The 33rd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) comes off on January 9 in Cameroon much to the chagrin of some European and Asian clubs as their key players will depart to help their countries win the coveted golden trophy.
24 countries, in 6 Groups are battling for the African trophy and 4.5 million dollars. The tournament has 2 debutants, Comoros and The Gambia. This preview focuses on Group E and the chances of the various teams in the Group. Group E is a very tricky group and a difficult one to navigate.
The Group comprises of 2 times AFCON winners (and the current holders) Algeria, Sierra Leone, Equatorial Guinea and another 2-time AFCON winner, Ivory Coast. Group E has one team from North Africa, 2 teams from West Africa and another in Central Africa.
All eyes are on Defending Champions, Algeria. Algeria are on a quest to successfully defend their 2019 AFCON title, a feat very difficult that only 3 countries have managed to accomplish. Egypt, Ghana and Cameroon are the only countries to have successfully staged a title defence.
Les Fennecs will be seeking to become the fourth nation to pick up successive Africa Cup of Nations titles. The 2021 AFCON in Cameroon will see the Desert Foxes make their 19th appearance with their best performance being the 2 trophies they won in 1990 and 2019.
In spite of how daunting the challenge seems, the Desert Foxes seem well prepared and know the task ahead. Algeria, the Champions of Africa are currently unstoppable as they have displayed true dominance at the apex of the African football pyramid.
Les Fennecs are on an impressive 34-match unbeaten run which includes wins against Colombia, Mexico, Senegal, Nigeria and Tunisia. Djamel Belmadi’s men scored 19 goals and 25 goals in the Africa Cup of Nations and World Cup Qualifiers respectively.
Algeria captained by Riyad Mahrez are clearly dominating Africa and are clear favourites to Annex their 3rd trophy. Les Fennecs are also in pole position to qualify for the 2022 World Cup. Last year, Algeria won the Arab Cup held in Qatar in December. Unity and discipline are very key to the success of the Desert Foxes.
Last year Coach, Coach Djamel Belmadi was reported to have ordered Riyad and Said Benhrama to change their blonde hair while on international duty. However, their 2 draws with Burkina Faso in the World Cup Qualifiers clearly gives any well drilled and tactically disciplined team hope that “something can be done.”
Algeria has a plethora of arsenals at their disposal including captain Riyad Mahrez, Saïd Benhrama, Youcef Belaili, Baghdad Bounedjah and Algeria’s all-time top goalscorer Islam Slimani. Coach Djamel Belmadi is expected to maintain the same starting line-up that helped him win the 2019 title. Although he stuck to a dynamic 4-3-3 in Egypt, Belmadi has also employed a more direct 4-4-2 which produced satisfactory results in the Qualifiers.
Belmadi is revered in Algeria and wants to continue in his stellar reputation he has created for himself within 3 years.
ALGERIA GOAL INVOLVEMENTS OF KEY PLAYERS (2021/22 SEASON)
Riyad Mahrez – 13 GOALS 5 ASSISTS
Said Benhrama – 8 GOALS 4 ASSISTS
Youcef Belaili – 3 GOALS
Islam Slimani – 4 GOALS 1 ASSIST
Baghdad Bounedjah – 11 GOALS 4 ASSISTS
Yacine Brahimi – 5 GOALS 2 ASSISTS
Sofiane Feghouli- 5 GOALS 3 ASSISTS
ALGERIA AFCON SQUAD
Goalkeepers: Rais Mbolhi (Al-Ettifaq, Saudi Arabia), Mustafa Zaghba (Damac, Saudi Arabia), Alexandre Oukidja (Metz, France)
Defenders: Issa Mandy (Villarreal, Spain), Abdelkader Bedrane (Esperance, Tunisia), Mehdi Tahrat (Al Gharafa, Qatar), Djamel Benlmari (Qatar, Qatar), Mohamed Amine Taugai (Esperance, Tunisia), Youcef Attal (Nice, France), Houcine Benayada (Etoile du Sahel, Tunisia), Reda Halaimia (Beerschot, Belgium), Rami Bensebaini (Borussia Monchengladbach, Germany), Ilias Chetti (Esperance, Tunisia)
Midfielders: Ramiz Zerrouki (Twente Enschede, Netherlands), Haris Belkebla (Brest, France), Sofiane Bendebka (Al-Fateh, Saudi Arabia), Adem Zorgane (Royal Charleroi, Belgium), Sofiane Feghouli (Galatasaray, Turkey) Ismail Bennacer (AC Milan, Italy)
Forwards: Riyad Mahrez (Manchester City, England), Adam Ounas (Napoli, Italy), Youcef Belaili (Unattached), Said Benrahma (West Ham United, England), Farid Boulaya (Metz, France), Yacine Brahimi (Al Rayyan, Qatar), Islam Slimani (Lyon, France), Baghdad Bounedjah (Al Sadd, Qatar), Mohamed El Amine Amoura (Lugano, Switzerland)
The Elephants have missed the opportunity for a 2nd time running to be present at the World football stage after placing 2nd to Cameroon in Group D of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers.
The 2021 AFCON in Cameroon, therefore, presents a perfect opportunity to the Ivorians to right their wrongs and restore their pride as the “Kings of the Jungle “. The Elephants have won the AFCON trophy twice and both titles have been against Ghana in marathon penalty shoot-outs in 1992 and 2015.
After miraculously winning the 2015 AFCON, the Elephants have gone on hibernation and underwhelmed judging by their own standards. They exited the group stage in 2017 and at the Quarter-final stage in 2019. In effect, the last time the Elephants even made it to the semi-final was in 2015. The 2021 AFCON will be the 24th AFCON appearance of The Elephants.
In qualifying for the tournament, The Elephants scored 8 goals and conceded 4 goals in 6 matches. The Elephants now have a galaxy of stars within the squad.
Wilfred Zaha, Willy Boly, Eric Bailly, Ibrahim Sangaré, Franck Kessié, Serge Aurier and Sebastien Haller form the core of the team. The Elephants have one of the most in-form strikers in Europe, Ajax’s Sebastian Haller. Haller is the top scorer in his maiden Champions league experience with 10 goals. He has scored 22 goals in total in the 1st half of the 2021/22 season.
Arsenal’s Nicholas Pépé has been out of the Arsenal squad for some time and this AFCON will be the time for him to get some game time. Zaha’s commitment to The Elephants has been questioned for some time after rejecting a call-up. Zaha must take therefore take this opportunity to prove his doubters wrong.
Until recently, Sebastian Haller was a passer-by in the Ivorian team, however, his exceptional performance against Cameroon in the World Cup Qualifier has changed his status in the team. He is now the target man for the Elephants.
The Ivory Coast have a very good team that must end up in the top 4 spots to avoid being a failure.
IVORY COAST GOAL INVOLVEMENT OF KEY PLAYERS (2021/22 SEASON)
Sebastien Haller – 22 GOALS 6 ASSISTS
Ibrahim Sangaré– 4 GOALS 0 ASSISTS
Maxwell Cornet – 6 GOALS 1 ASSISTS
Wilfred Zaha – 5 GOALS 1 ASSIST
Jean Kouassi – 5 GOALS
Christian Kouame – 8 GOALS 1 ASSIST
Yohan Boli – 16 GOALS 2 ASSISTS
Karim Konate– 6 GOALS
Franck Kessie– 5 GOALS 1 ASSIST
IVORY COAST AFCON SQUAD
Goalkeepers: Sylvain Gbohouo (Wolkite Ketema, Ethiopia), Badra Ali (JDR Stars, South Africa), Ira Tapé (FC San Pedro), Cissé Abdul Karim (ASEC Mimosas)
Defenders: Serge Aurier (Villareal, Spain), Éric Bailly (Manchester United, England), Willy Boly (Wolverhampton, England), Wilfried Kanon (Pyramids FC, Egypt), Odilon Kossonou (Bayer Leverkusen, Germany), Simon Deli (Adana Demirspor, Turkey); Ghislain Konan (Reims, France)
Midfielders: Habib Maiga (Metz, France), Serey Die (FC Sion, Switzerland), Ibrahim Sangaré (PSV Eindhoven, Netherlands), Jean Daniel Akpa Akpro (Lazio, Italy), Franck Kessie (AC Milan, Italy), Hamed Junior Traoré (Sassuolo, Italy), Jean Michael Seri (Fulham, England)
Forwards: Maxwell Cornet (Burnley, England), Max Gradel (Sivasspor, Turkey), Jérémie Boga (Sassuolo, Italy), Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace, England), Jean Évrard Kouassi (Trabzonspor, Turkey), Nicolas Pépé (Arsenal, England), Christian Kouame (Anderlecht, Belgium), Sebastien Haller (Ajax, Netherlands), Johan Boli (Al- Rayan, Qatar), Konaté Karim (ASEC Mimosas)
For the National Thunders, it will be the 1st time they have qualified for an AFCON tournament without being the hosts (which guaranteed them an automatic qualification as hosts). The National Thunder scored 6 goals and conceded 5 goals en route to qualifying to the continental showpiece.
The best player is Pedro Obiang, but he is injured, and there are only a couple in La Liga while Jose Machin (Monza) is in the second division in Italy. There are a lot of quick players in attack. The team’s weak spot lies in the defence but the they do have other threats.
EQUATORIAL GUINEA GOAL INVOLVEMENT OF KEY PLAYERS (2021/22 SEASON)
Luis Miguel Nlavo – 5 GOALS 1 ASSIST
Juan Jose Oscar Siafa- 4 GOALS 1 ASSIST
Iban Salvador Edu – 0 GOALS 2 ASSIST
Emilio Nsue Lopez – Without Club
Jose Antonio Miranda – 1 GOAL 3 ASSIST
EQUATORIAL GUINEA SQUAD
Goalkeepers: Jesus Owono (Alaves B, Spain), Manuel Sapunga (Futuro Kings), Aitor Mbela Gil (Somozas, Spain), Mariano Mba (Deportivo Unidad)
Defenders: Carlos Akapo Martinez (Cadiz, Spain), Cosme Anvene (Deportivo Unidad), Miguel Angel Maye (Futuro Kings), Saul Basilio Coco (UD Las Palmas, Spain), Marvin Jose Anieboh (CP Cacereno, Spain), Luis Alberto Meseguer (CD Navalcanero, Spain), Luis Enrique Nsue (Cano Sport), Ruben Belima (Hercules, Spain), Esteban Fernandez Obiang (Antequera, Spain), Basilio Ndong (IK Start, Norway)
Midfielders: Javier Akapo Martinez (Ibiza, Spain), Federico Bikoro (Hercules, Spain), Santiago Bocari (Nantes B, France), Alejandro Alex Balboa (Alaves B, Spain), Dorian Hanza Junior (UP Langreo, Spain), Jose Dicombo (Monza, Italy), Pablo Ganet (Murcia, Spain), Jannick Buyla Sam (Gimnastic de Tarragona, Spain)
Forwards: Luis Miguel Nlavo (SC Braga B, Portugal), Juan Jose Oscar Siafa (Olimpacos Volou, Greece), Iban Salvador Edu (CF Fuenlabrada, Spain), Emilio Nsue Lopez (Unattached), Jose Antonio Miranda (Niki Volou, Greece), Pedro Oba Asu (Futuro Kings)
Sierra Leone, known as Leone Stars, ranked 108th in the world will be making it to the AFCON tournament for the first time since 1996. In their past 2 appearances at the AFCON, The Leone Stars did not progress out of the group stage.
The Leone Stars scored and conceded 6 goals in 6 games in the AFCON qualifiers. The Sierra Leonean team consists of 11 home-based and 17 foreign-based players. The 28 man squad includes former Tottenham and Liverpool defender Steven Caulker.
To make matters worse, the Leone Stars face the Defending Champions, Algeria in their opening match. The Leone Stars made a case for themselves by equaling a 4 nil deficit conceded against Nigeria in the 1st half of an AFCON Qualifier.
One player Leone Stars will be relying on is veteran striker Kei Kamara, the fifth all-time leading goal scorer in Major League Soccer, whose goal from the penalty spot against Benin sealed qualification. It will be a herculean task, if not impossible, for the Leone Stars to progress out of this group.
SIERRA LEONE GOAL INVOLVEMENT OF KEY PLAYERS (2021/22 SEASON)
Kei Kamara – Without Club
Alhaji Kamara – 8 GOALS 2 ASSISTS
Mustapha Bundu – 2 GOALS 1 ASSISTS
Sullay Kaikai – 0 GOALS 4 ASSISTS
Musa Kamara – Without club
Augustine Williams– Without Club
SIERRA LEONE AFCON SQUAD
Goalkeepers: Mohamed Nbalie Kamara (East End Lions), Ibrahim Sesay (East End Tigers), Isaac Caulker (FC Kallon)
Defenders: Umuru Bangura (Neuchâtel, Switzerland), Daniel Francis (Bradford, England), David Sesay (Barnet, England), Osman Kakay (Queens Park Rangers, England), Yeami Dunia (East End Lions), Kevin Whrigh (Orebro, Sweden), Saidu Mansaray (Bo Rangers), Steven Caulker (Fenerbahçe, Turkey)
Midfielders: Kwame Quee (Vikingur Reykjavik, Iceland), Rodney Strasser (TPS, Finland), Mohamed Kamara (Kuwait SC, Kuwait), Saidu Bah Kamara (Bo Rangers), John Bankole Kamara (Kesla FK, Azerbaijan), Alhassan Koroma (Linense, Spain), Saidu Fofanah (Kallon FC), Abu Dumbuya (East End Lions), Issa Kallon (SC Cambuur, Netherlands), Prince Barrie (Bo Rangers FC)
Forwards: Musa Noah Kamara (Unattached), Mustapha Bundu (Aarhus, Denmark), Kei Ansu Kamara (Helsinki IFK, Iceland), Mohamed Buya Turay (Henan Songshan Longmen, China), Augustine Williams (Los Angeles Galaxy, USA), Sulaiman Borbor Kai Kai (Wycombe Wanderers, England), Alhaji Kamara (Randers FC, Denmark)
Tuesday, 11 January: Algeria vs Sierra Leone.
Wednesday, 12 January: Equatorial Guinea vs Ivory Coast.
Sunday, 16 January: Ivory Coast vs Sierra Leone; Algeria vs Equatorial Guinea.
Thursday, 20 January: Ivory Coast vs Algeria; Sierra Leone vs Equatorial Guinea.
FAVOURITES TO QUALIFY
- Ivory Coast