The 33rd edition of Africa Cup of Nations is set to finally get underway in Cameroon as host of African players leave their clubs in pursuit of international glory.
Africa cup of Nations 2021 should have been played last year but was delayed for a year due to the coronavirus pandemic and wet weather concerns, but is now set to start on Sunday.
Algeria are the reigning champions having beaten Senegal 1-0 in the 2019 final in Egypt but will face a lot of adversities if they are to retain their title
WHEN IS THE AFRICA CUP OF NATIONS?
The tournament begins on Sunday January 9 with the final taking place on Sunday February 6.
WHERE IS IT BEING HELD?
This year’s edition of the Africa Cup of Nations will take place in Cameroon.
However, this wasn’t always the case as the west African nation were originally due to host the 2019 tournament before being replaced by Egypt due to delays in preparation and therefore handed the 2021 event instead.
Ivory Coast, who were originally slated for 2021 will now take on hosting duties for 2023.
This year’s final will be held at the 60,000 seater Olembe Stadium in Yaounde
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FORMAT AND TIME
For the second successive tournament, the Nations Cup will have 24 participants.
The tournament, which features 24 teams and runs from 9 January to 6 February, will see the winners and runners-up in each of the six groups, plus the best four third-placed teams, reach the knockout phase.
Games will be held at 14:00, 17:00 and 20:00 (Nigeria time) during the group stages, with the two latter kick-off times being used in the knockout stages from Sunday, 23 January.
AFCON 2022 Group Stage Fixtures
Sunday 9 January 2022
17:00 Cameron v Burkina
20:00 Ethiopia v Cape Verde
Monday 10 January 2022
14:00 Senegal v Zimbabwe
17:00 Guinea v Malawi
17:00 Morocco v Ghana
20:00 Comoros v Gabon
Tuesday 11 January 2022
14:00 Algeria v Sierra Leone
17:00 Nigeria v Egypt
20:00 Sudan v Guinea Bissau
Wednesday 12 January 2022
14:00 Tunisia v Mali
17:00 Mauritania v Gambia
20:00 Equatorial Guinea v Ivory Coast
Thursday 13 January 2022
17:00 Cameroon v Ethiopia
20:00 Cape Verde v Burkina Faso
Friday 14 January 2022
14:00 Senegal v Guinea
17:00 Malawi v Zimbabwe
17:00 Morocco v Comoros
20:00 Gabon v Ghana
Saturday 15 January 2022
17:00 Nigeria v Sudan
20:00 Guinea Bissau v Egypt
Sunday 16 January 2022
14:00 Gambia v Mali
17:00 Ivory Coast v Sierra Leone
17:00 Tunisia v Mauritania
20:00 Algeria v Equitoria Guinea
Monday 17 January 2022
17:00 Burkina Faso v Ethiopia
17:00 Cape Verde v Cameroon
Tuesday 18 January 2022
17:00 Malawi v Senegal
17:00 Zimbabwe v Guinea
20:00 Gabon v Morocco
20:00 Ghana v Comoros
Wednesday 19 January 2022
20:00 Egypt v Sudan
20:00 Guinea Bissau v Nigeria
Thursday 20 January 2022
17:00 Ivory Coast v Algeria
17:00 Sierra Leone v Equatorial Guinea
20:00 Gambia v Tunisia
20:00 Mali v Mauritania
ROUND OF 16 AFCON 2021 FIXTURES
Sunday 23 January 2022
17:00 Runner-up Group A vs Runner-up Group C (Game 1)
20:00 Winner Group D vs 3rd Group B/E/F (Game 2)
Monday 24 January 2022
17:00 Runner-up Group B vs Runner-up Group F (Game 3)
20:00 Winner Group A vs 3rd Group C/D/E (Game 4)
Tuesday 25 January 2022
17:00 Winner Group B vs 3rd Group A/C/D (Game 5)
20:00 Winner Group C vs 3rd Group A/B/F (Game 6)
Wednesday 26 January 2022
17:00 Winner Group E vs Runner-up Group D (Game 7)
20:00 Winner Group F vs Runner-up Group E (Game 8)
AFCON 2021 quarter-final fixtures
Saturday 29 January 2022
17:00 Round-of-16 game 4 winner vs Round-of-16 game 3 winner
20:00 Round-of-16 game 1 winner vs Round-of-16 game 2 winner
Sunday 30 January 2022
17:00 Round-of-16 game 7 winner vs Round-of-16 game 6 winner
20:00 Round-of-16 game 5 winner vs Round-of-16 game 8 winner
AFCON 2021 semi-final fixtures
Wednesday 2 February 2022 Semi-final 1
20:00 Quarter-final 1 winner vs Quarter-final 4 winner
Thursday February 3 Semi-final 2
20:00 Quarter-final 2 winner vs Quarter-final 3 winner,
AFCON 2021 third-place match
Sunday 6 February 2022
Semi-final 1 loser vs Semi-final 2 loser
AFCON 2021 final
Sunday February 6
Semi-final 1 winner vs Semi-final 2 winner
GROUP PREVIEW & ANALYSIS
Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cameroon, Ethiopia
The 2017 African champions Cameroon begin their campaign on home soil against Burkina Faso in a Group A which also includes fallen giants Ethiopia-making a rare appearance on the big stage ; Cape Verde – who have shown they are capable of hanging with the best teams and Burkina Faso-the 2013 AFCON finalist.
Although perhaps not the powerhouse of years gone by, the likes of Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana, Napoli’s on-loan Fulham midfielder Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, Bayern Munich striker Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Al-Nassr striker Vincent Aboubakar-the man who scored the winning goal in 2017 are the standout names in an indomitable Lions team determined to impress in front of their own supporters.
They kick off their campaign against 2013 finalist Burkina Faso who narrowly missed out on a chance to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar despite pushing Algeria all their way in their group.
Aston Villa’s Bertrand Traore and Standard Liege striker Abdoul Tapsoba will be the key men for the surprise 2013 finalists.
Cape Verde have made great strides in African football over the past decade having reached the quarter finals in their first appearance in 2013 followed by a narrow group stage exit two years later.
Although they missed the last two editions of the tournament, they head to Cameroon with confidence off the back of a strong World Cup qualifying campaign that saw them only miss out on a playoff place to Nigeria by a two points following a draw between the two sides in the decisive group game.
Ethiopia, The second lowest-ranked team in the tournament, will look to punch above it’s weight yet again by surprising the expectation of many.
Despite being one of the founder members of CAF and as well as lifting the trophy in 1962, Ethiopia have struggled on the football pitch for decades with this year set to be just their second tournament appearance for 40 years.
Finishing bottom of Group A seems probable but you can’t write the Eutopian out – “Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God”
Senegal, Zimbabwe, Guinea, Malawi
Nothing is ever certain, but the stage looks set for Allou Cisse’s Senegal team to win their first ever Afcon. No other squad in this competition has such high-level depth.
Since the heart-breaking 2019 final defeat against Algeria, The Lions of Teranga have been in formidable form, having qualified for the tournament with an unbeaten record.
Spearheading their attack is Liverpool star Sadio Mane, who, despite a poor recent run of form, found himself back on the scoresheet against Chelsea in his final game before linking up with the team.
The squad also includes Paris Saint-Germain’s Idrissa Gueye, Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly and Chelsea keeper Edouard Mendy making up a spine that would rival some of the best teams in the world let alone Africa.
A favourable group draw will also help their cause with first opponents Zimbabwe coming into the tournament in a state of disarray having failed to win a single game since last March when they beat Botswana to qualify to the tournament.
Group stage is Zimbabwe best performance in recent years having participated in the competition four times (2004, 2006, 2017, 2019). Fifth time lucky to get past the group stage? They have a chance if they can beat Malawi and finish in third.
Guinea captain Naby Keita will hope to at least match their second round appearance of 2019.
Things might not have gone swimmingly at Liverpool, but Naby Keita is still Guinea’s biggest star and with former Barcelona wonderkid Ilaix Moriba, Guinea will hope to surprise a few in Cameroon.
Despite their problems, Zimbabwe and Guinea will both expect to overcome Malawi, but the minnows will fancy their chances at an unlikely shock against their group opponents with third place potentially good enough to progress.
Morocco, Ghana, Comoros, Gabon
Group C kicks off with a huge battle between two sides hoping to go far in the tournament as Morocco face Ghana in a group that also features Gabon with Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and debutants Comoros hoping not just to make up the numbers on their competition debut.
The second highest-ranked team in the tournament Morocco have underperformed at recent Afcons but anything less than a semi-final appearance may be viewed back home as a failure.
Morocco side who have not lost a game in 90 minutes since 2019 can also boast the talents of Paris Saint-Germain’s Achraf Hakimi, Sevilla striker Youssef En-Nesyri but a shock omission of Chelsea winger Hakim Ziyech over supposed disciplinary breaches is one that Morocco manager Vahid Halilhodzic will hope doesn’t come back to bite him.
They kick off in what is expected to be the first blockbuster game of the tournament when they face Ghana.
The Black Stars’ squad includes Arsenal’s Thomas Partey, Crystal Palace forward Jordan Ayew and Leicester defender Daniel Amartey as they look hunt down the trophy that has eluded them since 1982, despite a number of close calls since.
Partey will also be up against Gunners teammate Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the group stage game against Gabon.
The Panthers are very much outsiders but in Aubameyang, they possess one of the best strikers on the continent as his 29 goals so far for his country.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang may have been frozen out at Arsenal, but Aubameyang has scored almost half of the goals in this squad.
Their hopes weigh heavy on his shoulders and will at least attest for a third place and a possible last 16 place is a strong possibility.
Completing the group will be the Comoros who will feature in the tournament for the very first time.
following a qualifying campaign that included a famous 0-0 draw with record seven-time former winners Egypt.
Although one of the lowest ranked teams in the competition aren’t expected to trouble their vastly superior opponents, but Comoros who drew with the seven-time former winners Egypt in the qualifying campaign can cause a shock surprise in Cameroon.
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Nigeria, Egypt, Sudan, Guinea-Bissau
Two of the competition’s big guns have been paired together in Group D as Mohamed Salah looks to reproduce his Liverpool form on the big stage for his country, while Nigeria remain a tough prospect despite pre-tournament issues within the camp. Sudan and Guinea-Bissau are the final two teams in the group.
After failing twice to qualify for Afcon, Nigeria reached the semi-finals in 2019 and will aim to go at least one better, but the decision to sack manager Gernot Rohr just weeks before the start of the competition, and the loss of strikers Victor Osimhen, Emmanuel Dennis and Odion Ighalo may prove to be the stumbling block.
However, the squad is still packed with talent such as Leicester duo Wilfred Ndidi and Kelechi Iheanacho, as well as Villarreal forward Samuel Chukwueze, Slavia Prague forward Olayinka.
Should the team find the cohesion they desperately seek, the Super Eagles could yet soar to glory.
Egypt on the other hand, look in great shape under former Manchester United assistant boss Carlos Queiroz and will be determined to make up for the disappointing showing on home soil two years prior.
Mohamed Salah is obviously impossible to ignore as he’s the most inform striker in the world and should he continue his Liverpool form at the tournament, few will be able to stop him and his Pharaohs teammates picking up a record-extending eighth title. But is there depth to service and support Salah? Only time can tell.
Sudan and Guinea-Bissau make up the rest of the group with the former reaching the tournament by stunning South Africa 2-0 in their final group game to pip their opponents to second place behind Ghana.
Having sacked their manager last month, nobody really knows what to expect from the one-time Africa champion Sudan.
Guinea-Bissau are without a goal in their last four matches, however their most recent victory actually came against Sudan in 4-2 thriller back in September.
Algeria, Sierra Leone, Equatorial Guinea, Ivory Coast
The defending champions are in imperious form heading into the tournament and are intent on extending their record unbeaten run when they face Sierra Leone, Equatorial Guinea and even Ivory Coast in Group E.
Reigning champions Algeria are arguably the team to beat in this year’s competition and at the present moment that is far easier said than done.
Following their recent Arab Cup victory, the Desert Foxes are on an astounding 39 matches unbeaten run and head to Cameroon confident of defending their crown.
The Algerian team is composed of Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez- a name which cannot be forgotten on Nigerians lips; Ismael Bennacer who was named the Player of the Tournament when Algerian won Afcon in 2019; West Ham’s Said Benrahma and the veteran trio of Sofiane Feghouli, Islam Slimani and Bounedjah would make them a daunting prospect for any of their opponents.
Seirra Leone are up first, including the surprise inclusion for former Tottenham and Liverpool defender Steven Caulker.
While not expected to have much of an impact in Cameroon, the Leone Stars can boast a remarkable 4-4 draw with Nigeria from their qualifying campaign, having battled back from 4-0 down.
Ivory Coast is one of the dark horses to win this competition despite being ranked 56th in the world. But much will come down to the group game against Algeria – lose it and finish second and you probably face Senegal in the quarter-finals.
The Elephants squad features the likes of Manchester United defender Eric Bailly, Burnley’s Maxwell Cornet and AC Milan’s Franck Kessie among others, while also boasting a forward line of Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha, Arsenal’s Nicholas Pepe, PSV brazing winger Ibrahim Sangare and this season’s current UEFA Champions League top scorer Sebastian Haller.
Should they find the cohesion they needed. The 2015 Afcon champions could yet win the title again.
The Equatorial Guinea side is not quite so star-studded but come into the tournament on a five-match unbeaten run which includes a 1-0 victory over Tunisia in World Cup qualifying as they just missed out on top spot to the north Africans.
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Tunisia, Mali, Mauritania, Gambia
Tunisia will be looking to spring a surprise to get the better of their rivals in a group which consists of Yves Bissouma Mali, debutant Gambia and Mauritania who make their debut in Egypt 2019.
Speaking of Tunisia, the Arab Cup runners up could also be dark horses to reach the latter stages in Cameroon.
Mondher Kebaier’s well-drilled side can call on the experience of captain Wahbi Khazri, keeper Farouk Ben Mustapha and exciting Manchester United youngster Hannibal Mejbri Mejbri who won Man of the Match twice in the recent Arab Cup.
Hannibal impressed in the Arab Cup run at the end of 2021 and will be expected to carry that form into the Cup of Nations.
Their opener against Mali ought to be an intriguing encounter to show their worth as table topper.
Mali also recently stormed into the World Cup playoffs with an unbeaten record and are potentially just two games away from Qatar.
However before that, they will be looking to make impression in Cameroon with Southampton Moussa Djenepo and Brighton Yves Bissouma controlling the midfield with every movement.
Having failed to qualify previously, Mauritania make their second consecutive appearance in the tournament after competing in Egypt in 2019.
Debutant Gambia, the lowest ranked side in the tournament. Anything is a bonus, but they finished ahead of Gabon in qualifying and a win against Mauritania in their opening game – and ultimately a chance at third place – is not out of the question
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AFCON Stats (Wikipedia)
- Only Three (3) teams have won the Afcon on their debut :
South Africa (1996)
- most Afcon winners – Egypt (7)
- Most consecutive appearances:
Tunisia 15 and counting (1994–2021)
- Oldest goalscorer :
Hossam Hassan was 39 years and 174 days old when he scored for Egypt against DR Congo in a 4–1 victory on 3 February 2006.
- Youngest goalscorer :
Shiva N’Zigou was 16 years and 93 days old when he scored for Gabon against South Africa in a 1–3 defeat on 23 January 2000.
- Only Eight nations have won the tournament as hosts. They are :
Egypt (1959, 1986 and 2006)
Ghana (1963 and 1978)
South Africa (1996)
- Nigeria has placed on the podium a record fifteen times at the tournament (three gold medals, four silver medals and eight bronze medal) than any other country.
- Only three (3) teams have won the Africa Cup of Nations consecutively(two consecutive titles) or three times.
Egypt (1957, 1959) ; (2006, 2008, 2010)
Ghana (1963, 1965)
Cameroon (2000, 2002)