The 2021 African Cup of Nations will finally get underway early next year after being postponed twice due to the global pandemic’s effects.
The men’s football tournament will once again decide who is the best team from the African continent. As reported by the BBC, Algeria beat Senegal in the last final, and look to be the first team to retain their crown since Egypt won three consecutive titles between 2006 and 2010.
Not only will it be good to see the return of the competitions, but it will also be great to see fans back in the stadiums watching the games too. Since the last tournament was played, the qualifiers took place behind closed doors due to the ongoing effects of Covid-19. This year’s African Cup of Nations begins on January 9, with a Bwin Sports piece on the event confirming it will be held in Cameroon. It will be only the second time the competition has been hosted in the central African country. The last time the African Cup of Nations was played on the Gulf of Guinea was back in 1972, which saw the hosts finish in third place after losing to the eventual winners, Congo, in the semi-finals.
Cameroon kicks things off against Burkina Faso in Yaoundé at the brand-new 60,000 capacity Olembe Stadium looking to add to their previous 5 African Cup of Nations titles. But it’s Egypt who are the favourites to lift aloft the winner’s trophy going into the tournament. This is primarily due to the form of their world star, Mohamed Salah, who has lit up the Premier League yet again with his club, Liverpool. Arsenal fans may also see Mohamed Elneny feature for The Pharaohs, as he has recently returned to the Gunners starting lineup.
Current holders, Algeria will be dangerous and have a host of quality players in their squad. It’s expected that Riyad Mahrez will again lead their charge in the tournament and provide the ammunition for their top scorer Islam Slimani. The 33-year-old is a regular in the Lyon side after joining them following a disappointing spell with Leicester City and will be hoping to add to his tally of international goals, which stands at the time of writing at 38.
This year, many people’s second favourites in the African Cup of Nations are Senegal, aiming for their first African title. Sadio Mane, Edouard Mendy, Idrissa Gueye, and Kalidou Koulibaly are just some familiar names in the contention to feature in manager Aliou Cissé’s squad, highlighting why they are amongst those tipped for victory.
Finally, Ghana are also one to watch; they have featured in the final three times since their last win at the tournament back in 1982. But a lot will depend on the play of Thomas Partey, the determined Arsenal midfielder is a lynchpin for the Ghanaians, and it’s often down to him to drive the team forward. Upfront, the Ayew brothers, Andre and Jordan, are also still dangerous, but it’s their exciting 19-year-old left winger, Kamaldeen Sulemana, who could be the surprise player of the tournament.
Although the Premier League could lose around 40 players in early 2022 to the competition, the EPL’s loss is undoubtedly Africa’s gain, and this tournament could well be one to remember.