With the African competition set to kick-off from January 9 to February 6, who are the favourites to win the title?
The 2021 Africa Cup of Nations will open its curtains when Cameroon take on Burkina Faso in their opening Group A fixture at Stade Omnisport Paul Biya, Olembe in Yaounde on January 9.
The fixture will open the 33rd edition of the biennial African competition organised by Caf that was originally scheduled to be played in June and July 2021, but Caf announced due to unfavourable climatic conditions during the period, the tournament would take place from January 9 to February 6, 2021.
For the first time in the history of the competition, a total of 24 teams will compete to win the trophy, and only hosts Cameroon received an automatic qualification spot, with the other 23 teams qualifying through a qualification tournament.
So, who are the contenders for the title? GOAL takes a look at the teams with a huge chance to win the title.
- Who are the favourites to win Afcon 2021?
Algeria: The defending champions will start as clear favourites to retain the title they last won in 2019 after beating Senegal 1-0 in the final staged at Cairo International Stadium in Cairo, Egypt.
The North African side have been pooled in Group E alongside Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea, and Sierra Leone, and they will kick off their campaign with a game against Sierra Leone at Japoma Stadium on January 11.
They qualified for the final after topping Group H of the qualification campaign with 14 points, and they still have a strong squad blended with experience that can easily see them successfully defend their crown.
Algeria coach Djamel Belmadi has a squad that comprises of regular captain and Manchester City player Riyad Mahrez and should they maintain their attacking style of play, they stand a good chance to win their third Afcon title in Yaounde.
Senegal: The Lions of Teranga reached the final of the last competition in 2019 and lost by a solitary goal to Algeria.
They were the favourites heading into the final and despite losing they now have a chance to make amends and go all the way to lift the title in Cameroon.
Senegal will be in Group B alongside Naby Keita’s Guinea, Malawi, and Zimbabwe and they will face the latter in their opener at Bafoussam Omnisport Stadium Kouekong on January 10.
They qualified for the final after registering an impressive 14 points, winning four matches, drawing two, and did not lose a single game in their qualifying campaign.
With players such as Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, Liverpool’s Sadio Mane in their ranks, they are strong favourites to challenge for the trophy.
Cameroon: The Indomitable Lions clinched their last Afcon title in 2017 when they secured a 2-1 win against Egypt in the final at the Stade de l’Amitie in Libreville, Gabon.
Playing at home in the 2021 competition, Cameroon have been drawn to face Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, and Ethiopia and they will open their campaign with a game against The Stallions on January 9.
Under Portuguese coach Antonio Conceicao, Cameroon stands a good chance to reach the knockout phase and go all the way to the final as they will be playing at home.
Some of their key players include Porto striker Vincent Aboubakar, China-based Christian Bassogog, Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana, Paris Saint-Germain star Eric Choupo-Moting, Angers talisman Stephane Bahoken and Dynamo Moscow star Clinton Njie.
Nigeria: The Super Eagles will head into the competition with a new manager – Augustine Eguavoen – following the recent sacking of German Gernot Rohr and he will face the herculean task of guiding the team to their fourth Afcon title.
Nigeria, who have previously won the Afcon in 1980, 1994 and 2013. The Super Eagles were losing finalists in 1984, 1988, 1990, and 2000, and they will feature in Group D alongside Egypt, Guinea-Bissau, and Sudan. The West African giants will play the Pharaohs in their opener at Roumde Adjia Stadium on January 11.
Eguavoen, having tasted victory in the tournament back in 1994 as a player and has also led the Super Eagles to the bronze medal as a manager back at the Afcon 2006. He will use the experience to lead the side to another title in Cameroon.
Some of their key players include Leicester City midfielder Wilfred Ndidi, striker Kelechi Iheanacho, Emmanuel Dennis, William Troost-Ekong, Everton’s Alex Iwobi, Brentford’s Frank Onyeka, and Napoli striker Victor Osimhen, who is an injury doubt for Afcon 2021.
- Who are Afcon 2021 outsiders?
Ghana: the Black Stars made it to the 33rd edition of the Africa competition after topping their Group C that had Sudan, South Africa, and Sao Tome Principle.
Ghana, who have won the Afcon four times (in 1963, 1965, 1978, and 1982) and finished as runner-up five times (in 1968, 1970, 1992, 2010, and 2015), amassed 13 points after managing four wins, one draw, and one defeat in Group C.
They will challenge for the trophy in Yaounde as one of the outsiders, and though they have a good squad, they have failed to stamp their authority as one of the giants in Africa in recent years as they blow hot and cold.
Morocco: The Atlas Lions qualified from Group E after finishing top with 14 points from six matches.
They managed to concede only one goal during the qualification campaign and they will face Comoros, Ghana, and Morocco in Yaounde.
With PSG’s Achraf Hakimi among the best right-backs in the world and a key player for the Atlas Lions, Morocco will most likely give teams headache with their attacking and defensive style of play.
- Who are Afcon 2021 underdogs?
Mauritania: The Island nation qualified from Group E alongside Morocco after finishing second with nine points from six matches.
With the team lined up to face Mali, Tunisia, and Gambia during the Afcon finals, they will find it difficult to get past the group stage as they luck experience to play at such a stage.