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2019 AFCON: The journey to Egypt

The line-up of 24 participating teams at Total 2019 Africa Cup of Nations which is the 32nd edition is complete. The list includes seasoned campaigners – the usual big guns and some minnows who have upped their game. Host Egypt, defending champions Cameroon, Senegal, Algeria, Ivory Coast, Morocco, Tunisia, Ghana and Nigeria are some of the big guns for this year’s AFCON – the winner of this tournament is likely to emerge from this group. Madagascar, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Mauritania, Guinea-Bissau, Namibia, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania are some of the minnows that will be competing with the objective of causing an upset in the tournament. The final group includes Mali, Benin, Congo DR, Angola, South Africa and Guinea.

How did the big guns fare during the qualifying series?

West Africa giants – Senegal breezed through Group A; their group looked easy on paper but the Terranga Lions ensured there was no room for complacency by finishing the group with 16 points. It was a bit tighter in Group B between Morocco and Cameroon; due credit to the Indomitable Lions who roared back after being stripped of hosting rights to finish same point with Morocco. Clarence Seedorf managed his team well during the qualifiers; they lost once, drew twice and won three matches. The Atlas Lions of Morocco edged them on better head-to-head.

The Desert Foxes outfoxed the Squirrels from West Africa to win Group D. The race for qualification was quite straightforward between Algeria and Benin with both securing the group tickets. After missing out on the last two editions, the Super Eagles will be soaring to the land of the Pharaohs. Nigeria had a false start but won Group E with South Africa finishing a close second.

Ghana and Kenya made it out of Group F; the Black Stars managed the group well with margins for error very slim following Sierra Leone’s disqualification which left the remaining three teams with four games to play to book their ticket. Kenya’s neighbor – Ethiopia didn’t offer much; they were the whipping boys conceding 10 goals and managing just a single point. Ivory Coast booked their place in Group H as runners up behind Guinea. The Syli Nationale finished the group qualifying games with no defeat and was a point better than the Elephants of Ivory Coast. Guinea might be one of the dark horses for this tournament.

Tunisia and Egypt finished as winner and runner up in Group J. The Carthage Eagles lost once during the Round Robin group qualifiers to Egypt in Alexandria last November in a keenly contested game.  Alain Giresse team looked very enterprising during the qualifiers winning away at Eswatini and Niger but will be aware that tougher opponents would test their resolve in Egypt. The Pharaohs kept their focus throughout the qualifying series to secure a ticket from the group though they have earned their place as host. Javier Aguirre is likely to be under pressure to win the AFCON title and extend their record as the most successful team.

It has been interesting race for the minnows. Madagascar finished as runners up behind Senegal in Group A. The Barea will be making their AFCON debut in Egypt. Burundi booked their place in AFCON ahead of Gabon; they didn’t lose in the qualifiers, earning four draws and two victories. The Harambee Stars led by Sébastien Migné will be back against the best in Africa after 15 year absence in this competition. The Lions of Chinguetti – Mauritania booked their maiden AFCON ticket ahead of 2013 runners up – Burkina Faso in Group I. Guinea-Bissau and Namibia picked Group K tickets in a very tight group with 2012 AFCON winners – Zambia finishing bottom of the group. The difference between group winner Guinea-Bissau and bottom team Zambia is two points while Namibia edged Mozambique on better head-to-head. Group L might be tagged group of minnows but The Cranes were outstanding, they ensured their second participation in a row in the continent’s biggest football fiesta. The Taifa Stars of Tanzania led by Emmanuel Amuneke will be making their second AFCON appearance after 39 years.

The draw for the tournament will take place at Sphinx and the Pyramids, near Cairo, on 12 April 2019.

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