kenya defence that conceded just one in four to reach Egypt.

 

Group D

Teams: Morocco, Ivory Coast, South Africa, Namibia

Overview:

Despite losing their opener to Cameroon in June 2017, Morocco bounced back to top Group A; while Cote d’Ivoire progressed as Group H runners-up behind Guinea.

South Africa needed a final-matchday victory over Libya to progress after being inexplicably held in Seychelles; and Namibia’s joy at their first qualification since 2008 was somewhat dampened by a 4-1 pummeling by Zambia on match day six.

They’ll have their work cut out in the ‘Group of Death’.

Scope for an upset?

It’s hard to see Namibia troubling the other three teams, but South Africa’s defensive solidity could make life difficult for either of the group’s other big sides.

If they can finish above Morocco or the Ivory Coast, then one of these giants could be forced to face Nigeria or Egypt in the Round of 16.

 

Group E

Teams: Tunisia, Mali, Mauritania, Angola

Overview:

Tunisia, Mali and Angola won their respective groups; with the Carthage Eagles topping Group J on 15 points.

First-time qualifiers Mauritania were pipped to first place in Group I by Angola; but impressively reached the AFCON with a game to spare.

Their September victory over Burkina Faso, bronze-medallists in 2017, was decisive.

Scope for an upset?

Limited. Mali were one of five teams who went through qualifying unbeaten. While Tunisia’s celebrated ‘grinta’ should prevent slip-ups, particularly against the group’s weaker duo.

The North Africans have reached the knockouts in nine of their last 12 Afcons.

 

Group F

Teams: Cameroon, Ghana, Benin, Guinea-Bissau

Overview:

Original hosts – and holders – Cameroon had to qualify conventionally. They played five matches as a ‘bystander’ in Group B; and defeated Comoros in their final match to confirm their AFCON participation after being stripped of the tournament organisation.

Ghana were unconvincing after an opening 5-0 blitz of Ethiopia; then they were defeated 1-0 by Kenya. While Benin and Guinea-Bissau both qualified in their final match.

Scope for an upset?

Neither Ghana nor Cameroon were particularly convincing in qualifying, with two new managers taking their time to embed new players and a fresh strategic approach.

However, while Benin boast a few wily veterans, and Guinea-Bissau should have learned from their maiden AFCON in Gabon two years ago, both of the heavyweights should progress.

 

 

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