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All for one
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 20 - 06 - 2019

The Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) is one of the most exciting tournaments in football. The competition is held every two years and in 2019 it will be the 32nd edition, taking place in Egypt. The competition used to be held in January-February. In July 2017 the Confederation of African Football (CAF) decided to change the time to June-July so that the players do not miss club commitments. So, the 2019 edition will start 21 June and end 19 July. Moreover, this will be the first time that 24 teams participate in the tournament instead of 16. The winner gets to play in the FIFA Confederations Cup.
Six groups of four teams each will participate in four cities and six venues.
Group A: Egypt, DR Congo, Uganda, Zimbabwe
Group B: Nigeria, Guinea, Madagascar, Burundi
Group C: Senegal, Algeria, Kenya, Tanzania
Group D: Morocco, Côte d'Ivoire, South Africa, Namibia
Group E: Tunisia, Mali, Mauritania, Angola
Group F: Cameroon, Ghana, Benin, Guinea-Bissau
Cairo Stadium will host all the Egyptian national team matches while Alexandria Stadium will host Group B matches. Group C and D will take place in Al-Salam and 30 June stadiums. Group E and F will be played at Suez and Ismailia stadiums.
There are three nations making their Africa Cup of Nations debut: Madagascar and Burundi in Group B, and Mauritania which joins Tunisia, Mali and Angola in Group E.
The top two teams in each group will progress to the second round along with the four best third-placed teams.
Group A where Egypt is placed is considered the easiest group in the tournament. Egypt, the tournament record winner with seven titles, is set to have an easy path to the 16th round of the competition. Egypt will face Zimbabwe, DR Congo and Uganda, respectively.
Egypt is considered the favourite of the competition. However, it might face a tough opponent in the next round of the tournament. Finishing first in the group stage will probably lead to a game between Egypt and South Africa in the 16th round.
According to Egypt's last two friendly matches against Tanzania and Guinea, it is obvious that Egypt's coach Javier Aguirre is mostly certain about his lineup for the opening game of the tournament against Zimbabwe.
Most likely the Egyptian team will line up with Mohamed Al-Shennawi, Ahmed Hegazi, Baher Al-Mohamadi, Ahmed Al-Mohamadi, Ayman Ashraf, Tarek Hamed, Mohamed Al-Nenni, Trezeguet, Abdallah Al-Said, Mohamed Salah and Marwan Mohsen.
Most football analysts predict that DR Congo will come second in the group. Congo's winger Yannick Bolasie and striker Cedric Bakambu will boost the team's chances of qualifying for the second round, however, Uganda won't make it easy for The Leopards.
In Group B, Guinea, Madagascar and Burundi will fight for the second spot in the group with a slight advantage for Guinea, while it is believed that Nigeria will finish as the group leader.
Gernot Rohr, the Super Eagles head coach, has already named veteran John Obi Mikel as the team's captain which makes him the most important player on the team. Also, Rohr will definitely rely on Ahmed Musa, Alex Iwobi and Odion Igahlo in the offence.
Group C is one of the toughest groups in the tournament where we'll witness an early final game in the group stage between Senegal and Algeria.
A lot of former football players and coaches predict that Senegal is a strong contender to win the competition in Egypt.
Senegal had a good run in the 2018 World Cup in Russia, collecting four points from a win, loss and a draw. Senegal's squad for the African competition seem to be the strongest of all the teams.
The Lions of Teranga will try and bring the African trophy to Dakar for the first time in their history.
Senegalese head coach Aliou Cissé certainly will count on Kalidou Kolibaky Napoli's centre back, Liverpool's winger Sadio Mane and Inter Milan's forward Keita Balde.
Although Senegal is the strongest participant in the group by all accounts, Algeria has a good chance to qualify for the second round. The Desert Warriors' head coach Djamel Belmadi called up all the Algerian superstars who play in Europe. No doubt Belmadi will bet on the English Premier League winner and Manchester City star Riyad Mahrez to be his key player for Algeria. Also, Baghdad Bounedjah and Islam Suleimani will have big roles in the tournament.
Presumably, Group D is the “Group of Death”. It is believed that three teams may qualify to the next stage from this group.
Most probably, Morocco and Côte d'Ivoire will qualify for the 16th round as winner and runner-up, while South Africa will fight for a place among the best third teams of the tournament.
There is a chance for history to be made as Morocco coach Herve Renard attempts to become the first winner of the trophy with three countries after he sealed tournaments with Zambia and Côte d'Ivoire.
Renard has got his team to play impressive football but they always come up short in these competitions. The French coach will bank on Ajax superstar Hakim Ziyach who scored two goals against Zambia in the last friendly for Morocco. The Atlas Lions lost their last two friendly games against Gambia and Zambia, 1-0 and 3-2 respectively.
Côte d'Ivoire has a fine track record in the Africa Cup of Nations and has some top players, notably Wilfried Zaha, Serge Aurier, Franck Kissie and Wilfried Ebony.
In Group E, Tunisia is the favourite to finish as group leader despite Alain Giresse's strange decision to drop Ahly's left back Ali Maloul. Tunisia won this tournament once before in 2004 and finished twice as runner-up.
Mali could come second in the group, with much to be expected from Porto's forward Moussa Marega.
The title holder Cameroon will play in Group F. It is the favourite to top this group as it notably has young talents along with some veteran players.
Ghana is also lucky to have top players like Atletico Madrid midfielder Thomas Partey, Empoli's centre midfielder Acquah and Newcastle United forward Christian Atsu.

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