AFCON 2021: A Look At The Favourites

In this article I’m gonna be taking a look at who I believe are the top five teams competing in AFCON this year. Before that if you haven’t already, please check out our preview for AFCON which will give you all the details you need to know ahead of the competition.

Egypt

Growing up Egypt were the best team in Africa, they won 3 in a row between 2006 and 2010 beating some of Africa’s best including Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Ghana who at the time were all major players in International football. They’ve won 7 in total which is the record. This year they’re looking to win a record breaking 8th title with the likes of Salah, Elneny and Trezeguet leading the team. They’re also managed by former Man United no.2 Carlos Quieroz, who is a very respected coach.

Egypt actually have only lost 1 competitive game in normal or extra time since the last AFCON in 2019 against South Africa. They were undefeated in their 2021 qualifying group with 3 wins and 3 draws against Kenya, Togo and Comoros. They also topped the second round of their WC Qualifying group with 4 wins and 2 draws against Gabon, Libya and Angola. Most recently in the Arab cup they came 3rd place after going unbeaten in the groups and QF before losing the semi final in the last minute of added time. Whilst the opposition isn’t the most impressive it’s still a great achievement going 16 games undefeated in International football.

Key player

Mo Salah

The year has only begun but if you were to make your pick for the Ballon D’or favourites, Mo Salah would be one of them. Even if he wins nothing of significance with his club an international trophy could be enough to see him win, as was evident with last years winner. He’s got 25 G/A in 20 league games so far this season so it’s not a stretch to say he’s the tournaments star man. With two easy group stage games he should fancy himself for the tournaments Golden Boot.

Squad

Goalkeepers: Mohamed El-Shennawy (Al Ahly, Egypt), Mohamed Sobhi (Pharco, Egypt), Mohamed Abogabal (Zamalek, Egypt), Mahmoud Gad (Enppi, Egypt).

Defenders: Ahmed Fatouh, Mahmoud Alaa, Mahmoud Hamdy El-Wensh (all Zamalek, Egypt), Ayman Ashraf, Akram Tawfik, (both Al Ahly), Omar Kamal, Mohamed Abdel-Moneim (both Future, Egypt), Ahmed Hegazi (Ittihad Jeddah, Saudi Arabia).

Midfielders: Hamdi Fathi, Amr El-Sulya (both Al Ahly, Egypt), Emam Ashour, Ahmed Sayed Zizo (both Zamalek, Egypt), Abdallah El-Said, Ramadan Sobhi (both Pyramids, Egypt), Mohamed Elneny (Arsenal, England), Omar Marmoush (VfB Stuttgart, Germany), Mohanad Lasheen (Tala’a El-Gaish, Egypt), Mahmoud Hassan Trezeguet (Aston Villa, England).

Forwards: Mostafa Mohamed (Galatasaray, Turkey), Mohamed Sherif (Al Ahly, Egypt), Mohamed Salah (Liverpool, England).

Nigeria

Egypt’s group D rivals and the 2013 winners. If you asked me a few weeks ago if I was confident I’d have said yes but with Dennis being left out due to Watford’s selfishness of not releasing him due to a “late email” and Napoli not releasing Osimhen due to covid and not being fully recovered from injury, my confidence has been dampened. I don’t really wanna get into a rant about Napoli, Watford and their disrespect for the tournament so instead I’ll focus on who will be playing for the Super Eagles in Cameroon. Luckily enough we don’t lack in the forward department and can rely on Iheanacho, Chukwueze and Ighalo for goals. Ahmed Musa also returns, let’s see if he can run back his 2018 WC display.

Unfortunately its CM where we lack depth in. Thankfully we have one of the best DM’s in England with Wilfred Ndidi as well as Onyeka, other than that there’s not much option so I’ll say my prayers they stay fit. 

One player who I think could really benefit from this tournament is Alex Iwobi, yes you read that right. I think this could be a big turning point in his career, he can get away from the all the noise at his club and play a big part for his nation, he definitely needs it.

If we can top the group I think we have a really good chance at going all the way however second place could see us face Algeria, who of course beat us in the 2019 semi final or Ivory Coast who are always dangerous.

Key Player

Kelechi Iheanacho

He’s one of my favourite players and I think in Osimhen’s absence he’ll be the key man. He hasn’t had the greatest season so far but has still shown his class in brief moments. His link up play and movement I think will be vital for us and while I wouldn’t expect him to be our top scorer I do think he’ll be at the centre for most goals we do score.

Squad

Goalkeepers: Francis Uzoho (AC Omonia, Cyprus); John Noble (Enyimba FC); Daniel Akpeyi (Kaizer Chiefs, South Africa); Maduka Okoye (Sparta Rotterdam, The Netherlands)

Defenders: Chidozie Awaziem (Alanyaspor FC, Turkey); Kenneth Omeruo (CD Leganes, Spain); Leon Balogun (Glasgow Rangers, Scotland); William Ekong (Watford FC, England); Olaoluwa Aina (Torino FC, Italy); Jamilu Collins (SC Paderborn 07, Germany); Abdullahi Shehu (AC Omonia, Cyprus); Zaidu Sanusi (FC Porto, Portugal); Olisa Ndah (Orlando Pirates, South Africa)

Midfielders: Frank Onyeka (Brentford FC, England); Joseph Ayodele-Aribo (Glasgow Rangers, Scotland); Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City, England); Chidera Ejuke (CSKA Moscow, Russia); Kelechi Nwakali (SD Huesca, Spain)

Forwards: Ahmed Musa (Fatih Karagumruk, Turkey); Samuel Chukwueze (Villarreal FC, Spain); Victor Osimhen (Napoli FC, Italy); Moses Simon (FC Nantes, France); Sadiq Umar (UD Almeria, Spain); Taiwo Awoniyi (Union Berlin, Germany); Odion Jude Ighalo (Al-Shabab Riyadh, Saudi Arabia); Alex Iwobi (Everton FC, England); Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City, England); Emmanuel Dennis (Watford FC, England)

Algeria

They’re the reigning Champions and probably feature in everybody’s top two favourites. They also recently just won the Arab cup extending their unbeaten run to 39 games. Crazy. Last time out they defeated Senegal, Tanzania, Kenya, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Nigeria(sigh) and Senegal again in the final to win the cup. They steamrolled teams, grinded out late wins and won on penos, all the makings of a top team, I’m excited to see them play this year.

Besides Mahrez, Bennacur and Benrahma, their team is not very familiar but that doesn’t mean much when you’ve won the last two tournaments  you’ve entered and are unbeaten in 39. This is a very very serious team who not only could retain this trophy but also do damage in Qatar later this year at the World Cup.

Key Player

Riyad Mahrez

Of course it’s him, he’s captain and probably the second best player at the tournament. His left foot is becoming like Arjen Robben’s, you know what he’s gonna do but it’s almost impossible to stop it. If Algeria go all the way, expect him to be player of the tournament. With Man City in crazy form, a win at AFCON could be first of many trophies this year for Mahrez.

Squad

Goalkeepers: Rais M’Bolhi (Ettifaq, Saudi Arabia), Alexandre Oukidja (Metz, France), Moustapha Zeghba (Damac, Saudi Arabia).

Defenders: Djameleddine Benlamri (Qatar SC, Qatar), Aissa Mandi (Villareal, Spain), Mohamed Amine Tougai, Ilyes Chetti, Abdelkader Bedrane (all Esperance, Tunisia), Ramy Bensebaini (Borussia Mönchengladbach, Germany), Youcef Atal (Nice, France), Houcine Benayada (Etoile du Sahel, Tunisia), Mohamed Reda Halaimia (Beerschot, Belgium), Mehdi Tahrat (Al Gharafa, Qatar)

Midfielders: Ismael Bennacer (AC Milan, Italy), Ramiz Zerrouki (FC Twente, Netherlands), Adem Zorgane (Charleroi, Belgium), Haris Belkebla (Brest, France), Sofiane Feghouli (Galatasaray, Turkey), Sofiane Bendebka (Al Fateh, Saudi Arabia).

Forwards: Riyad Mahrez (Manchester City, England), Adam Ounas (Napoli, Italy), Youcef Belaïli (Unattached), Said Benrahma (West Ham United, England), Yacine Brahimi (Al Rayyan, Qatar), Farid Boulaya (Metz, France), Islam Slimani (Lyon, France), Baghdad Bounedjah (Al Sadd, Qatar), Mohamed Amine Amoura (Lugano, Switzerland).

Senegal

Alongside Algeria, they’re the consensus favourites and it’s hard to argue against that. Sadio Mane, Eduoard Mendy and Ismaila Sarr are just a few amongst a stacked squad. However there’s reports of covid hitting the squad  so that could play a factor in their preparations. They’ve been given a handy group with Guinea, Zimbabwe and Malawi so should expect to qualify handily. Even though they’ve never won the competition, they’re the team to beat, for anyone not too familiar  with African football their squad will be the most recognisable. The talent in their team is probably the most evenly distributed in the whole tournament, with great goalkeeping, defensive, midfield and attacking options.

Key Player

Sadio Mane

Another player whose club form has been so poor some are almost glad to see him go to AFCON. However over the past few years Mane has shown that he can be world class. Some think he’s just in a bad period, some say he might be washed, I would lean towards the latter, however he still does manage to find the net occasionally, like with his goal against Chelsea recently. I think being the leader and beacon of hope for his national team could give him renewed confidence to have a great tournament. I believe if he underperforms here it might be fair to say his days at the top are coming to an end. It’ll definitely be an interesting one to see, even though he’s their star man and most recognisable player, they still have enough quality to go all the way if he doesn’t deliver.

Another key player to look out for is Eduoard Mendy who although in my eyes and many others was the best keeper in 2021, his recent form has been a tad questionable, he’ll be looking to have a big tournament and further solidify himself as one the best keepers in football.

Squad

Goalkeepers: Edouard Mendy (Chelsea, England), Alfred Gomis (Rennes, France), Seny Dieng (Queens Park Rangers, England).

Defenders: Bouna Sarr (Bayern Munich, Germany), Saliou Ciss (Nancy, France), Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli, Italy), Pape Abou Cisse (Olympiakos, Greece), Abdoulaye Seck (Royal Antwerp, Belgium), Abdou Diallo (Paris Saint-Germain, France), Ibrahima Mbaye (Bologna, Italy), Fode Ballo-Toure (AC Milan, Italy), Cheikhou Kouyate (Crystal Palace, England).

Midfielders: Pape Matar Sarr (Metz, France), Pape Gueye (Marseille, France), Nampalys Mendy (Leicester City, England), Idrissa Gana Gueye (Paris Saint-Germain, France), Moustapha Name (Paris FC, France), Mamadou Loum (Alaves, Spain), Joseph Lopy (Sochaux, France).

Forwards: Boulaye Dia (Villarreal, Spain), Sadio Mane (Liverpool, England), Habib Diallo (Strasbourg, France), Bamba Dieng (Marseille, France), Ismaila Sarr (Watford, England), Famara Diedhiou (Alanyaspor, Turkey), Mame Baba Thiam (Kayserispor,Turkey), Keita Balde (Cagliari, Italy).

Cote D’Ivoire(Ivory Coast)

Since we grew up with their golden generation of Drogba, the Toure’s, Kalou and Tiote I feel they’ve kind of went off the radar due to not having as many star names as before. But when you take a look at their squad it’s still very impressive. They’ve got Champions League top scorer Haller, Kessie in midfield and Eric Bailly at the back amongst many other good players. They’re on good form too, having only lost once in their last 10 games.

They last won the tournament in 2015 beating Ghana on penalties which was only their second win. I think they have a good chance at winning a 3rd if they can get their forwards firing and keep Eric Bailly fit, something that seems impossible to do.

Key Player

Franck Kessie

There was a few options here including Zaha and Haller but I’m gonna give the edge to Franck Kessie. While the tournament has tonnes of top forwards, it  isn’t blessed with as many top CM talents, I think if Kessie performs, Ivory Coast could dominate the midfield battle in big games which could be the deciding factor. His contract is up this summer also, so a strong showing here could bag him a more lucrative deal with whoever he signs for.

Squad

Goalkeepers: Sylvain Gbohouo (Wolkite Ketema, Ethiopia), Badra Ali Sangare (JDR Stars, South Africa), Abdoul Karim Cisse (Asec Mimosas, Ivory Coast), Ira Eliezer Tape (San Pedro, Ivory Coast).

Defenders: Serge Aurier (Villarreal, Spain), Eric Bailly (Manchester United, England), Willy Boly (Wolverhampton Wanderers, England), Wilfried Kanon (Pyramids, Egypt), Odilon Kossounou (Bayer Leverkusen, Germany), Simon Deli (Adana Demirspor, Turkey), Ghislain Konan (Reims, France).

Midfielders: Habib Maiga (Metz, France), Maxwel Cornet (Burnley, England), Serey Die (Sion, Switzerland), Ibrahim Sangare (PSV Eindhoven, Netherlands), Jean-Daniel Akpa Akpro (Lazio, Italy), Franck Kessie (AC Milan, Italy), Hamed Traore and Jeremie Boga (both Sassuolo, Italy), Max Gradel (Sivasspor, Turkey), Jean Michael Seri (Fulham, England).

Forwards: Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace, England), Jean Evrard Kouassi (Trabzonspor, Turkey), Nicolas Pepe (Arsenal, England), Sebastien Haller (Ajax, Netherlands), Christian Kouame (Anderlecht, Belgium), Yohan Boli (Al-Rayyan, Qatar), Karim Konate (Asec Mimosas, Ivory Coast).

My Pick

As much as I want to say Nigeria, I’m just not sure if we have what it takes this year, Osimhen is a big miss and lack of creativity from midfield will also be an issue. For that reason I’m going to lean towards Ivory Coast, I think they’ve got all the tools to win, their multiple goal threats could give them the edge in later rounds. Saying all that, it’s hard to look past Algeria and Senegal, I’m sure one of them will be in the final.

Thanks for reading!

Stay tuned for plenty more AFCON content across the next few weeks! 

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