These teams have the potential to clinch the trophy in this edition.
The Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) is back with the 2021 edition. The tournament was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and it is finally set to be organized in Cameroon. The 33rd edition of the tournament is also anticipated to be the most popular edition of all time.
For the second consecutive time, 24 teams will participate in this prestigious event which will last for around a month. Numerous stars such as Mohamed Salah, Riyad Mahrez and Edouard Mendy will be participating in the tournament — all of whom are coming on the back of red hot form from their respective European clubs.
On the other hand, countries have had several reshuffles and a competitive qualifying stage, making things virtually unpredictable. Regardless, some have stood out in their performances, handling challenges and managing rosters. Considering all of it, let’s take a look at the top five favourites to win the Africa Cup of Nations 2021.
The Pharaohs are the competition’s most successful team in history, lifting the trophy seven times. This includes a three-consecutive streak between 2006-2010. Since then, however, they’ve not yet tasted success but will have eyes on them, with one of the world’s current best players in Mohamed Salah spearheading their attack.
However, there are also two other important aspects to note before getting too ahead with such predictions. Firstly, they’re drawn against Nigeria in their group. Second, a past of shocking exits in the AFCON’s recent editions, such as to South Africa in 2019’s Round of 16.
Nonetheless, watching them play would be nothing short of a spectacle, for things could go either way. So, do keep an eye on them this time around.
The host nation, Cameroon will be chasing their sixth Africa Cup of Nations title, fancying their chances on home soil and trying to replicate their 2017 success once again. Despite fewer options since then, they’ve somehow managed to pick an experienced squad. They have formed a team around impressive players from top European leagues in Ajax’s Andre Onana, Andre Zambo Anguissa and Bayern Munich’s Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting; the standout names among others.
However, it largely boils down to Choupo-Moting and Vincent Aboubakar. For, the two have 42 international goals between them (higher than everyone else combined). Nonetheless, the Indomitable Lions will kick-off their campaign against Burkina Faso on January 9, hoping to deliver at home right from the start.
Next up in the list of favourites are Morocco, who were absolutely brilliant in the qualifiers. Though not usually talked about as favourites as such, their current track record says otherwise. They have not lost in regular time since 2019, with their last defeat — vs Algeria (5-7) — coming via penalties. Alongside, they also kept 12 clean sheets in 2021; thereby portraying defensive capabilities too.
Another aspect that makes them frontrunners in the Africa Cup of Nations is talent. For instance, Paris Saint-Germain’s Achraf Hakimi, Wolves’ Romain Saiss and Barcelona’s Ez Abde’s collective form with the country’s aforementioned streak makes them a good bet to go far in the tournament. However, similar to most competing nations, whether a squad with marquee names on paper fares well during high stakes is never a given. Nonetheless, this side could turn out to be the dark horse if things go well.
Senegal will play their first fixture against Zimbabwe on January 10 under Aliou Cisse’s management. They’ve not faced any loss in their last 12 games in regular time and boast big names such as Sadio Mane, Edouard Mendy and Idrissa Gueye among others. Alongside, they finished runners-up in the previous edition, losing 0-1 to Algeria in the final.
Subsequently, The Lions of Teranga also have some of the weakest contenders in their group, such as Guinea, Malawi, and Zimbabwe — making it a brilliant opportunity for their star-studded squad to reach the semi-finals. Why only the penultimate stage? Well, it’s because of potential opponents in Egypt who also bring in immense firepower, especially with a red-hot Mohamed Salah from Liverpool.
The defending champions of the Africa Cup of Nations start the 2021 edition as the favourites yet again. Algeria have an incredibly experienced squad that helped them finish top scorers (19) in the qualifiers. Following their recent Arab Cup victory, the Desert Foxes are on an incredible 39-match unbeaten run and head to Cameroon confident of replicating such success. For them, another obvious advantage is captain Riyad Mahrez, who comes with unstoppable form from Manchester City — with six goals and four assists so far.
Apart from the 30-year-old, they also possess others such as West Ham’s Said Benrahma and AC Milan’s Ismael Bennacer. These two, along with the veteran trio of Sofiane Feghouli, Islam Slimani and Yacine Brahimi make them a daunting prospect for any of their opponents. Considering this, they’ll most certainly be expected to reach the knockout stages. If they get through from there by beating Egypt, Nigeria or Morocco, they could possibly clinch another title as well.