A week ago, CAF celebrated 25 years of awarding Africa’s best footballers on the night Leicester City’s Riyad Mahrez became the African Player of the Year, beating Pierre Aubameyang and Sadio Mane in the process. That was a nice precursor to the rivalry among the three stars, whose countries will seek to win the ultimate team prize in African football from January 14 when the African Cup [AFCON] rolls into town.
The competition itself coincides with CAF’s 60th anniversary and with 16 teams contesting the trophy in Gabon, here is AFCON 2017 Betting Preview.
The hosts have not had real, top-level opposition in more than two years, but this group is not tough enough to stop their progression to the next stage. With firepower from the effervescent Aubameyang, Juve’s Mario Lemina and Malick Evouna (Tianjin Teda, China), who has spent time in the last few years terrorizing local African defenses in the continent’s club competitions, they would not have it easy. But they will do enough to ensure progress.
Like the hosts, this team has failed to actively pursue new talents since their last good outing in 2013 when they reached the final. A strike force led by a slothful Aristide Bance and rusty Jonathan Pitroipa won’t strike fear into many, but a tricky air hovers around the team, particularly with exciting talents like Charles Kabore and Alain Traore (look out for that left foot).
Eight players, expected to play key roles for the Indomitable Lions at the competition, turned down their nation. However, none of them – with the exception of Liverpool’s Joel Matip – can be classified as game changers, meaning the 23 heading to Gabon are not missing much. So much that 24-year old striker Vincent Aboubakar is likely to carry the goal hopes while Nicolas ‘the next Rigobert Song’ Nkoulou, 26, is expected to lead the team, which is nowhere close to the criminally talented squads of only 8 – 10 years ago. New coach Hugo Broos doesn’t have much going for him regarding squad depth or team unity.
Just making the tournament is a victory for Guinea-Bissau. The squad is mainly consists of Portuguese lower league players who have very little experience at this level
Guinea-Bissau are easily the most ill-prepared side in the tournament, expect them to crash out early.
This team is loaded with individual skill, but Algeria will face a group where the decider is likely to come from the benches. The Desert Foxes’ boss, Georges Leekens is also banking on discipline and teamwork to get his side far. They will almost certainly advance from the group but a difficult 2016 due to internal team politics and unfamiliar fan apathy means the team need to work double, plus no one can be sure what way this coach (who was appointed after qualification was sealed) will set his side up like. Algeria have been weak defensively of late, expect this trend to continue.
A team built on its defensive solidity (the Carthage Eagles conceded just once in 2016) they will hope that steel will keep them going in Gabon. But peek into their attack and witness the sheer firepower on offer. This combo makes them instant favorites. But history will urge caution, for we’ve been here before. Two years ago they blazed through the group stages, only to crash out against hosts Equatorial Guinea under bizarre circumstances. If they can get goals, they will advance deep into the Tournament.
Talented, but indisciplined. That’s our analysis of Senegalese teams in the last decade. This time, Aliou Cisse – one of just four African coaches at this tournament – is banking on sound grounding to be the cornerstone of these Teranga Lions. Goals should not be a problem, but the team’s mentality at key moments – when a goal down, or in case of bizarre refereeing – may define their campaign. With a defence marshaled by Kara Mbodj, midfield led by captain Cheikhou Kouyate and attack spearheaded by Mane, what could go wrong for Senegal?
If there ever was an underdog, these chaps would be it. Chaotic preparation continues to dog the team as they haggle for decent pay instead of friendlies and fine tuning, the FA owes former coaches and others close to $ 5 million. But, somehow, the Warriors have lost just one in their last eleven competitive games. And they do have game-changers in there – nominee for Best African Player based in Africa Khama Billiat as well as Knowledge Musona can score against any defenses. And if the rest of the team have their heads screwed on properly, an upset could arise. But don’t count on it.
Defending the title won’t be easy, however reaching the semi’s is not an unrealistic expectation in our opinion. With the likes of Wilfried Zaha, Serge Aurier, Franck Kessié, Salomon Kalou, and Wilfried Bony the Ivory Coast will have one of the most talented squads at AFCON 2017 They also have a very experienced AFCON Manager in Michel Dussuyer. This will be his fifth AFCON, but his first with a side actually capable of winning the tournament.
DR Congo are strange team that has the habit of impressing when least expected. This time, there is a lot of expectation after they finished semifinalists in 2015, winning five of their six AFCON qualifiers, and then scoring for fun in the recent World Cup and qualifiers. Headlines will say Yannick Bolasie will be a big miss, but there’s more in the tank upfront with Jonathan Bolingi, and Euro-based duo of Cédric Bakambu and Dieumerci Mbokani. The key will be local hero Florent Ibenge in the dugout, who has a fantastic relationship with the players. By his own admission, the team’s liability is at the back after keeping just one clean sheet in qualifying.
Led by two-time African Cup winner Herve Renard, Morocco have played with an air of superiority during qualifiers. They could afford to, considering the relatively weak opposition they’ve had. Formations have often changed, with four systems being deployed by the Frenchman already. However the middle of the park has been sturdy with Younès Belhanda, Mbark Boussouffa as well as the intelligent Karim Al Ahmadi.
We believe it’s very likely that they advance, however, the constant chopping and changing of formations may hinder their chances deeper in the tournament.
The most likely to drop out of the group, despite having Claude LeRoy at the helm as he comes in for his ninth AFCON under six different flags. Emmanuel Adebayor is in the queer position of being clubless, but don’t be fooled. He has trained intensively on every one of those days of unattachment. Whether his star power can do much is doubtful. Same names will help out – Serge Gakpe and Floyd Ayite, but it isn’t for nothing the Sparrow Hawks have won just two of 15 matches since beating Algeria in 2013.
Ghana have made at least the 1/4 finals in all of the AFCON’s since 2008. Avram Grant is again at the helm, he’s hugely unpopular among the Ghanaian people, but his team have his trust – and that could be key. They will be traveling with an almost identical team that reached the final in 2015 so the Black Stars could either be too predictable or be cohesively telepathic and hence, better. At the moment, however, they have serious problems finding the net and that could be their downfall.
The Pharoes have been out of AFCON action since 2010. Things have changed in Africa since they dominated with back-back-back titles. For one, the Pharaohs have more European-based players in their squad, making it easy for former Valencia coach Héctor Cúper to implement his very distinct counter-attacking style, utilizing the speed of Mohamed Salah, and switching qualities of Mohamed El Nenny. Despite individual issues with defenders, the side looks solid and can easily progress against this group of known opponents.
Any team that gets out of this group will likely get a tough draw, but Mali have proven to be quietly efficient in recent tournaments, making the 1/4 finals regularly this last decade. The question this time is: where will the goals come from? Usual scorers Modibo Maiga, Abdoulay Diaby (top scorer in qualifiers) both did not make the final cut. Coach Alain Giresse shocked pundits after calling the injured plagued EPL striker Bakary Sako who has had just an hour of game time this season.
Awarded Africa’s Team of the Year at the CAF awards days ago, the Cranes continue to be on a high after a good 2016. Their trump card is their meticulous coach Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic. By the time they line up against Ghana in their first group game, they’d have played six friendlies, more than many teams coming into the competition. Man to man, their players are not as nearly good as their three opponents, but Uganda have passion, and can be organized – a fact helped by the bond built over years. That said, they should be expected to go home quickly, after succumbing to either of Ghana, Egypt and/or Mali.
Our Favourite Tips
- Egypt to win Outright at 10.0 with Bwin
- Morocco to reach the Semi-Finals at 4.00 with Skybet
- Gabon to be eliminated in the Quarter Finals at 2.62 with Skybet
- Mo Salah Top Goalscorer at 15.0 (Each-way) with Bet Victor
- Egypt to reach the final at 5.5 with Skybet
If you like this article you may want to follow our man in at the tournament Gary Al-Smith