Africa Cup Of Nations Set To Begin In Egypt
The 2019 Africa Cup of Nations gets underway on Friday, as hosts Egypt face Zimbabwe in Cairo.
It will be the first time that the tournament will see 24 countries take part, expanding from 16 nations.
Also, it is the first time that the tournament will be played during the summer months and at the end of the European domestic season.
Before teams in Europe would without their African stars due to the tournament being held in January/February.
However, with temperatures set to reach at least 35 degrees celsius, it will be a big test of endurance for the players especially after a long domestic season.
The tournament has had it’s problems in the build up after initial hosts Cameroon were stripped of hosting the competition due to delays with the delivery of infrastructure.
But there is excitement building with players such as Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Riyad Mahrez all in action. It is all set to be an exciting and wide open tournament.
Here are five questions that will be answered in the coming weeks.
Can Salah Lead Hosts To Africa Cup of Nations Glory?
The pressure and expectation is very much on Egypt as host nation.
They had a terrible World Cup last summer losing all three of their group games.
However, they have always done much better in the Africa Cup of Nations.
Egypt has won the competition a record seven times, including winning three in a row between 2006 and 2010.
Two years ago, they reached the final, narrowly losing to Cameroon 2-1.
They have a new manager in Mexican Javier Aguirre and have lost just once in seven games since he took charge.
Their hopes will depend on Mo Salah, arguably the best player at the tournament. Other than that Egypt don’t have many household names.
But with Salah and home advantage and an easy looking group, you wouldn’t discount The Pharaohs winning an eighth title.
Can Herve Renard Win For A Third Time?
French manager Herve Renard is looking for a third Africa Cup of Nations with a third different country.
Renard led Zambia to a shock victory in 2012, their first ever victory. Then in 2015, he guided the Ivory Coast to their second title, helping their golden generation finally fulfil their promise.
The 50-year-old has been there and won the medals and you wouldn’t put it past him winning a third title.
This time around he is charge of Morocco. Renard has got them playing some impressive football and prefers to play with high intensity.
However, with the staging of the finals in the uncomfortably hot Egyptian summer could hinder how he wants them to play.
They do have star players, with Hakim Ziyech coming off a great season with Ajax. Morocco has been drawn in a tough group with the Ivory Coast, South Africa and Namibia.
Despite this, Morocco should get to the latter stages and will fancy their changes of ending a 43 year wait for an Africa Cup of Nations title.
Can the champs repeat?
Cameroon were surprise champions two years ago defeating Egypt in the final.
It would be an even bigger shock if they can retain the title and win back-to-back Africa Cup of Nations.
They struggled in qualifying drawing with Comoros and Malawi. Despite this, they did qualify for the finals with some ease.
One of their biggest problems was a lack of goals. They scored just six times in six games, three of which came at home against Malawi.
Les Lions Indomptables, have struggled to find a replacement for Samuel Eto’o who retired from international football in 2014.
Their side doesn’t include many household names and much will depend on PSG striker Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.
Even though, their squad might not be familiar, their manager certainly is. Three time Champions League winner Clarence Seedorf will be in the dugout.
They have had mixed results so far under the Dutchman but should at least make the quarter-finals.
Can The Debutants Cause Some Shocks?
There are three countries who are making their debut at the Africa Cup of Nations finals.
Madagascar and Burundi are in Group B together while Mauritania join Tunisia, Mali and Angola in Group E.
Mauritania were surprise qualifiers incredibly edging out Burkina Faso who finished in third place in 2017.
There has been big debate as to whether increasing the number of countries will dilute the quality of competition.
It will be interesting to see how the three debutants get on and whether they can cause some upsets.
Unlike in Europe, the gap between the countries in Africa is arguably smaller. This is perfectly illustrated with the fact that Burkina Faso didn’t even qualify for this year’s tournament despite finishing third just two years ago.
Mane vs Mahrez Who Will Win?
One of the big pick of the group stages matches sees Senegal face Algeria in Group C.
It will also see Liverpool’s Sadio Mane go up against Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez in an anticipated match up.
Senegal is one of the favorites to win the African Cup of Nations and breezed through qualifying dropping just two points.
They have a star studded squad including Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly and young stars such as Keita Balde and Ismalia Sarr.
Senegal has never won the Africa Cup of Nations but will believe this is their best chance.
Meanwhile, Algeria would love to win the competition for the first time in 29 years, especially since it is being hosted at their rivals backyard.
Algeria has a vastly experienced squad and their hopes will depend on the form of Mahrez and striker Islam Slimani.
Both themselves and Senegal should breeze through their group ahead of Kenya and Tanzania.
However, in my opinion Senegal has the greater chance of winning the competition and possess more quality throughout their squad than Algeria.
Written by David Coates
Photo credit to Pharaohs via Twitter