The 2019 Africa Cup of Nations kicks off on June 21, in the middle of summer with soaring temperatures in Egypt expected to be just one factor. Yet it is North Africa that should provide the winner with the host country in the running as well as Morocco, Tunisia and even, as an outside bet, Algeria.
This edition is the first in the tournament’s history to feature 24 teams, up from the usual 16. This means, as we saw at the Asian Cup in January, that there is little chance of the big boys exiting at the group stage. Only eight teams will be eliminated after the first stage.
All the favourites should make it through to the knockout stage and Egypt will be hard to beat. Playing on home ground will bring plenty of advantage for the team that is the most successful in Africa’s history with seven titles.
Much depends on Egypt’s talisman Mo Salah. The Liverpool star is the team’s go-to-guy for goals and inspiration and after a long season in Europe with every game a pressure one in the Premier League and Champions League. After the disaster of the 2018 World Cup, Salah fell out of love with Egypt. If he can arrive fresh then Egypt have the match-winner they need.
But Morocco are less reliant on one player, have a coach in Herve Renard who has been in place for some time and knows his players well –though has been linked with big European jobs after the tournament. With a talented squad based all over Europe, there is plenty of international experience with some youthful verve thrown in. With odds ranging from 9 to 13 to 1, then the Fennecs may well be worth a punt.
Morocco have a tough group with Ivory Coast and south Africa but this get the team sharp for the knockout stage. Tunisia are a team that can be hard to beat and should relish the knockout stage and Algeria is also talented.
Not quite North Africa but Senegal look very strong, with lots of European-based talent and a simple looking group. Ghana and the Ivory Coast will also fancy their chances. Cameroon also have motivation after being stripped of hosting rights.
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