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AFCON PREVIEW: Favourites, potential flops, dark horses — and players to watch

AFCON PREVIEW: Favourites, potential flops, dark horses — and players to watch
January 13
10:35 2024

The Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) begins today in Ivory Coast, with the hosts taking on Guinea-Bissau in the opener. The 34th edition of the premier continental competition promises the winners a mouth-watering $7 million and powerhouses will collide from the group stage for CAF’s largesse.

Holders Senegal will slug it out with Cameroon, while perennial winners Egypt and underachievers Ghana meet in Group C.

TheCable previews the group stage of the biennial tournament.

Group A (Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau)

Favourite: There is no clear favourite in this group. Both the Super Eagles and Ivory Coast, the hosts, are a shadow of their glorious past having won the title two years apart in 2013 and 2015 respectively. The duo of Equatorial Guinea and Guinea-Bissau also hold no continental pedigree. The field could turn for anyone who takes their chances.


Potential flop: Guinea-Bissau have never won an AFCON match and this could continue in Ivory Coast if they do not sort out their goalscoring problem.

Dark horse: Equatorial Guinea have the surprise element in coach Juan Micha who is relatively unknown on the continent but stepped up to the national side duties from his under-17 role due to the absence of a coach and pulled off the surprise of defeating Libya consecutively.

Players to watch: Victor Osimhen is arguably one of the top players of the tournament. The 2023 CAF men’s player of the year was the highest goalscorer in the AFCON qualifying rounds and is Africa’s biggest star. Fans are also eager to see Sebastian Haller lead the line for Ivory Coast following his cancer recovery.


Group B (Egypt, Ghana, Cape Verde, Mozambique)

Favourite: The Pharaohs of Egypt stand out in this group. The seven-time champions still retain the core of their golden generation despite a lack of continental glory in 13 years, and in Salah, the North Africans have a striker who is near his best form with an average of two goals in every three matches this season.

Potential flop: Mozambique would be the obvious choice but Ghana can repeat their poor AFCON 2021 form if squad unity is not achieved before the start of the tournament. The Ayew brothers are still a mainstay and the Black Stars struggle to keep it tight in defence and score in attack.

Dark horse: Cape Verde is not new to surprises as the minnows who announced themselves on the big stage in 2013 with a quarter-final place can repeat the trick here with a team filled with foreign-based players.

Players to watch: Salah comes in on form and could finally win a title with Egypt after two near-misses, while Mohamed Kudus’ technical ability and drive could finally unlock a sleeping attack.


Group C (Senegal, Cameroon, Guinea, The Gambia)

Favourite: Senegal, the reigning AFCON champions, are the clear favourites in this tricky group of regional brothers. Aliou Cisse has a deep talent pool and a sturdy side with a winning mentality. They lost only one match in 2023 and will look to do the impossible of defending their crown in Ivory Coast.

Potential flop: Cameroon has a penchant for doing the impossible — but is it one too many troubles here? Onana is still unsure of representing his country, Rigobert Song was a controversial decision as manager, and the attack is aged and misfiring.

Dark horse: Guinea Conakry are a formidable footballing nation that goes toe-to-toe with the big teams without fear. The Syli Nationals held Senegal to a goalless draw at AFCON 2021 and have the confidence to face them again here regardless of the injury status of Serhou Guirassy, their top marksman.

Players to watch: Sadio Mane has swapped Europe for Saudi Arabia but the Liverpool man is still a force to be reckoned with and he leads the Teranga Lions with authority.


Group D (Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Angola)

Favourite: Despite their recent fall from the pinnacle of African football, Algeria is still the team to beat in another tricky group that has both Angola and Burkina Faso. They would need the experience of Riyad Mahrez, Sofiane Feghouli and others to navigate the waters.

Potential flop: Burkina Faso are a formidable opposition but infighting and mutiny at the football association could derail the nation’s performance in Ivory Coast.


Dark horse: The Pelancas Negras of Angola have reignited their reputable past thanks to Pedro Goncalves, their Portuguese coach, and it remains to be seen if he can continue the upward trajectory with some success in Ivory Coast.

Players to watch: While Mahrez is now in Saudi Arabia with Al Ahli, his mercurial left foot can still do damage on its day and the former Leicester City and Manchester City winger could be lethal.


Group E (Tunisia, Mali, South Africa, Namibia)

Favourite: No clear favourites in this group as the Tunisia, Mali and South Africa trio can usurp each other any day.

Potential flop: The South African team is built around local players, especially the Mamelodi Sundowns group, meaning a ‘real star’ is absent. Furthermore, the Bafana Bafana are shy in front of the goal and this could be their albatross.


Dark horse: Injury-ravaged Mali can still hold their own against the top sides and should find their way out of the group stage.

Players to watch: Yves Bissouma has been a formidable midfield force in the English Premier League with Tottenham and the 27-year-old is expected to protect the defence.

Group F (Morocco, DR Congo, Zambia, Tanzania)

Favourite: Following the dizzying heights of the 2022 FIFA World Cup and the restructuring that ensued aftermath, the Atlas Lions of Morocco are expected to breeze through the pack. The World Cup group of players led by Yassine Bounou, Achraf Hakimi, and Hakim Ziyech should do the trick.

Potential flop: Zambia have failed to scale through the group stage since winning the AFCON in 2012, and this could continue in Ivory Coast despite having Avram Grant, the respected former Chelsea coach who has a good understanding of African football, in their ranks.

Dark horse: DR Congo have lost the old spark and have been unlucky in recent AFCON outings. The team however has a solid backline that can propel it forward into the knockout stages.

Players to watch: While Ziyech may hug the headlines for this fluid, star-studded team, Hakimi is expected to take on a more central role and could be key for Morocco breaking down the opposition.


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