Africa Cup of Nations with League Lane
This time around the Africa Cup of nations come with a lot of new changes. For the first time, the tournament is being conducted in the off season of club football, freeing up a lot of superstars.
Also, for the very first time in their history, the CAF (Confederation of African Football) has decided to incorporate 24 teams into the mix.
We at League Lane are nothing but excited to cover this month-long extravaganza. Take this ride along with us, and witness the African continent coming to new life with football fever.
Egypt could not deliver in the world cup, and the fans were disheartened for sure. When you have ‘King Salah’ in the midst, expectations will surely be on the rise. Despite some spirited play, their campaign ended in the group stage itself.
Story doesn’t end there though. The nation play hosts to determine the African Champions, and things could really go their way with help of the fans.
Senegal is another major culprit. They have been on fire in the recent games, and team possesses one of the best attackers in the world in Sadio Mane, and one of the best defenders in Kalidou Koulibaly.
Nigeria, who almost broke Argentina’s hearts in the World Cup is determined to prove their mettle, and so is Cameroon, boasting none other than Clarence Seedorf as their manager.
Due to the increment in numbers, we could see some lopsided games, but will in turn be beneficial for the growth of football in the continent. Make no mistake though, towards the latter stages of the tournament, we’ll be witnessing some of best games of the season. Ten former champions are in line for the trophy along with fourteen hopefuls.
2019 Africa Cup of Nations Group Stage
The tournament will feature six groups with four teams each. The top two from each group will gain automatic qualification to the Round of 16 while the third-placed teams will be assessed separately, and the best four from the list will fill up the remaining spots in the knockouts.
Egypt is tipped to top Group A without much incident. They do have the home advantage to lean on, and remaining three squads won’t have it in them to raise a meaningful challenge for the pole position.
Likewise, Nigeria should have their route clear to the Round of 16, with none of the other three in the Group B strong enough to lay an obstacle in the course.
Group C will witness the run of Senegal. Algeria may cause some trouble, but at the moment, the former is more than equipped to deal it with ease.
Groups D and F will lay eyes on two-way fights for the top position between Morocco & Ivory Coast, and Cameroon & Ghana respectively.
Group E could have any winner, though Tunisia and Mali seems to have a stronghold over the others.
Group A: Egypt, DR Congo, Uganda, and Zimbabwe
Group B: Nigeria, Guinea, Madagascar, and Burundi
Group C: Senegal, Algeria, Kenya, and Tanzania
Group D: Morocco, Ivory Coast, South Africa, and Namibia
Group E: Tunisia, Mali, Mauritania, and Angola
Group F: Cameroon, Ghana, Benin, and Guinea-Bissau
Who are our favorites to win the Africa Cup of Nations ?
I’m aligned to pick the hosts themselves, Egypt, as favorites. They do have the service of Mohammed Salah, who was outstanding in the Premier League this season, and in the Champions League as well.
But their form is a cause of worry for fans, and so was their performance in the World Cup. Compounding their doubts is the fact that manager Javier Aguirre is leading Egypt for the first time in a significant competition.
Senegal rightfully emerges as the favorites. The reasons are manifold.
The first and foremost – the presence of Sadio Mane. While no single player could be credited for the success of Liverpool this season, Mane was kind of instrumental in it. There were times when Mohammed Salah went off the grid, and it was this guy who showed up.
Another reason to rejoice would be Kalidou Koulibaly. He’s widely tipped to be the first defender to fetch over 100 million Euros in transfer fee. The center-back was rock-solid at the back for Napoli this season, and caused many a problem for the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Mauro Icardi, Krzysztof Piatek etc.
The team is managed by inspirational former captain Aliou Cisse, who was heartbroken at the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations in the penalty shootout in the final.
Senegal was unlucky to crash out of the World Cup, but they did hold up against Poland and Japan, narrowly falling against Colombia. As of now, they are on a five-match winning streak, and excitement and anticipation is sky-high.
The Underdogs: The teams that can upset the odds.
Nigeria is a former champion of this contest, lifting it last in 2013. They had a crazy world cup. The Super Eagles almost gave the boot to the likes of Lionel Messi and co.
Though they pale in comparison against Senegal and Egypt, what helps their cause is a relatively easy group, and the passion they showed at the World Cup. The team does have some big names in their midst – John Obi Mikel, Alex Iwobi etc being some of them.
Should the favorites fail to live up to the hype, Nigeria could go all the way.
Players to Watch
Senegal is firing on all cylinders right now, and they are tipped to lift the cup on the 19th of July. Sadio Mane, who finished joint top-scorer in the Premier League, and who’s currently in the limelight due to the Champions League success, is one player to religiously follow these four weeks.
Liverpool could have bid goodbye to their European campaign, which eventually ended in success, had Sadio Mane was not there to rescue the day against Bayern Munich, on the road. Mane could make his 2018-19 season even more memorable with a national team title, on top of continental success with Liverpool.
Well, the next one is obvious, isn’t it? The competition is being hosted by Egypt. Almost a year back, the Egyptian Presidential Elections saw almost one million ballot papers spoiled, as voters crossed off both of the candidates’ names, and wrote Mohammed Salah’s name instead. Such is the hold of this man in Egypt, and in World Football as well, that it would be an injustice to mention the Africa Cup of Nations without his name.
Along with Sadio Mane, he too is on top of the world after lifting the European crown, and now fate has landed a chance for him to conquer Africa. The guy really is king, isn’t he?