AFCON 2019: All eyes on Africa’s big stars as Competition kicks off today

AFCON

The 2019 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) will begin today in Egypt and all eyes will be on the continent’s big stars to lead their countries to the battleground.

AFCON
AFCON


This could be the most intriguing AFCON in history for so many reasons; for the first time, 24 teams will feature in the showpiece, which means that all the big countries on the continent qualified for the tournament.


This is also the first time that the competition will be staged in the summer, a decision that has become a masterstroke from the Confederation of African Football because the timing has made it possible to have all the biggest stars on the continent featuring for their countries as the tournament is taking place at the end of the season in Europe.


The 24-team format also means that all the big sides might not really stretch themselves until after the round of 16.

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African players have light up of Europe with their skills and potentials; two of them Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane were even in the Liverpool squad that claimed the 2019 UEFA Champions League trophy last month and the duo will lead the cast of stars in Egypt.


It is so tough to name clear favourites for the title this time, as there are as many as six countries that have the capacity to lift the trophy on July 19.

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Hosts Egypt have perhaps the tournament’s best player in Salah. Although coach Javier Aguirre has said the Liverpool forward was just one of his players, there is still an issue with how dependent the side can be on their talisman.

The Liverpool attacker has scored at an impressive rate of 0.62 goals per match for his national side, however his 39 goals almost match the totals of the rest of the squad combined (42 international goals). They will need him fit and firing to make the most of their home advantage and claim their record-extending seventh title.


He needs this tournament to finally seal his ambition to retain his African Footballer of the Year award ahead of his club-mate Mane who also had stellar season with the Reds.


Senegal possess arguably the strongest overall squad with Kalidou Koulibaly anchoring a solid backline and Champions League winner Sadio Mane headlining what is the tournament’s most threatening attack.
The Terenga Lions breezed through qualification, taking 16 points and remaining unbeaten.


They’ll have learned a lot from their exploits in Russia last year, while there isn’t an African player in the world who’s in better form than Mane at the moment.

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Cote d’Ivoire flopped at the last AFCON, and during the World Cup qualifying campaign. They weren’t too much better this time around, and were defeated by Guinea at home before being held away in the Central African Republic.


It’s not particularly encouraging, but a forward line including any of Nicolas Pepe, Max Gradel, Jonathan Kodjia, Wilfried Zaha and recalled Wilfried Bony has the potential to ignite in Egypt.


However, the team may struggle defensively against the continent’s better sides. Eric Baily’s absence through injury leaves Serge Aurier to lead a backline inexperienced at the top level.


Their group D challengers Morocco are another side who can contest for the trophy. Youssef En-Nesyri has shown good progress this year and will have the impressive Hakim Ziyech to create for him. Coach Herve Renard has two AFCON wins already, most impressively with Zambia in 2012, so certainly has some pedigree in this competition.

Chukwueze looks set to lead Eagles attack


Neighbouring Algeria also possess genuine quality in the form of Riyad Mahrez and a solid overall squad.


The Super Eagles of Nigeria are back in the big time for the first time after winning the title in 2013, with Gernot Rohr following up World Cup qualification with a spot in Egypt.

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They are a fine blend of experience and youthful verve; captain Mikel Obi, Ahmed Musa and Kenneth Omeruo are the three players who have played in this competition before but the likes of Odion Ighalo (AFCON qualifiers top striker), Alex Iwobi and William Troost-Ekong come with their experience at the last World Cup in Russia.


Cameroon are the defending champion and all eyes will be on the Indomitable Lions to successful defend the title they won two years ago.
Injury has denied Coach Clarence Seedorf the service of his influential striker Vincent Aboubakar; the forward was so pivotal to the team’s success two years ago, despite the team lacking in stars like in the years past, the FC Porto hit man stepped onto the plate to lead the Lions to their fourth AFCON title.


It is a big loss to the Central Africans and that will put extra pressure on Seedorf who is still fighting to convince majority of Cameroonians he is the man for the job.


The Dutch legend sensationally dropped another veteran Captain Benjamin Moukandjo from the squad but he can still call on the services of
Morocco have made tremendous progress Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting, Christian Bassogog and Clinton N’Jie.