Wednesday, January 5, 2022

CAN 2021--Group A, B, and C Previews

Servus Syndicate Members,

Our preview journey begins with the first three of six groups. We'll cover half the field here; twelve of the 24 teams. 

As always, the various nations are listed in descending order based on the projected finish. 

We'll list the lineups, provide alternate crests, and bring dust off the old "Cool Name Alert" feature for the top three teams in each group. The group underdogs get less coverage, but will by no means be ignored. 

Your friendly bookie wishes you "Viel Spaß" on your journey.

Group A (Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Ethiopia)


Our first group contains the favored tournament hosts along with two very good national footballing programs. Burkina Faso returns to the tournament after a five-year-absence, drawn with Cameroon again just like in 2017. The opening match on Sunday pits the best two teams against one another for a 2017 group stage rematch. That one should get us off to a cracking start. 

Even though the Burkinabé's aren't much of a better overall team than Cape Verde, a favorable schedule should allow the two West African sides to easily advance in the top two places. The Portuguese islanders stand a good chance of advancing out of third. Our unfortunate doormat team here looks to be the Ethiopians, who have enough problems off the pitch to deal with as well. 

Straightforward as it may seem, there's always room for surprises at AFCON. As always, the bookie would find himself over the moon if we witnesses an East African surprise. 

 Cameroon "Les Indomitables" 

Our "Indomitables" return, finally hosting hosting the tournament they were meant to emcee back in that glorious Summer of 2019. 

Your friendly bookie very much likes the new look of these Lions, even if the return to the traditional crest does disappoint somewhat.

It's back to basics for this proud federation. The straight Lion Crest of the Clarence Seedorf/Patrick Kluivert Era had to be pitched, along with the inexperienced Dutch managerial duo themselves. 

No worries. Your friendly bookie has taken care to work in a cameo appearance for the short-lived, avant garde one down below. 

The last we saw from these syndicate favorites in tournament play came in the 2019 round-of-16. Seedorf's Indomitables were bested by Nigeria in that unforgettable five-goal shootout in Alexandria. What a classic on that day. Odion Ighalo's brace. Alex Iwobi's goal. It all just proved too much for the defending champions. 

All on the pitch, lads. Thanks for leaving it there with an amazing show! The bookie shall never forget the faces from that day. In particular,  Mainz midfielder Pierre Kunde Malong being unable to hold back the tears during his late match substitution. 

In any event, after Seedorf and Kluivert were show the door, the FA brought in Portuguese trainer Toni Conceiçao. The Lions participated in the qualifying round despite having their place assured as hosts and easily topped their group. 

Conceiçao has them atop their World Cup Qualifying group as well and they enter this competition on a four-game unbeaten run. They looked rather impressive in a 1-0 win over Cote d'Ivoire, the last match your friendly bookie had a chance to scout.

Many holdovers from the 2017 championship winning squad remain in place. Despite early COVID infections, Christian Bassogog and Michael Ngadeu-Ngadjui should exit quarantine in time to contribute. Karl Toko Ekambi, Vincent Aboubakar, Clinton N'Jie and Ambrose Onoyongo are back once again as well.

The talent corps of the ill-fated 2019 squad--André Frank Zambo Anguissa, Stéphane Bahoken, Collins Fai, and (Vicey's Bundesliga Buddies) Malong and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting also return. Some bright new talents to keep an eye on include Salzburg defender Jerome Onguéné and current Middlesbrough attacking midfielder James Lea Siliki.

Shall we witness a return to the Glory Days?

One sincerely hopes so. A short nine months after this photo was taken, the Ambazonia separatists launched their first major offensive. The conflict commonly referred to as the "Anglophone Crisis" had begun. This ongoing strife stripped "Les Indomitables" of their 2019 hosting rights and heavily influenced venue selection in this one. 

Various estimates place the number of Cameroonians displaced by the fighting at anywhere between 800,000 and 1.3 million. Take a moment to consider what the nation's football team means to those neutrals who have had to endure this unrest. Sorrow will stop for a brief moment as communities gather round to watch and cheer on their country.

That's the power of football.

 Projected Lineup (4-1-4-1) 

Conceiço's tactics haven't exactly been easy to read over the pasty few months. He's deployed a 4-3-3, a 4-4-2, and even a very weird looking 3-5-2. The bookie builds around the surplus of attacking options up front. That's easy enough as the roster reads like a Christmas wish list. 

There's a combined 70 goals for country in the five players ahead of the back-four. Another 8-10 from these guys in the group stage alone isn't an unreasonable expectation. If this squad can get off the mark quickly, they'll definitely look like the team to beat. 


We'll continue our tradition of celebrating the incontrovertible awesomeness of African names. By the way, did I not promise you that 2019 crest?

Bring it back anytime! A quick search turned up some retro kits with this crest available online, so get those Schwag pack orders in!

 Michael Ngadeu-Ngadjui 

One of our all-time favorites returns! The now 31-year-old center-halve (who once studied Civil Engineering whilst playing in the Bundesrepublik) has continued his stellar career after making the jump from Slavia Prague to KAA Gent after AFCON 2019. 

Your American s "pronunciation guide" refresher reads: 

[N-GAH-gh-DOO, N-GAH-gh-WE]. 

Francophones can substitute the "WE" for a "OUI". 

So glad my man is back. Hopefully, he retains the captain's armband.

 Jean-Charles Castelletto 

New lad this time. The Nantes center-halve has only four caps to his name....but what a goddamn magnificent name it is! This is the name of a private detective with a pencil-thin mustache who chain smokes Gauloises attached to a filter-tip. Champagne and Sartre all night long! 

 Enzo Ebosse 

Another new lad. This 22-year-old defender plays for Angers. He also pulls up in a Portfino M convertible coup to whisk your girlfriend off her feet while you're waiting for the valet to return with the Hyundai Elantra. Why? Because he's "Enzo Ebosse". That's why.

 Burkina Faso "The Stallions" 

It's your friendly bookie's beloved Burkinabé's! 

Please join him in welcoming back the Upper Voltans! Man, did we ever miss them back in 2019.

The tourney didn't exactly feel the same without these three-time semi-finalists.   

As one could foresee when scouting them ahead of the 2017 competition, the national program was on the precipice of a downturn.

Footballers like Alain Traoré, Jonathan Pitroipa, Bakary Koné, and Charles Kaboré were all well past their prime. It made for a great story when that collection of old hats improbably topped their group and then made an even more improbable run to the semis with that upset defeat of Tunisia. 

After dropping that heartbreaking penalty shootout to the Egyptians in the penultimate knockout round, Alain Traoré gave the country's Golden Generation a fabulous send-off with that crushed set-piece goal to secure victory in the third-place-match.

And so it came to pass that the "Ougadougou Crew" dropped off the map for a while. Abou Razak Traoré Aristide Bancé, and all those mentioned above are no longer with us. Naturally, your friendly bookie has to get an extra shout in for one of his favorites footballers of all time. 

Sniff. Jonathan Pitroipa of SC Freiburg and Hamburger SV retired from international football in 2019. The ever-tenacious winger plied his trade with club team Paris FC for a couple more years before hanging up the cleats for good. 

Sniff. Miss you brother. There shall never be another. Sadly, everything most fade at some point. Let's have a little scout see what we can build with the current squad.

 Projected Lineup (4-2-3-1) 

The back-four appears very solid. Note that, as a huge Edmond Tapsoba fan, the books exhibits some slight bias. Veteran Steeve Yago is a left fullback with which your guide has a great deal of familiarity with. Accordingly, I trust him at left-back. Haven't seen the young Issa Kaboré yet, but the kid has 15 caps despite being only 20 years old!

It looks like new head-coach Kamo Malou favors a 4-5-1 with a solid double-six setup ahead of his defenders. At first glance it appears like attacking prowess is lacking on the roster. One could have (in fact the bookie actually did) say the same thing about both the 2013 and 2017 squads. One still has trouble finding the right spearhead for the offense. 

I'll place the departed Alain's younger brother Bertrand (now playing for Villa) in an attacking midfield role. Mohamed Konaté appears the solid and safe pick for the initial group stage matches at the nine-position. There is this 20-year-old kid Abdoul Tapsoba from Standard Liege who has scored five goals in just seven caps. He's a little slight, however, and looks to function better as a false-nine. 

We'll thus go with the big target forward--six inches taller than Abdoul Tapsoba--flanked by some talented wingers. One senses that it might take some time for this team to click. They should still reach the knockouts easily, ideally having found something more workable through experimentation. It often goes that way with this country. 

 COOL NAME ALERT--Burkina Faso 

Special embroidered delivery for all the Ms out there. Want something like this in your Schwag Pack?

Now that, my friends, is a crest! The country's FA knows how to create a great stitch-on for those flashy green kits you'll soon fall in love with!

 Steeve Yago 

Our returning champion frequently dons the captain's armband in Burkinabé fixtures. The fullback whom you're welcome to throw extra "ezee" into on the pronunciation know has 55 caps for country. Unlike some of the other returners (Bertrand, Guira, and Dayo), his club situation has gone off the rails a bit. 

The 29-year-old remains a valuable asset to this team and should be fun to watch. Announcers also invariably have fun with the "Steeeeve" roll. Good times, good times. 

 Ismahila Ouédraogo 

Perfect combination of this country's naming techniques. One can immediately tell that this promising midfielder hails from the country's capital, where citizens sometimes bear the sign of the sub-Arrondissements. The designations rolls off the tongue: [Ü-eh-DRA-Oh-go]. Beautiful. 

 Hervé Koffi 

Perfect. The keeper from the 2017 squad returns. Back then we referred to him as "Kouako Koffi" and he was one of the real stars of the tournament. The former Lille man completed two clean sheets and let in just three tallies in five fixtures. Hope he brings his A-game again this time along with his suave name.

 Cape Verde "The Blue Sharks" 

Back for the first time since the 2015 tournament, we have the Atlantic Islanders serving as this group's pseudo-minnows.

Keep an eye out for these minnows as, once upon a time, the Blue Sharks did end up swimming with the big fish. 

They served as the Cinderellas in the 2013 tournament; the first AFCON covered in this sports book. 

Everyone recall Lucio Antunes' Sharks? The ones who hung tight to advance out of a group that also featured Angola, Morocco, and hosts South Africa?

We were so young then.

It didn't come as much of a surprise to see the Ghanians send Cinderella home immediately those nine years ago. The 2015 incarnation of this team nearly replicated the same group escape as that squad with two hard-fought draws from their first two matches. Fond memories of that collection of underdogs to. 

Alas, we must snap back to the present. Your friendly bookie has had a look at the latest sharks and feels pretty confident about tipping this crew to advance via one of the third place slots. Here's what we're looking at after a scout.

 Projected Lineup (3-5-2) 

Loads of familiar names here! Incredibly, Ryan Mendes and Julio Tavares are still around leading the attack. Marco Soares retains his place in midfield. Garry Rodriguees and the (unseen) gangly striker Djaniny remain on the team as well, as do defender Stopira and keeper Vozinha. 

Obviously, all these guys are past 30 now. In the modern game, that means far less than it used to. After the FA gave both Lucio Antunes and Rui Agunas another shot at managing this team, a native islander who goes by the moniker of "Bubista" stabilized this team a couple of years ago. 

The new mix of veterans and talented up-and-comers Kenny Rocha Santos and Jamiro Monteiro plays in a 3-5-2 with a surprising amount of pace/pop to it. How it manages this with Rocha Santos as the only player not above or just under 30 is beyond the bookie, gentlemen. Just enjoy it for what it's worth.


They have a nifty new kit crest on the deep blue, borderline purple kits of the volcanic island team. You can decide for yourself whether this contemporary shark floats your boat or reminds you of something tacky hanging up by the bathroom of Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville chain restaurant. 

Totally your call, mates. Before launching into the names, let us observe a moment of silence for the departed "Fock", "Babanco", "Carlitos", "Pecks", "Nivaldo", and the totally-not-the-one-you're thinking of "David Silva".


Yes sir, he returns. Such a wonderful name for a defender with a vampiric bite. Ianique dos Santos Tavares chose this name in honor of French legend Yannick Stopyra, much in the same way that "Elvira" sought to emulated "Vampira". 

Okay....maybe the way "Elvira" ripped off "Vampira". Doesn't matter. The name is great. For those interested, "Stopira" is still playing for the same Hungarian club he's represented since way back when.


Correct the humble bookie if he's wrong, but wasn't there some sort of horrible pop anthem by this title in the late 1990s? Nah, nah, nah, nah/nah/nah. Something to that affect? Perhaps I'm conflating. 

Oh well. Absolutely love this forward. Trabzonspor picked him up last year and he's been lighting up the Turkish first division. Another returning actor whom it's a pleasure to see back.

 Garry Rodrigues 

Correct the humble bookie if he's wrong, but isn't this the name of Adam McKay's first production company? Could have the name mixed up. In any event, the friendly connotations of this name immediately make one want to hang out with this player.

The now 31-year-old winger attacking midfielder who used to light it up for several Turkish league clubs also returns. Like McKay, he's lost a bit, but still has some halfway decent ideas whilst on the job.

 Lisandro Semedo 

Now here's a moniker that one simply can't wait to hear called. The Belgian pro-league striker needs to score at least once. Haven't been this excited since the two "Lisandro Lopezs" of Argentine fame from the late aughts. 

 Ethiopia "The Ibexes" 

We have actually covered this country before in the syndicate pages. 

The last time the "Walias" made it to the finals of the continental showpiece came in 2013. That team, as predicted, finished dead last in their group. 

The bookie nevertheless faintly recalls their surprise draw against then defending AFCON Champions Zambia. The tournament, held in South Africa that year, also featured the appearance of some colorful traveling fans. 

Doubtful we'll get a chance to behold them in the stands this time, so here's a photo for whatever that's worth. A nice look at the more comforting stuff before we get to the grim reality.

How lovely.

Well, as usual, our East African representatives don't stand much of a chance. Long-time syndicate members know of the bookie's fondness for this region, along with his frank pessimism about the quality of its national teams. 

One never really knows of course. The chronicler allows himself the chance to be pleasantly surprised; and to talk about Shimelis Bekele again. For the time being, there isn't much hope for this team that featured all domestic league players, excepting Shimelis. 

Something might happen. Sigh. Maybe the Tigray ceasefire will hold too. 

Vicey’s Fearless Group Projection (Straight Up Odds for Bookie)

 1) Cameroon   

 2) Burkina Faso

 3) Cape Verde 

 4) Ethiopia


Round of 16 Odds

 Cameroon (NO BETS) 

 Burkina Faso (NO BETS)

 Cape Verde (Straight Up) 

 Ethiopia (3 to 1)


Quarterfinal Odds

 Cameroon (NO BETS) 

 Burkina Faso (NO BETS)

 Cape Verde (3 to 1) 

 Ethiopia (6 to 1)


Semifinals Odds

 Cameroon (Straight Up) 

 Burkina Faso (Straight Up)

 Cape Verde (6 to 1) 

 Ethiopia (10 to 1)

Group B (Senegal, Guinea, Zimbabwe, Malawi)


By far the weakest group in the tournament features Africa's currently top FIFA ranked country. Indeed, Cissé's Senegal are all the way up to 20th in the world! It's been ages since an African program made top twenty! Continental enthusiasts like this one jump for joy. 

Nearest challengers Guinea are a full 60 spaces below that while Zimbabwe and Malawi are over 100 spaces beneath. This means we have ourselves a true "Group of Life". The bookie nevertheless sees something of a simple shakeout. 

Despite being plagued by a chaotic managerial shift (not to mention off the pitch issues), the Guineans should still have enough talent to place second. Once again, your writer really likes Zimbabwean potential as a dark horse. Note that I got that completely wrong last time. 

The oft overlooked "Rift Valley" country of Malawi is also here to strive for the sensation. Bookie isn't tipping it, but would love to be proven wrong. 

 Senegal "The Lions of Teranga" 

The 2019 runners up return! A very special welcome to the nation that featured in the first ever match to be covered in this Sportsbook some twenty years ago.

Four years have passed since Africa's strongest overall team carried the mantle of the continent's great World Cup hope. The disappointing second-place finish in the last edition of this tournament lies very much fresh in the mind.

On paper, this remains Africa's best team. Aliou Cissé--occasionally through some brutally unsentimental squad selections--has them rolling. They've lost just two fixtures over the past 18 months and are undefeated in 11 heading into this competition. 

Of course, as is the case in AFCON perhaps more than any other continental tournament, absolutely nothing is won on paper. Moreover, you guys don't wish to hear me prattle on about how marvelous Sadio Mané, Ismaila Sarr, and Keita Baldé have been. 

You just want to see the "Cissé 2018" picture again, don't you. Very well. We'll play to the masses. Here's your damned picture from that infamous match against Poland in Moscow. Give the people what they want.

Anyone interested in the epilogue can read further. There's also another picture for you, taken on that boiling hot day in Cairo. Algerian and Senegal actually faced one another twice in the 2019 installment. Both matches proved total duds in the sweltering desert heat.

Whew. A really tough loss to swallow. Props to Cissé for consoling his lads after they dropped probably their best chance ever at continental glory. Such scenes don't quite compensation for the fact that the national team trainer should have started Krépin Diatta on that day. 

Diatta, scorer of that unforgettable goal against Tanzania and the 2019 "young player of the tournament", is one of those mercilessly left off the squad this time. Cissé has also left youngster Abdallah Sillah and Moussa Wagué behind this time. 

M'Baye Niang, Salif Sané, Youssouf Sabaly, Alfred N'Diaye, Henri Saviet, Lassine Gamma, and others have long been pitched because of form struggles. Told you this coach doesn't mess around! Cissé has even taken the skipper's armband from Cheikou Koyaté and given it to Kalidou Koulibaly. 

Unfortunately, the bookie didn't get a chance to scout this team's two pre-tournament friendlies. Both were cancelled following some early COVID scares in camp. One nevertheless retains a fairly decent idea of what Cissé has in mind. 

 Projected Lineup (4-4-2) 

It's a nifty little "false-nine" 4-4-2 that places speedsters Sadio Mané and Keita Baldé well ahead of an obviously suppressed center forward. Whereas some may label this "classic" West African football tactics, it's actually anything but. The 2-3-4 axis diamond stretches frequently to give the attack a different look about it on each individual approach. 

There exist certain tells for when Cissé wants a more traditional 4-4-2. Whenever Habib Diallo pops up in that false-nine slot, the national team manager seems a little less confident that rushes on the flank lanes will produce much. A deployment for Famara Diédhiou seems to correspond to a preference for a 4-3-1-2. If two members of Diédhiou/Diallo/Dia trio appear together, one might see a 4-3-3. 

As you can easily tell by this point, your friendly bookie rather likes watching this team. Admittedly, part  of this stems from the desire to watch FC Bayern München benchwarmer Bouna Sarr get pitch time somewhere. The poor guy got absolutely murdered on the Bundesliga level. These Lions have had their turgid affairs. I'll concede that. They might even phone it in early in this group. Watch out. 

All of that notwithstanding, a deep run in this tournament will hopefully turn a few more people on to the continent's most in-form side. One assumes that they'll serve as the great African hope again in Qatar next winter. Overall, it's worth your time to check them out early here.....even if Krepin Diatta got left off the squad again.


Since we're obviously dealing with a modern-design crest, some syndicate -Ms shall clamor for the "classic one". Right. Well. The trouble is, for those who don't recall, the "classic" one wasn't exactly classic. 

This country's FA has always been a bit ahead of the game. There is some very interesting fan art out there, which the bookie will happily purchase for those partial to it. In point of fact, there's loads of beautiful designs out there; far too many to pick a clear winner out of. 

In the interest of not stretching the bookie's entirely too long posts out into 110-page-territory, we'll go with a legit one. Know that it's also infinitely easier for the guide to buy you something mass-produced too. 

This is actually the Men's National Basketball Team Crest. A pseudo Bobcat motif for you, gentlemen? They're five-time continental champions. If that doesn't work, just send me one of the 3,849 Cameroon Lion clones you see out there and I'll make it happen 

 Moustapha Name 

Sometimes people feel like inserting the "é" accent mark. Sometimes they don't. Look. We international sports writers aren't lazy. On the contrary, we respect that our readers remain intelligent enough to figure out when it should be implied. That's all. 

My Ms are not stupid. They know full well that the Paris FC attacking midfielder's name isn't"Name". It would be damn cool if it were, but it isn't. The bookie knows next to nothing about this player, apart from the fact that his name is enunciated "Namé [Nah-meh].

 Pape Matar Sarr 

Your friendly bookie spared you the "Traoré" count on the Burkinabé roster. Don't worry. The total mess that is Mali remains ahead. Matters are a bit more on the manageable side with the "Sarr" count this year in Senegal. 

Bouna, Ismaïla, and Pape Matar may all be projected starters, but they're distinguishable enough players. This youngest starter of Serer ethnic heritage can easily be spotted as he's a fresh-faced 19-year-old with ungodly pace. 

Ismaïla of Watford fame usually plays to the the Tottenham prospect's left, so it can be a bit confusing. Just keep in mind that Pape Matar is the younger-looking one who plays for a club in north London proper. Er...all clear?  

 Bamba Dieng 

A new face in this deep striking corps only debuted recently and has but three caps to his ultra cool name. The Marseille forward possesses one of those pan-continental titles that the bookie has always been a sucker for. 

There are "Bambas" all over Africa; from Mali to Burundi; from Guinea too Kenya. Irrespective of the linguistic grouping most of the indigenous ethnic groups belong to, the name that works so well for a striker crops up everywhere. 

"BAM"! Nice to see that this country always furnishes us with a successor to "Demba Ba". Always.

 Guinea "The National Elephants" 

These Guineans have featured in two of the four Syndicate AFCON chapters. 

That's likely not a fact you'll recall off the top of your head. 

Instead, you're probably pulling what hair is left off the top of your head off in frustrated anticipation of your friendly bookie's customary geography lecture. 

"Not again, Vicey." 

Sadly, we have to go there again. Africa's two other "Guineas" (Guinea-Bissau and Equatorial Guinea) have also qualified for this tournament. 

In the interest of making this as painless as possible, we'll just state that this is the "Big Guinea"; the one of 10-12 million population. Regrettably, yes, this is also the one that just had an internationally denounced coup. 

Let's talk football. The National Elephants remain one of the continent's most historically successful footballing programs. They've attained the knockouts in six of the last seven AFCONs that they've qualified for. 

As your friendly bookie is fond of pointing out every year, this is the African powerhouse you didn't realize that you knew. Think them unfamiliar? You know Naby Keita, Ibrahima Traoré, Mady Kamara, Mohamed Yattara, Amadou Diawara, don't you?

How about that dramatic lot draw at the team hotel in 2015 when group advancement came down to the fifth tiebreaker, or the epic four goal thriller against Madagascar last time? You remember this team. All the "Guinea confusion" simply has your head all foggy. 

The current squad has been through some disarray in the lead up to the tournament. They've not yet won under new head-coach Kaba Diawara. The former Arsenal, Marseille, and PSG striker inherited some chaos after Didier Six left in October. Diawara has only been ion control for two fixtures; a draw and a loss. 

While the Word Cup Qualifying campaign is now officially over, there should be enough talent here to either grab second place or advance out of third. The bookie didn't have much trouble building something competitive.

 Projected Lineup (4-4-2) 

This actually counts as a much-improved version from 2019. Obviously, a healthy Baby Keita makes a world of difference. So too does Ibrahima Conté's new role as a central defender and a two-striker set that (even amongst the recent draws and losses) manages to find the back of the net quite often. 

One notices that the fullbacks, two anchoring defensive midfielders, and holding ten all return. The same basic structure of the team means that many of the actors can run on muscle memory. In one of the weakest of all the groups, one might as well assume that translates to six easy points. 


This crest will take you all the way back to those 2004-2008 tourneys should you care to revisit them. Three separate Francophone Africa managers got the elephants out of the group in those three competitions.

It's about time a native trainer lifts this country to its rightful place in the K.O. round. Diawara actually played for two of those three tournament squads in the aughts. Recalling what a determined player he was, bookie has zero qualms about backing him here. 

 Mikael Dyrestam 

The buccaneering right back is one of our returners. It should be another solid tournament for the 30-year-old, whom you can tell by the name is actually a Scandinavia native. Dyrestam represented Sweden in his youth before switching to his heritage country. So did the player we're about to discuss. 

 Moriba Kourouma Kourouma 

As is the case with this country in general, you think you don't know him when you really do. This is the former Spanish youth international known as Ilaix Moriba. The player switched just prior to the pandemic onset and hasn't even been capped yet for his native country. 

Looking forward to seeing him play? So are Bundesliga fans. He switched to RB Leipzig this autumn and has played something like a total of 11 minutes. The €20 million man no one seems to have seen. Perhaps we'll get a look here finally. 

 Zimbabwe "The Warriors" 

The Zanus are back for their third consecutive AFCON. 

This country still seeking their first win ever recorded in Syndicate pages after crashing out without a victory in 2017 and 2019. We could see one here as the bookie is once again prepared to label them "underrated". 

This year's team got out of a tough qualifying group that featured very good Zambian and Botswanan sides. COSAFA World Cup qualifying has been (as usual) and absolute shitshow, but the team has some solid veteran stability and a familiar coach. 

Norman Mapeza is back for his (no joke) fifth stint back in charge of the program. He's kept the team in quite a few WMQ matches with a 4-5-1 shell set-up that possesses some promise on the counter. The current roster reminds one a bit of the 2017 team.

Those warriors did score four goals despite their group stage elimination.  

We might receive something to cheer about here. Knowledge Musona and Kudakwashe Mahachi remain quality attackers with plenty of experience abroad. 

Other internationally experienced players like Jordan Zemura, Kundai Benyu, Tino Kadewere, and Admiral Muskwe now find their way into a squad that once only featured domestic league players. 

Teenage Hadebe even plays in the MLS now! Isn't that cool? Let's build. 

 Projected Lineup (4-5-1) 

One ends up with a sneaky 4-5-1 that packs some secret pop in the form of rearward deployed attackers. Virtually all of the team's recent matches have been either 0-0/1-1 draws or 0-1 losses. The Warriors make for a nice little sleeper pick as everything about this constellation screams "snake in the grass". 

Call it a bookie hunch. 


In some respects, the whole cool name alert feature was made for this country. Zimbabweans have the best names, making it ever more irresistible for neutrals to back them. Others root for this team based on the amount of domestic suffering we've been fed in our international news consumption.

Some -Ms may want update of the political situation in this country. Suffice to say it still sucks. Mugabe is dead, but Zanu-PF remains in power. At least there are semi-legitimate elections being held now. 

Here's a spot of good news.

It's been a decade or so since the cricket team got fully integrated. At least one of the colonial sports is no longer the purview of Rhodesian farmers. Football remains the only true game of "the people", but seeing barriers breaking down in some of the more "privileged purviews" at least makes sports enthusiasts smile.

Back to the "game of the people", we give thanks for previous Zimbabwe internationals such as "Marvelous Nakamba", "Hardlife Zvirekwi", "Talent Chawapiwa", "Elvis Chipezeze", "Terrence Dzvukamanja"  and "Knox Mutizwa".

 Kudakwashe Mahachi 

Some match reports refer to the South African League veteran simply as "Kuda". Hell with that! We can do this! Ahem: [COO-daaH-Quash-Weh]. Yeah!

 Takudzwa Chimwemwe  

Ah hell. No worries. We must be strong! [Tah-COO-dz-Wah Chim-Whem-Weh]. Done! Welcome to the Zambian league professional.

 Godknows Muriwa 

Er...yes! That's all there is to say here. The mother of this 28-year-old domestic league player obviously favored different connotations than the ones that pop up in an Anglicized mind, but we salute this name nonetheless! 

 Admiral Muskwe 

The 23-year-old former Leicester City academy player needs to lend his name to a corporate mascot. That's all there is to it. Coffee. Tea. Maybe a breakfast cereal. 

"Every morning I start my day with 'Admiral Muskwe'."

 Malawi "The Flames" 

We arrive at the bottom draw pot team that your friendly bookie can tell you next to nothing about. 

I mean, good God is it an awesome name and an even cooler crest. It's even a functional country with multiparty democracy in place for a couple of decades that many will have forgotten existed for precisely that reason.

Somehow, 19 million people are packed into this oddly shaped land of mostly mountainous terrain. The football team last popped up in AFCON 2010 and pummeled Algeria 3-0 in the first group stage game before getting routed twice themselves. 

No memory of that. Sorry. Bookie just can't conjecture in up even though he watched most of that tournament. The current team consists of absolutely no one (aside from defender Charles Petro of Moldova's Sheriff FC) that I've ever heard of. 

Here's a picture of the lads who hope to shock the world.

They may go down, down, down.....or the flames may rise up higher. 

And it burns, burns, burns.....our "flames of fire". Full of upset desire!

Thank you very much! Goodnight!

Vicey’s Fearless Group Projection (Straight Up Odds for Bookie)

 1) Senegal    

 2) Guinea 

 3) Zimbabwe 

 4) Malawi


Round of 16 Odds

 Senegal (NO BETS) 

 Guinea  (NO BETS)

 Zimbabwe (Straight Up) 

 Malawi  (3 to 1)


Quarterfinal Odds

  Senegal (NO BETS) 

  Guinea (Straight Up)

  Zimbabwe (4 to 1) 

  Malawi (8 to 1)


Semifinals Odds

  Senegal (Straight Up) 

  Guinea (3 to 1)

  Zimbabwe (6 to 1) 

  Malawi (10 to 1)

Group C (Morocco, Ghana, Gabon, Comoros)


The final group covered in this post contains the team on the hottest streak in all of African football. The Moroccans should have little to no problems topping it if they stick to their game plan. Behind them we have your friendly bookie's beloved Black Stars, whom don't appear to be back in the ascendancy just yet.

The Panthers of Gabon probably aren't the best candidates for third-place advancement as they are rife with problems. Your novelty team is Madagascar's northern neighbors. We won't be tipping them for the spectacular just yet, but be aware that much remains possible in another weak group. 

We've three familiars and one debutant to cover here. 

 Morocco "The Lions of the Atlas" 

The traditional North African powerhouse still smarts from their upset loss to Benin last time on the very first day of what was the inaugural AFCON "Round-of-16". 

Yes, you read that correctly. The "squirrels" of Benin held on to kick the mighty Atlas Lions out of the tournament. Sofiane Boufal and Youssef En-Nesyri both missed penalties in the shootout following 120 minutes of deadlock. 

Suddenly, it was "squirrel time" in Cairo.

We were all gifted this glorious memory. The bookie placed it near the top of his "Seven wonders of the African cup of Nations" piece written for a separate website. Those of us skeptical of the expansion of the tournament to 24 teams became instant converts. Up with the "squirrels"!!!

Er....Where were we? Oh right. Supposed to be talking about Morocco here. Well, might as well begin with some bad news for all the ladies out there. How did head-coach Herve Renard react to the stunning defeat?

Probably with those exact facial expressions, but that's not the point. Renard resigned after three long years at the head of this team. Guess who stepped into the breach? 

Oh my word, it's Vahid Halihodzic! The Bosnian who, even pushing 70 years of age simply won't go gentle into that good night. This guy stalks the syndicate pages. Cote d'Ivoire in the 2010 World Cup. Algeria in AFCON 2013 and again against my beloved Fatherland in the 2014 WM. 

Over to Japan for the 2015 AFC and very much still a factor in WM 2018 despite his controversial dismissal just prior to the tournament. Man, have we written a lot about this guy in these pages. For good reason too. He's a world class trainer!

With Halihodzic at the helm, the Atlas Lions are undeniably in safe hands. Halihodzic has lost all of once in 24 fixtures since taking over the program 2 1/2 years ago. These Lions typically manhandle their opponents. Here's how:

 Projected Lineup (4-3-3) 

This truly is a beast of a 4-3-3. To think that Renard used to shell this team up in a 5-4-1 back in 2018. That seems like eons ago. Ilias Chair and the (observed below) Achraf Hakimi lend the left flank incredibly explosive potential. The triplicate threat up front scores at will. The younger Mmaee brother (also observed below) finds himself in a tenacious run of form. 

Your friendly bookie has watched this constellation completely pick opponents apart. Halihodzic's Lions sit atop their World Cup qualifying group having demolished their opponents by a combined 20 to 1 scoreline. This includes outright demolitions of several teams--Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and Sudan--that they might meet in the knockout stages of this tournament. 

If there is a weakness, this Bundesliga chronicler would have to concede that he doesn't completely trust an out-of-form Aymen Barkok to run cycles on the left. That doesn't necessarily count as a big weakness, however. Sevilla teammates Youssef En-Nesyri and Munir El Haddadi don't need all that much help. 


No, gentlemen. Unfortunately we won't be seeing the rare green alternate kit this time around. It's just white and red this year. Here's a little memento for old time's sake.

Maybe at the end of the calendar year during the 2022 World Cup. Bookie confesses he isn't sure if the FAs have new plans in mind for the next major international.

 Achraf Hakimi 

The fullback who spent two years in the Bundesrepublik on an extended loan deal is blessed with a name fans of the "Aflac Duck" mascot can have instant fun with. Dust off you Gilbert Gottfried forward vocal chords and give it a try. Satisfying, no? 

Regarding the player himself, it's not exactly fair to classify Hakimi as a fullback. The 23-year-old mega talent has (more accurately) redefined that position whilst playing at four separate top European football clubs. Twenty-five goals with Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Inter Milan, and PSG!

Those of us who have seen him play generally agree that no other fullback/wingback has played the position quite like he does. Those of us watching Thomas Meunier try to fill Hakimi's shoes in Dortmund solemnly cry ourselves to sleep once a week. 

 Samy and Ryan Mmaee 

The two Mmaee brothers--recent additions to the national team during the Halihodzic era--both play for Ferencvarosi in Budapest. Ryan is the striker. He's bagged an incredible four tallies in just seven caps. Samy is the lesser-utilized central defender.

Looking very much forward to meeting these lads and learning how in the hell to pronounce their chosen surnames. Can't really make an effort to figure it out here as it would certainly constitute nothing more than an embarrassing fail. The same applies to the Hungarian club they play for. 

 Abderssamad Ezzalzouli 

Oh dear lord. Thank goodness the Barça attacking prodigy didn't survive the final cutdown. Given his potential, one supposes we'll have to learn how to pronounce his name at some point so here goes:

[Ah-Bed-Der-MAhd E-Zahl-Zou-LI]. (sobbing uncontrollably)

 Ghana "The Black Stars" 

The Gold Coast Playaz! It wouldn't be AFCON without fabulous country!

Do allow your friendly bookie to revert to his old geo-politics hound self (from a former life) for just a moment. We lost Jerry Rawlings to COVID-19 last November; one of the most tragic casualties of this pandemic.

May one of the great benevolent Africans who transferred power peacefully forever rest in peace. Keep up that awesome tradition with the ballot boxes, Ghana. We love you!

Okay. Back to the footballing Vicey. The Bookie must of course, as he does every year, plead with his American readership to let the past go. Many USMNT fans still recoil at the mention of this team following the 2006 and 2010 World Cup eliminations.

Let it go and embrace the Black Stars, gentlemen. Plenty of reasons to fall in love with them, beginning with the new kits. 

A thousand times.....YES! An FA that had no business outdoing itself went ahead and did so. This beats the living hell out of the 2014, 2015, and 2019 kits, which many agree were some of the best ever conceived. 

Can we get some modeling?

That could be you, gentlemen. Just say the word.

Regarding the footballing prospects of this year's team, it's regrettably not time to declare the country's program out of its decline just yet. One really felt the consequences of the retirement waves back in 2019 when James Kwesi Appiah's boys failed to advance to their seventh consecutive continental semi-final. 

Writing on the team those years back, your friendly bookie listed all of the legends out of the call-up pool and remarked that Ghana was entering the "Ayew Brothers" Era. If anything, that trend has intensified. Kwadwo Asamoah, John Boye, and Christian Atsu are now gone too as team trends toward a full "two man show".

Officially, Serbian trainer Milan Rajevac runs this show. The 68-year-old, like Kwesi Appiah is back for his second stint. Some scouting revealed that the two brothers essentially run the team themselves for the old, semi-comatose man. This could obviously be a positive if certain things fall into place. Somehow it doesn't seem likely.

 Projected Lineup (5-4-1) 

Starting from the back, the fullbacks are the same. There have been many rotations in central defensive, where the bookie bets on a full center-halve refreshers. The presence of Thomas Partey (still wearing the captain's armband and Mubarak Wakaso seems like a split decision on the veteran leadership from. The latter appears past his prime.

Overall, the squad seems prone to stalemate; even more so that during the Avram Grant Era. There does exist some dynamism from Kalmedeen Sulemana on the right, but this just isn't a free-flowing team. It certainly isn't a high-scoring one with all the traffic headed through the Ayew brothers.

There are some exciting up-and-comers in the program that may end up getting their chance to shine during this tournament. With the Ayews both over 30, Rajevac is free to pull the transitional rip chord at any time. The somnolent constellation and a very sleepy looking coach suggest it won't be happening.


It's never too late to start loving Ghana, gentlemen. The rich history of this country and its football call out to you. Make it your own with a four-star-crest in place since 1982.

The Black Stars offer you a colorful past. They're also reliable purveyors of the future. We get a glimpse every tournament. Check out what's in store this time. 

 Abdul Fatawu Issahaku 

One of reasons this country remains one of the best (if not the best) nations to cover whenever this tournament comes around involves the presence of youth talents from the Ghanian domestic leagues. The FA's scouting arm usually includes a couple of dreamers from the domestic club academies. 

This 17-year-old happens to play for Accra's famous "Dreams F.C." in the Ghanian Premiership. Baba Rahmen, Leonard Owusu, and Montari Kamaheni all came through this program. Okay, young man. Here we go. Just going for the last name and assuming some Hassidic influence:


 Maxwell Abbey Quaye 

Our other "young dreamer" plays for one of the other "dreamer clubs" in the greater Accra area; "Great Olympics". The 23-year-old may seem a little old for a scout, but one never knows. 

The last name [Q-I-ye] is easy enough, so we'll utilize this space to mention that there a a total of five "dreamers" on this squad from Olympic, Dreams, "Real Tamale", and "Hearts of Oak". 

Yes, the Ghanian Premiership has the coolest named clubs in all of global football. "Eleven Wonders" and the "Bibani Gold Stars" also play in this country's top division. 

Consider that for your Schwag Pack, keeping in mind that I'm absolutely not buying you a "King Faisal Babes" tricot. Fuck that. 

 Kamaldeen Sulemana 

Dreams come true for this 19-year-old product of the "Right to Dream Academy". Yes, that's also an actual name. Picked up by Danish club FC Nordsjaellnad a couple of years back, the attacker almost immediately shot his way into a big money transfer to Rennes. 

Bundesliga fans were salivating over this young gunslinger last summer as we thought he'd be making a move down South. Sulemana ultimately proved too rich for the blood of most Bundesliga clubs, ultimately smashing the Danish outgoing transfer record with his move to France. 

Damn, did we Germans ever miss out here. All the more reason why we can't wait to see him in action.

 Gabon "The Panthers" 

There doesn't appear to be a lot of love out there for the 2017 hosts, who are back after missing out on the 2019 competition.

Patrice Neveu's Panthers have just completed a most underwhelming World Cup qualifying round during which they looked completely flat, even in victory. 

If Ghana can be described as a "two-man-show", we're looking at a "one-man-act" here at the squad from "Bongo-Land". As it so happens, that crucial talisman has been dealing with a plethora of problems lately.

You all know the story. Bookie prefers not to pile on.

Still on of my personal all-time favorite players. It'll be a pleasure to watch him again this tournament. Gunners fans will have their own distinct opinions. That's all well and good. 

The current squad isn't totally devoid of other familiar faces. Levy Madinda, Bruno Ecuele Manga, Johann Obiang, and Lloyd Palun are all still playing; albeit at a noticeably slower pace. 

There are some new subjects of interest--Axel Meyé, Jim Allevinah, and Mario Lemina--as well. On balance, the roster appears a bit overmatched in this group. Tough to see them even cobbling together the four points needed for a third-place advancement.

 Projected Lineup (4-4-2) 

Had a chance to look check this team out in a pre-tournament friendly. Unsurprisingly, we're looking at a short-striker set-up. Axel Meyé feeds Aubameyang. Promising, if not entirely too predictable. The big surprise came witnessing Didier N'dong is all the way back at the CB position! 

Some desperate defensive hole-plugging never bodes particularly well. It looked pretty awful in practice too. We have a team poised to let opponents score early and often. Say hello to a potential meltdown candidate.


Yes, the classic crest is still out there for those who seek it. 

It has a nice, warm feel to it for those who wish to revisit 2015.

 Serge Junior Martinsson Ngouali 

A little Scandinavian influence to pepper the name with? Sure! Why not? Love this name. We've got Portuguese-Francophone, Swedish, and some Bantu-Kota all rolled into one. The 29-year-old is a Sweden native who once represented the Blaugults at youth level. 

All the different name influences stem from the fact that his father, despite being Gabonese, lived in different counties before ultimately emigrating to Sweden from Bangui. We human beings can truly mix it up splendidly if we try. 

 Alex Moucketou-Moussounda 

The 21-year-old is a recent debutante with the team, receiving his first call up in October. He's only recently made the jump to Europe, moving to the Cypriot club Limassol this past year. Very well, young man. Let's have a go, skipping to the hyphenated surname:

[Moo-Kit-To, Moo-SuN-Dah]. 

Hmmmm....liking that sound.

 Yannis N'Gakoutou-Yapende 

Never shy away from a challenge! You'll end up regretting it your whole life. First name and post-hyphen surname are clear enough. Let's attack that monster-in-the-middle:


Has a snappy ring to it, no? 

 Ulrick Eneme Ella 

We behold a possible phenom alert here from the former French youth international who has played in French, Austrian, and now English academies. Good to see him the away from the French system and as far away from William Saliba as possible. 

Everyone chill out. The middle moniker is pronounced [Eh-Nay-May].

 Comoros "The Coelacanths"  

And your "just happy to be here" country is....wait a minute...what? 

This can't possibly be right. The Comoros have a football team? Madagascar, Mauritius, and the Seychelles fine....but the Comoros? 

Who the hell do they play? What's their mascot? That 500 million-year-old species of fish everyone thought was extinct until they found a living one off the coast of Madagascar twenty years ago?

Man. Sometimes the first bizarre thing to pop into your head ends up proving true. The Comoros do indeed have a football team. Their mascot is indeed that ancient fish everyone thought went extinct back in the late Cretaceous: The Coelacanth.

Nice to see that this island country retains a sense of humor about itself. You probably didn't know they existed, just like you completely forgot about that prehistoric fish. Doubtful this big, slow fish is headed anywhere upstream, but we had no idea that we'd be making "Malagasy Barea Horns" three years ago either.  

I'm not giving you a picture of the fish. 

Here's the team...or at least one member of it following the post qualification pitch invasion. 

This isn't quite the Madagascar situation from the previous tournament. Personnel wise, there's some similarities. Most of the team's talents play in the French third and fourth divisions. There's one each from the Jupiler, Erdevisie, and Serbian Superliga. 

Recall, however, that there were more recognizable names on the Malagasy roster in 2019; enough to project a lineup. Furthermore, the Malagasy were truthfully only the third worst team in a very weak group that also featured Burundi. 

Through favorable scheduling and a little luck, Madagascar rode a tight draw against Guinea, a win over Burundi, and another win over a Nigerian team resting its starters to the top place in the group. Lightning can always strike twice, but the bookie can't in good conscience tip two captures in a bottle.

We shall see. Perhaps this will be the year for "fish necks". Standing by with the Coelacanth photos.

Vicey’s Fearless Group Projection (Straight up Odds for Bookie)

 1) Morocco   

 2) Ghana

 3) Gabon 

 4) Comoros


Round of 16 Odds

 Morocco (NO BETS) 

 Ghana (NO BETS)

  Gabon (2 to 1) 

 Comoros (4 to 1)


Quarterfinal Odds

 Morocco (NO BETS) 

 Ghana (NO BETS)

 Gabon (4 to 1) 

 Comoros (8 to 1)


Semifinals Odds

 Morocco (Straight Up) 

 Ghana (Straight Up)

 Gabon (6 to 1) 

 Comoros (12 to 1)