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Who Can Stop Algeria? Top Five Favorites to Win AFCON 2021
09/01/2022 08:03:28

The biennial Africa Cup of Nations tournament kicks off in less than 24 hours and it is ample time to discuss the major contenders for the continental crown come February 6.


The Cult of Calcio will give a special focus on Africa’s biggest football showpiece, with a keen focus on players plying their trade in the Serie A. As the countdown to the start of the tournament draws nearer, we take a look at the sides that could possibly lift the trophy.


Algeria are much expected to defend the title which they won in Egypt 2019 given their imperious form and the lack of a standout contender. However, that plays into the hands of the underdogs. There are several nations capable of delivering a remarkable campaign and stealing the limelight.


Hence, we will bring you a selection of the most likely candidates to take the glory in Cameroon 2021.


Algeria


Who better to start from than the formidable Algerians?


The 2019 winners emphatically dispatched of Ghana 3-0 in their pre-tournament warmup game to continue their magnificent 40-game unbeaten run, stretching back to 2018. The two-time African champions won the 2021 Arab Cup to underline their superiority.


It was perhaps an early warning to other top contenders in Africa.


Algeria meet Equatorial Guinea, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast in Group E, where they are expected to progress and remain clear favorites to win back-to-back titles. However, the last five African champions failed to defend their title as none advanced beyond the last 16. Regardless, the Desert Foxes are well-placed to clear all doubts.


Algeria will depend on the efforts of inspirational captain Riyad Mahrez, record goalscorer Islam Slimani, Ismael Bennacer, Said Benrahma and Sofiane Feghouli. This team will take something difficult to beat in every department of the pitch.


Their incredible unbeaten run is a record for an African nation and Djamel Belmadi has kept faith in the 2019 winning team. Nine of those who started in the Final victory over Senegal have been called up to Cameroon 2021.


Morocco


Morocco are coached by the veteran Vahid Halilhodžić and will be upbeat about their chances of ending their 46-year wait for a second continental crown.


The squad has slowly developed down the years and might be about to hit their peak form in AFCON 2022. The Atlas Lions are backed to go all the way, having been unbeaten in 90 minutes since 2019. This is the perfect time to stave off their underachiever tag on the big stage.


Morocco boast the enviable talents of Achraf Hakimi, Romain Saiss, Ryan Mmaee and Munir El Haddadi and are good value to go deep in the competition. Despite the exclusion of Hakim Ziyech and Noussair Mazraoui due to disciplinary reasons, they are in imperious form after conceding only once in six qualifying matches.


The second-ranked side in Africa boast a great deal of potential and just might shock Africa in the manner in which neighbours Algeria did in 2019.


Nigeria


A bit of an unpopular pick, but the Super Eagles are rarely far from the top sides in Africa.


The Nigeria team has been ravaged by several distractions. It goes from the sacking of head coach Gernot Rohr as well as the untimely withdrawals of Victor Osimhen, Emmanuel Dennis, Odion Ighalo, Leon Balogun and Shehu Abdullahi due to covid, injuries, and administrative mishaps at club level.


Nevertheless, no national team has been involved in more top three AFCON finishes than the Super Eagles. They will be handled by 1994 AFCON winner, Augustine Eguavoen. The West African side are equally stacked with talents such as Wilfred Ndidi, Kelechi Iheanacho, Samuel Chukwueze, Joe Aribo, Ola Aina and Chidera Ejuke.


Nigeria face Egypt on opening day and the competitive atmosphere could well jolt them into life, given the tough circumstances surrounding their AFCON preparations. A top-three finish is very realistic and even improving on their 2019 bronze medal is not beyond this yet talented side.


Senegal


Having finished as runners-up in 2019, Senegal will fancy the chances of cementing their legacy with one final step in 2022.


The Lions of Teranga qualified for AFCON with an unbeaten record and Aliou Cisse will once again call on the country’s golden generation. They boast world-class performers like Sadio Mane, Idrissa Gueye, Kalidou Koulibaly and Edouard Mendy in their ranks.


The West Africans are well backed to deliver the region from a North African era of domination and you can’t put a triumphant campaign past them.


At this point, the Senegalese appear to be Algeria’s nearest challengers on paper and they will be keen to prove one better in Cameroon.


Egypt


Ruling out the record African champions is a fool’s errand.


Carlos Queiroz’s men are in search of a record-extending eighth AFCON title. Their chances are boosted by the quality of two-time African Player of the Year and arguably the best player in the entire world at the moment, Mohamed Salah.


The Pharaohs built their unprecedented AFCON legacy on a united team effort but the Liverpool star’s talismanic goal scoring ability must be harnessed to lead them to yet another African triumph. Elsewhere, Egypt will depend on their core of Al Ahly players who have become serial winners at club level in Africa.


That togetherness and familiarity present in the Egypt side could be enough to see them over the line. The magic dust from Saah’s left foot will be there for trademark reassurance.

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