AFCON 2022: Everything to know about favorites Algeria, Senegal and the rest of Africa’s best teams

It all goes down on Sunday. The Africa Cup of Nations kicks off in Cameroon with the host nation taking on Burkina Faso. Over the next month 24 teams will go to battle to decide who is the best on the African continent. Current champions Algeria will be looking to defend their crown, and they along with Senegal are the two teams most favored to take the title.

Here are the absolute basic things to know. The tournament is being hosted in Cameroon. Technically it is called AFCON 2021 because it was delayed a year because of COVID. The tournament is held in January because of weather conditions. There are 24 teams in six groups of four teams each. After the group stage, the top two teams from each group and the four highest ranked third-placed teams will advance to the round of 16. For more on the players who might shine in Cameroon, make sure to check out the 15 players to watch at AFCON. Now, onto the teams.

AFCON 2021 Groups

  • Group A: Cameroon (hosts), Burkina Faso, Cape Verde Islands, Ethiopia 
  • Group B: Guinea, Malawi, Senegal, Zimbabwe 
  • Group C: Comoros Island, Gabon, Ghana, Morocco 
  • Group D: Egypt, Guinea Bissau, Nigeria, Sudan 
  • Group E: Algeria, Equatorial Guinea, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone 
  • Group F: Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, Tunisia

So here is the big breakdown, each group, all 24 teams, all the things you need to know.

Group A

Burkina Faso: The West Africans feature in their 12th Africa Cup of Nations and would love to do better than their best ever runners-up finish where they lost against Nigeria in the 2013 finals. This is a team that goes through ups and downs, they missed the 2019 edition entirely after finishing in third in 2017. Burkina Faso also held their own in the 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign, finishing only two points behind Algeria in their group. This is a side poised to challenge some more heralded nations, and get a couple of results to put a surprise deep run together.

  • AFCON appearances: 12
  • AFCON titles: 0
  • Nickname(s): Les Étalons (The Stallions)
  • Key players: Edmond Tapsoba and Bertrand Traoré

Cameroon: The hosts will be looking to show out on home soil. The five time champions would love to add a sixth championship at home. Cameroon work their socks off, they have the talent to score multiple goals and they can be extremely frustrating; just ask Ivory Coast. They are not going to the World Cup because of Cameroon.

  • AFCON appearances: 19
  • AFCON titles: 5
  • Nicknames: Les Lions Indomptables (The Indomitable Lions)
  • Key players:  André Onana, André-Frank Zambo Anguissa, Karl Toko Ekambi and Vincent Aboubakar.

Cape Verde: Another team that will be unknown to a lot of watchers but a team that can and will surprise many. They proved tough to play against in their World Cup qualifying campaign. Their only loss came against eventual group winners Nigeria. Cape Verde also took the lead in that match, losing because of a freak own goal. They are a quick, relentless team who take no prisoners.

  • AFCON appearances: 3
  • AFCON titles: 0
  • Nicknames: Tubarões Azuis (Blue Sharks), Crioulos (Creoles)
  • Key players: Ryan Mendes, Dylan Tavares, Djaniny

Ethiopia: Ethiopia is back! This is their first AFCON appearance since 2013 and while they did not particularly do well in their 2022 World Cup qualifying group, they didn’t embarrass themselves either, beating Zimbabwe and drawing against Ghana. All but two plays in squad play the Ethiopian Premier League, so not much is expected from Ethiopia but again this is AFCON, take anyone lightly at your own peril.

  • AFCON appearances: 11
  • AFCON titles: 1 
  • Nicknames: Walia Ibex
  • Key players: Shimelis Bekele, Amanuel Gebremichael

Group B

Guinea: Guinea boast some talented young midfielders in Amadou Diawara and Ilaix Moriba. They also have Naby Keïta who will keep things ticking. They face an interesting time in this group because they are talented in their own right but face Senegal and Zimbabwe who are no pushovers.

  • AFCON appearances: 13
  • AFCON titles: 0 
  • Nicknames: Syli Nationale (National Elephants)
  • Key players: Naby Keïta, Amadou Diawara and Ilaix Moriba

Malawi: These are the “minnows” of the group, not too much will be expected of Malawi in this tournament but this is football and everyone is a threat. Their team is mostly home-based players with a few playing their trade outside of the country.

  • AFCON appearances: 3
  • AFCON titles: 0 
  • Nicknames: The Flames
  • Key players: Charles Petro

Senegal:  Senegal has never won an African Cup of Nations tournament and they will be hoping that this time around things will be different. Senegal are led by former player Aliou Cissé and have a squad oozing full of talent. Going through their squad is a who’s who of talent. They have arguably the best goalkeeper in the world, one of the best center backs in the world and one of the best wide players in the world. The sky’s the limit for Senegal, can they finally put things together?

  • AFCON appearances: 16
  • AFCON titles: 0 
  • Nicknames: Les Lions de la Téranga (The Lions of Teranga)
  • Key players: Édouard Mendy, Kalidou Koulibaly, Idrissa Gueye, Ismaila Sarr, Sadio Mane

Zimbabwe: Zimbabwe did not do well at all in their World Cup qualifying group, losing four matches, drawing two. They have left some big names out of the squad, leaving Marvelous Nakamba, Marshall Munetsi, Tawanda Maswanhise at home due to injury and Khama Billiat retired from international duty. However, Zimbabwe might not even play in the tournament because of interference. The government took over their football association and FIFA has strict policies against government interference, and even at this late date, Zambia is on standby just in case FIFA decides to remove Zimbabwe from the tournament.

  • AFCON appearances: 5
  • AFCON titles: 0 
  • Nickname: The Warriors
  • Key players: Knowledge Musona, Tino Kadewere, Jordan Zemura

Group C

Comoros:  We have history! This is Comoros first major tournament since joining FIFA and they will be looking to cause havoc. They are in a tough group, facing Gabon, Morocco and Ghana but to be at AFCON is no small feat. Comoros will look to make themselves proud in their first AFCON tournament.

  • AFCON appearances: Their first appearance.
  • AFCON titles: 0 
  • Nicknames: Les Coelacantes (The Coelacanths)
  • Key players: Yacine Bourhane, El Fardou Ben Nabouhane

Gabon: Led by their captain and leading goal scorer of all time, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Gabon will be looking to ruffle feathers in this group. They held their own in their World Cup qualifying group finishing behind group winners Egypt. This is not an easy group to qualify from but things have happened in the past.

  • AFCON appearances: 8.
  • AFCON titles: 0 
  • Nicknames: Les Panthères (The Panthers), Les Brésiliens (The Brazilians)
  • Key players: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Denis Bouanga, Mario Lemina

Ghana:  Four time AFCON champion Ghana are looking to add their fifth title but they have no win since 1982. Their best finish since then was runners up in 2010 and 2015, the talent has been there throughout the years but the Black Stars have failed to reach the heights expected of them. They will be hoping that they can finally win it all this time around.

  • AFCON appearances: 23
  • AFCON titles: 4 
  • Nicknames: Black Stars
  • Key players: Gideon Mensah, Thomas Partey,Kamaldeen Suleman, Andre Ayew, Jordan Ayew

Morocco: With the amount talent that this team possesses, they have every right to be up there with the favorites to win this tournament. They have stars all over the pitch, but surprisingly have only won one AFCON, way back in 1976. Coach Vahid Halilhodžić runs a tight ship. he’s had success instituting discipline with Japan, Algeria and now with Morocco, having dropped previously dropped important players Hakim Ziyech and Noussair Mazraoui at home. A deep run is expected from the Atlas Lions but they have disappointed in recent AFCON tournaments.

  • AFCON appearances: 18
  • AFCON titles: 1 
  • Nickname: The Atlas Lions
  • Key players: Romain Saïss, Achraf Hakimi, Imran Louza, Sofyan Amrabat, Sofiane Boufal, Youssef En-Nesyri

GROUP D

Egypt: The kings of the continent, Egypt boasts seven championships and will be looking to add their eighth title. Most of their squad play at home, with some players playing overseas. They are led by one of, if not the best player in the world, Mo Salah. The captain will be leading his side. Led by the experience of Carlos Quieroz, the Pharaohs will be tactically sharp and ready to go. The question is, can the supporting cast support Mo Salah?

  • AFCON appearances: 25
  • AFCON titles: 7
  • Nicknames: The Pharaohs
  • Key players: Mo Salah, Trézéguet, Omar Marmoush

Guinea-Bissau: This is their fourth AFCON appearance and they are thrown amongst the wolves, with two tournament favorites in Egypt and Nigeria. They have already faced Sudan in World Cup qualifiers, winning 4-2 and drawing 0-0, they will hope for more success against Sudan before facing the two giants.

  • AFCON appearances: 3
  • AFCON titles: 0
  • Nicknames: Djurtus
  • Key players: Piqueti, Frédéric Mendy, Moreto Cassama

Nigeria: Nigeria are in somewhat of a golden generation, boasting one of the most potent attacking options in the world. Yes, in the entire world. Nigeria’s midfield is thin and their defense is nothing to brag about. However, goals win matches. Nigeria fired manager Gernot Rohr before the tournament, lost Victor Osimhen, Emmanuel Dennis, Leon Balogun and may miss some other players. Nigeria however still has enough talent to make up for their losses. Nigeria are one of the major favorites, will they get another “golden bronze” or finally break through and win their fourth AFCON.

  • AFCON appearances: 19
  • AFCON titles: 3
  • Nickname: Super Eagles
  • Key players: Wilfred Ndidi, Joe Aribo, Kelechi Iheanacho, Samuel Chukwueze, Chidera Ejuke.

Sudan: Not too much is known about Sudan but based on their appearances at the Arab Cup and their World Cup qualifiers showing, this group might overwhelm them. Firing their manager last month and picking up 3 points in their World Cup qualifying group, three draws and three losses, does not bode well. They already faced Guinea-Bissau, losing and drawing against them. Playing against the two giants and a team they lost to recently does not instill much confidence.

  • AFCON appearances: 9
  • AFCON titles: 1
  • Nickname: Falcons of Jediane
  • Key players: Mohamed Abdelrahman, Yasin Hamed

Group E

Algeria: The current champions are favorites to go back to back. They are solid all over the pitch and are coming fresh off winning the FIFA Arab Cup. Algeria are currently on a 34 match winning streak, and could break Italy’s record of 37 straight international wins by the time it’s all said and done. Everything is looking great for them, talent everywhere, players who know each other well, these are the tournament favorites and for good reason. 

  • AFCON appearances: 19
  • AFCON titles: 2
  • Nicknames: The Greens, The Fennec Foxes, The Desert Warriors
  • Key players: Raïs M’Bolhi, Ramy Bensebaini, Youcef Atal, Ismaël Bennacer, Saïd Benrahma, Riyad Mahrez

Equatorial Guinea:  The Central Africans caused a stir in their World Cup 2022 qualifying group, finishing two points behind winners Tunisia. They won three matches, even beating Tunisia and the talented Zambia side. They will be hoping their run of good form continues in AFCON 2021.

  • AFCON appearances: 3
  • AFCON titles: 0
  • Nicknames: Nzalang Nacional (National Thunder)
  • Key players Emilio Nsu, Carlos Akapo, Federico Bikoro

Ivory Coast: The Ivorians come into Cameroon upset. Their last competitive match was in Cameroon, losing to the host nation 1-0 and thus not qualifying for World Cup 2022. They will be looking for revenge and want to prove that they are one of the best on the continent. Ivory Coast will be doing everything they can to win the group because if they do come second, a match with other tournament favorites Senegal could be a possibility.

  • AFCON appearances: 24
  • AFCON titles: 2
  • Nicknames: Les Éléphants (The Elephants)
  • Key players: Eric Bailly, Serge Aurier, Maxwel Cornet, Franck Kessié, Ibrahim Sangaré, Wilfried Zaha, Jérémie Boga, Sébastien Haller

Sierra Leone: Sierra Leone are back, this is their first appearance since 1996. They withdrew in 1998, were disqualified because of a civil war in 2000 and in 2019, FIFA suspended them. Sierra Leone will be led by ageless wonder Kei Kamara, who after a long MLS career is still playing his trade in Finland at age 37. They have recruited well, calling up dual nationals including Steven Caulker.

  • AFCON appearances: 3
  • AFCON titles: 0
  • Nickname: Leone Keys
  • Key players: Steven Caulker, Kei Kamara

GROUP F

Gambia: Their first AFCON, ever. Gambia will be looking to make history and shake things up. They are a side many will not know much about but this is the beauty of AFCON, these teams win your heart and make deep runs. Gambia are a side to keep your eye on.

  • AFCON appearances: First appearance
  • AFCON titles: 0
  • Nickname: The Scorpions
  • Key players: Omar Colley, Ebrima Darboe, Musa Barrow

Mali: Mali are back. There was a time Mali were making huge noise on the continent, led by players such as Mahamadou Diarra, Seydou Keita, Mohamed Sissoko and Frederic Kanoute. They hosted AFCON in 2002. This is a team rich in history despite never having qualified for the World Cup. But this year things are different. They are in the third round of World Cup qualifiers and are led by a crop of talented young players. Their depth in midfield is one of the best on the continent with players such as Amadou Haidara, Diadie Samasseko, Yves Bissouma and Moussa Djenepo. If you want a sleeper pick, bet on Mali.

  • AFCON appearances: 12
  • AFCON titles: 0
  • Nickname: Les Aigles (The Eagles)
  • Key players: Molla Wague, Mamadou Fofana, Hamari Traore, Amadou Haidara, Diadie Samasseko, Yves Bissouma, Moussa Djenepo

Mauritania: Mauritania have qualified for back to back AFCON’s for the first time in their history and they will want to do better than their group stage finish in 2019 but this is a tough group for them. They will be looking for their experienced players to lead the way and hope for a shock or two in their matches.

  • AFCON appearances: 2
  • AFCON titles: 0
  • Nickname: Al-Murabitu (Lions of Chinguetti)
  • Key players: Abdallahi Mahmoud, Aboubakar Kamara

Tunisia: Tunisia are on the rise. They come into this tournament with some exciting players and will be looking to make another deep run. Their strength lies in their experienced defenders and they have creative sparks in their midfield. They finished 4th in AFCON 2019, with a team who knows each other well and  they are coming off a FIFA Arab Cup loss and will be spurred on by that.

  • AFCON appearances: 20
  • AFCON titles: 1
  • Nickname: Aigles de Carthage (Eagles of Carthage)
  • Key players: Dylan Bronn, Ali Maâloul, Ellyes Skhiri, Hannibal Mejbri, Wahbi Khazri, Youssef Msakni

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