The Africa Cup of Nations 2017 rocket is fizzing on its launch pad, ready to blast off. Here are four firm AFCON favorites looking for glory in Gabon
Post World Cup 2014 – where the North African side was knocked out by Germany after giving the eventual winners their toughest game of the tournament – Algeria were recognized as Africa’s best representative. El Khadra might have only reached the round of 16, but the way of playing in the group stages and the heroic performance versus Germany had won the hearts of many.
The following year, Algeria had the chance to get a trophy on the board with AFCON 2015. However, just like in the World Cup, the North-Africans were knocked out by the eventual champions, Ivory Coast.
To boost the claim of Algeria being the continent’s best team, the side managed by George Leekens needs some silverware to prove it. And with the African Footballer of the Year and Leicester City playmaker, Riyad Mahrez, in their ranks, complemented by key players for European clubs like Yacine Brahimi and Islam Slimani, Algeria will feel this year is their chance to snatch their second-ever AFCON title.
Gabon isn’t a football nation that strikes everybody’s imagination as a big hitter. One player that does ring a loud bell, though, is captain and star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The 27-year-old has developed into one of Europe’s most-feared No9’s after moving from Saint-Étienne to Borussia Dortmund in the summer of 2013.
At AFCON, and in front of a home crowd, Aubemayang is expected to deliver and grab his country’s first-ever title. Next to their talisman, The Panthers also have two midfielders earning their money in two of Europe’s finest leagues in Didier N’Dong (Sunderland) and Mario Lemina (Juventus). Former Spain manager, José Antonio Camacho, will aim for the latter two to bring stability to the team in order to play the ‘Aubameyang-card’.
Gabon’s squad might not match the quality of other contenders, but playing on home soil and having Aubameyang up front surely makes them strong contenders.
When Ivory Coast won the Africa Cup of Nations in 2015, relief was the emotion that dominated among the people of the West-African nation after ending a drought of 13-years without a title. Now, two years later, it’s a feeling of hunger for another AFCON that dictates.
If Les Éléphants were to win the tournament it wouldn’t be quite the same group of players lifting the trophy, though. The squad differs on 15 places to the one that took the field in the AFCON 2015. A notable shift, but a logical one as most players in that squad were aging. Three additions that really take the eye are talented Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha, Manchester United’s rock at the back Eric Bailly, and creative Nice midfielder Jean Michael Seri.
With the current squad, French Ivory Coast manager Michel Dussuyer knows any result apart from winning the tournament will see him suffering the sack.
— Wilfried Zaha (@wilfriedzaha) January 11, 2017
On paper, Senegal are always up there with Africa’s finest footballing nations but for some reason, it never really works out. In 12 AFCON appearances, Les Lions de la Teranga managed to get to the final once in 2002. Since then Senegal have been very disappointing, failing to impress in both the Africa Cup and even failing to qualify for the World Cup.
The tide might be turning, however, as the side managed by Aliou Cissé have some real world beaters among them with Sadio Mané (Liverpool) as the star man. Next to Mané’s attacking talents, Senegal also possess a strong, powerful midfield featuring Everton’s Idrissa Gueye and West Ham’s Cheikhou Kouyaté. In fact, almost every position gets covered by good quality footballers playing in Europe.
All the ingredients are there just like many occasions in the past. Whether it will work out this time will be answered in a months’ time. The pressure is on.