Group D (Nigeria, Egypt, Guinea-Bissau, Sudan)
The first group of this section features a pair of teams that absolutely should be considered tournament favorites. Imperfect as they may be, both Egypt and Nigeria have the roster to take the crown. Sydnicate -Ms infatuated with the "Super Eagles" will be disappointed to learn that the domestic FA is once again doing its best to muck things up again.
Luckily for the eagles and the Pharaohs, the lower-seeded pair in this assemblage don't look to pose much of a challenge. In principle, the larger programs have been gifted some time to right their respective ships. A third place advancement out of this group appears unlikely.
Although the bookie wouldn't have any complaints about the big boys here making a run to the Final, his actual favorites tipped for the tournament can be found all the way down below in Group F. Given their current state entering the tournament, Egypt and Nigeria are more accurately categorized as "Dark Horses"
Egypt "The Pharaohs"
The record seven-time continental champions return, still hoping to place the era of the Port Said stadium disaster behind them.
It's now been a full decade since that famous riot derailed their national team program. The occurrence came on the heels of their third consecutive continental championship.
Syndicate members know the drill. We discuss that incident every year. The melee itself was emblematic of the empty promises inherent of the "Arab Spring" movement.
North African populaces mobilized in pursuit of revolutionary changes in their political systems. The unfortunate end result proved about as hollow as our hopes that social media channels could serve as forces for good in this world. Nothing really changed. Little ever does.
While this observance surely grows tired, we had to put it back up front and center this year as the consequences Egyptian football suffered suddenly take on new meaning during this blasted pandemic. For two full years, fans were banned from watching both their domestic league teams and country live in the stadium.
For 24 full months, all football took place behind closed doors.
The heavy favorites were gone in their first K.O. match. The anointed hero meant to officially close the ugly Port Said chapter couldn't properly comprehend what had just happen. One really felt for Mo Salah on that day. All those selfish Liverpool fans who want him with the club need to take a look at this.
Sorry, EPL fans. You're just not the be-all and end-all of everything. This guy has some other peeps who need him further down south too, like this guy who cleared paid a whole lot of money for this airbrushed drum:
Yeah. One really felt for him too on that day. The detail on that thing was amazing. It must have taken weeks. That did it for former Mexico and Japan national team manager Javier Aguirre. The Egyptian FA ultimately snatched up Carlos Queiroz a few months after the Portuguese trainer's short tenure with Colombia ended.
The long-time Iranian nation team head coach has only lost once in 11 fixtures since taking over in September. That in itself isn't saying much as the World Cup Qualifying group remains pretty soft and the FIFA Arab Cup was basically just an exhibition tournament.
Tough to get a feel for Queiroz's Egypt when he's mostly been working with the B-side. Having had another look at the WMQ fixtures in November, here's what the bookie comes up with:
Projected Lineup (5-2-3)
One goes with the safe bet occupying that top axis alongside Salah. Like many other German football watchers, I was fairly surprised to learn that my "Bundesliga Buddy" Omar Marmoush survived the final cutdown. Perhaps Queiroz has something unconventional in mind. He is carrying six strikers on this roster.
Whereas the front three remains something of a mystery, Mohamed Elneny, Mahmoud Hassan, and Abdallah El Said look to occupy fixed positions in the constellation of a coach who prioritizes a defensively dominant midfield triangle above all else.
In terms of the defensive set-up, we're only seeing one sure-fire change in the form of emergent right-back Akram Tawfik. Everything else, including El Said's use as a sweeper are holdover concepts. Contextually speaking, this seems like the right move from the new gaffer.
Queiroz retains the reputation of a manager who can get a lot out of a little. The off stint with Colombia notwithstanding, he spent a full seven years squeezing blood out of stones at the Iranian program. Here he has much more to work with; the reason I'll tap him to top the group.
COOL NAME ALERT--Egypt
Twelve long years since this country's crest hammered down on the metal press to mint a gold coin. Between 2006 and 2010, no one at the continental confederation even had to change out the engraving face.
Looks rather nice, no? Bookie can probably locate some chocolate doubloons wrapped in spray painted aluminum foil if you're interested. Hell, maybe Mohamed Nagy or the Emad Moteab are pawning their original ones at this point.
Mohammed El Shenawy
When you think of Egyptian keepers, the first name that pops up is that of the legendary former captain Essam El-Hadaray, who commemorated 150 caps for country and became the oldest ever player (at the age of 43) to play in AFCON back in 2017.
After El-Hadaray's retirement, it gets confusing. There were actually two "El Shenawys" of no relation vying for the #1 slot: Ahmed and Mohammed. The latter won the role, at least sparing us further confusion on a team with 4,245 Mohameds, 3,923 Ahmeds, and 2,879 Mahmouds.
Mahmoud Ahmed Ibrahim Hassan ("Trézéguet")
We're almost clear of the nicknames from the Bob Bradley Era. When the former USMNT head coach took over this program in 2011, the road out of disgrace began with many players ascribing themselves new monikers in an effort to infuse a team not allowed to play before fans with some spirit.
Not to suggest that this trend wasn't welcome. The above section should make that clear. When "Ahmed Hassan" Abelmoneim went with "Kouka", it at least ensured us that he wouldn't get confused with all-time-great "Ahmed Hassan" Kamel Hussein.
"Trézéguet" is technically another "Ahmed Hassan". We also have new generations of "Fathys", "Hamdys" and "Sayeds" on this team to directly replace the ones that recently retired. It's enough to throw everyone for a loop.
Bookie is on record for mocking some of self-sobriquets like "Karaba", "Shikabala", and "Afsha". Okay....I was wrong. I'll take them all back in a heartbeat. Please bring the monikers back! You can even use Brazilian ones!
It's just simply too hard to catch up with this team otherwise. Every damned year.
"I thought he retired. What the hell? Oh wait....."
A cool enough name, and the 24-year-old with over thirty caps and two tallies to his name is a damned fine player too. In all honestly, the player is only here to give the bookie a chance to talk about his club "Pyramids FC". It's a total marketing/re-branding ploy. As it so happens, it's one that works for me.
The Egyptian Premiership, not to mention the African Champions' League, is pretty much an "Al-Athy" show. If this club were still named "Al-Assiouty" then the new emergent challenge wouldn't be as much fun.
Egyptians may hate this team with the same fervor that Germans hate RB Leipzig, but it does go to show that--for all our love of tradition--some of us international football fans are suckers for the plastic version.
I bring this up to point out that we're all flawed. Damn us.
Nigeria "The Super Eagles"
The absolute favorite African team of many Syndicate -Ms is back! That's the good news. Onto the bad...
Unfortunately, it looks like the FA managed to fumble away the chance to top this group with a series of pre-tournament administrative miscues.
Long-time German trainer Gernot Rohr was sacked less than two weeks ago. That's not the problem. Despite his heritage, the bookie has never been much of a Rohr fan.
One can read denunciatory diatribes about the German coach who ran several great African footballing programs into the round all throughout this sports book. The timing was nevertheless horribly poor.
As interim trainer Augstine Eguavoen scrambled to get his final squad together, European clubs pounced on a bureaucratic technicality that enabled them to decline call-ups filed past an administrative deadline. That's why Emmanuel Dennis of Watford isn't here.
Other players--Victor Osimen, Leon Balogun, and Sehu Abduallahi--opted to forgo call ups entirely rather than face censure. There were three potential starters in that list. The bookie can still build a serviceable lineup, but had to drop plans to place the Eagles at the top of this group and the overall lead of the post.
Still a bit pissy about that. Let's relive some happier times, shall we?
Stephen Keshi's 2013 Championship side. This was the team that stepped into the Egyptian void and delivered the first ever continental crown for a team coached by a homegrown sub-Saharan manager.
At least nothing can take that away from us brothers.
We also have this.
That 2019 squad was just plain fun. The Odilon Ighalo show. The steamroll past Cameroon and South Africa in the knockouts. No one can take that away from us either.
And then there's this.
Nuff said there really. A picture is worth at least a hundred Schwag packs. Don't worry, gentlemen. I've got it on pre-order. Relax. Everyone who wants one shall get one.
Ninety-nine percent of Nike sports designs suck, but they get this country right all the time. Just as was the case with previous kits, this one will prove a trendsetter.
Proceeding with the build, it takes certain amount of Chinese algebra to make it work. It looks to best pieced together via a diamond-box back-four.
Projected Lineup (4-3-3)
Poor Odilon Ighalo got run through the club ringer after his excellent tournament last time around. After seemingly everyone gave up on him, he did briefly rejoin the Premiership and did a fine job silencing his critics. The veteran could have accomplished significantly more had COVID not interrupted his excellent form with United.
Ighalo can and still does frequently does still start for this team. It would not be a surprise to see him headline the attack this time, at least at the beginning. the bookie nevertheless thinks that Eguavoen needs to pitch Rohr's scaffolding immediately. A cautious an intelligent build pins William Trost-Ekong, Kenneth Omeruo and Wilfred N'didi to the same vertical axis.
Placing N'didi's Leicester teammate Kelechi Ihenacho up top on the central vertical plane then adds some capacity too the Catenaccio. Something like this may count as nothing more than a sincere fan's fever dream and there are many other configurations which may make more sound sense. Bookie stands ready to be wowed by something he hasn't thought about yet.
As our beloved Eagles fly into this tournament half-blind, we'll touch upon some other options below. A successful tournament hinges completely on the eyes of a trainer who, prior to last week, likely didn't have his eyes on the whole squad. A great story incubates should Eguavoen manage to pull it off. Bookie cautions his readers not to get their hopes up too high.
COOL NAME ALERT--Nigeria
We've located a fan-designed crest clearly conceived by some guy from Philadelphia.
"Fly, Eagles, Fly"
"On the road to victory"
"Soar, Eagles, Soar"
"Score a touchdown, 123"
After something like 272 loan-outs from parent club Liverpool FC, this striker has finally found a home in the Köpenick quarter of Berlin. Yes, the bookie absolutely loves him. Nine goals across all competitions this season. Watch out!
Most of us throughs that the 22-year-old would have been pulled away from Villareal by now. Perhaps after this tournament. Really a total package type of striker. We'll take him in the Bundesliga anytime.
The Portuguese League professional filled in seemingly everywhere along the back line last tournament. He's quite the imposing figure with mad mobility skills for a guy who looks to be almost seven feet tall.
Somehow this former Arsenal prospect has spent most of his time in the Jupiler and Erdevisie on more loan arrangements than Awoniyi. He then went to a Spanish Segunda side before getting loaned out again.
What's going on here? Football personnel managers afraid to learn how to pronounce the name?
It's not hard
This CSKA Moscow winger possesses easily one of the best footballing names of all times. His surname sounds like the hottest new synonym for out-dueling your opponent one-vs-one. Forget being out-dueled, out-deked, or even "nutmegged".
You've just been...."Ejuked" [E-Jew-Kay-ed]
Guinea-Bissau "The Djurtus"
"What is a Djurtu?" you might ask. A fair question, even for those -Ms part of the 2017 and 2019 coverage that included this team.
The 2019 version was beyond awful, not even scoring a goal in three fixtures. Bookie had them rock bottom of a group that featured Ghana, Cameroon, and Benin. That's precisely where they finished.
We could see them serve as nothing more than cannon fodder this time as well. There's certainly enough problems facing this depleted team. Bookie will adopt an optimistic stance.
They've had practice against the real cannon fodder in this group (Sudan), as part of their World Cup Qualifying group. As recently as September, the delivered a 4-2 shellacking against the Falcons.
Projected Lineup (5-3-2)
Note that we only have a 24-man-squad with which to build. Current AFCON COVID roster rules allow for 28. Bacario Candé, who coached this team through the previous two editions of the tournament, just doesn't have enough players in the pool. One just has to shrug it off with whatever the Portuguese equivalent of "C'est la vie" is.
Marcelo Djalo is also missing for reasons the bookie can't verify. Missing by fast the team's most well-known defender means one has to revert to a back-five, or so goes the educated guess of the prognosticator. Once on gets past all the issues, however, a bunch of familiar names instill some confidence.
Frederick Mendy and Piquetti were part of the striking crops in 2017. Sori Mané, Alfa SEmedo and Joao Jaquité have all scored recently, as has the non-projected Jorginho. A depleted defensive corps is never the end of the world when one can deploy a triplicate, even-keel axis of additional protection. All of this could prove sufficient enough to two, perhaps even three points.
COOL NAME ALERT--Guinea Bissau
Independence in West Africa brought with it star designs that look suspiciously socialist. This is actually coincidental. While they were meant to convey militaristic strength, something like this didn't intend to serve as a stand in for a Red Army patch.
Irrespective of what anyone would think of me for wearing it, I think I'd go ahead with it anyway. Who can honestly resist the "Berliner Ampelmann" turned into a footballer?
Geez. Judilson Mamadu Tuncara Gomes didn't concern himself with the whole hubris thing when picking out a moniker, did he? Bet you didn't know that the legend himself was playing on loan in the Portuguese second division.
No, not the one you're thinking of either. This one once looked like he might get his shot at being equally famous as part of the Man City Academy. Then came a career spent mostly playing in Eastern Europe. I believe he's in Bulgaria now last I heard.
Why if it isn't the "World's Greatest Athlete" himself! I'm telling you, they really go for broke in this country. At some point we're going to run into a guy with a "God of all" moniker.
The apparently quite talented right-wingback could easily open up a pizza/video arcade chain that I would mindlessly patronize. This could be the best sports-name/entertainment venue merger since "R.W. Mcquarters".
Sudan "The Falcons of Jediane"
Our syndicate debutants are the "Janjaweeds". They'll have to produce something truly special here to endure themselves to your friendly bookie.
Even he can't leave his geo-politics past behind him in this case; especially not not when that Jordanian color schematic fills his head with visions of needless refugee displacements.
As much as the chronicler wishes he were discussing the South Sudanese national football team here, that quixotic wish is about as realistic as wishing to erase 2013-2020 Dinka/Nuer strife from history.
Of course, none of this is the fault of the players who have earned their qualification. It's even mostly a southern Sudanese squad that accomplished it too.
Vicey’s Fearless Group Projection (Straight Up Odds for Bookie)
Round of 16 Odds
Egypt (NO BETS)
Nigeria (NO BETS)
Guinea-Bissau (2 to 1)
Sudan (3 to 1)
Egypt (NO BETS)
Nigeria (NO BETS)
Guinea-Bissau (5 to 1)
Sudan (7 to 1)
Egypt (Straight Up)
Nigeria (Straight Up)
Guinea-Bissau (7 to 1)
Sudan (9 to 1)
Group E (Algeria, Cote d'Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Sierra Leone)
Our next group shall deliver a re-match of the 2109 quarterfinals when Algeria and Cote d'Ivoire meet on the final matchday. The defining champions are their nearest competitors are more or less evenly matched, though the Ivorians still seem to be a team figuring out their present identity. Algeria thus get the edge when it comes to this medium-term prediction.
Much can obviously change between now and that vital showdown. The two lower seeded teams in this group aren't separated by much either. Overall, this quartet exhibits the hallmarks of a topsy-turvy "Group of Life". Third-place advancement out of it appears a likely scenario, with Equatorial Guinea being the bookie's pick.
Algeria "The Desert Foxes"
Djamel Belmad's Fennecs cruised through the group stages with three impressive wins. They then languished three very worthy opponents--Guinea, Cote d'Ivoire, and Nigeria--before beating Senegal for the second time in tournament in the Final.
Even if it didn't turn out to be the best footballing affair, one left AFCON 2019 feeling as if we got a most deserving winner. Islam Slimani, Sofiane Feghouli, and Ryad Mahrez all played excellent tournaments.
The non-household names that Europeans weren't familiar with--Youcef Belaïli, Baghdad Bounedjah, Adam Ounas, and Djamel Benlamri--all pitched in too. That's how you lift the trophy in one of the world's most brutally competitive football tournaments.
Everyone must play their part.
Congratulations on that second star, Fuchse. From the embarrassing failure to qualify for the 2018 WM to the very first team to hoist the price since the tournament expanded to 24 teams definitely didn't have an easy road to traverse.
Can we get a close up shot?
Yes, it was earned by merit. No argument there.
We've not seen a repeat champion at AFCON since the Egyptian secured their record seventh title with the three-peat-chain ending in 2010. One could absolutely make the case that we'll behold one here.
The Algerian national football team hasn't lost a match in well over two years. They also haven't lost a single player of consequence from that Championship winning team. No drops...welll...except this guy.
Bout damn well time too. Won't even mention his name here or ever gain. Eight years as a powerful vegetable. So very pleased to be moving on.
Projected Lineup (4-4-2)
If you'd care to juxtapose this with the championship-winning lineup from July 2019, you'll see that they are only two changes. Sofiane Feghoul and Youcef Atal replace Adlene Guedioura and Mehdi Zeffane. No sense tinkering with something that works just fine. Form changes don't call for many adjustments.
The only thing working against the defending champs--apart from unseen injuries or unreported COVID availability issues would be the schedule layout of this group. The Fennecs won't face a true test until Cote d'Ivoire in round three. Hence, we may not see the strongest iteration of the team until then.
Belmadi will engage in some experimentation, as he should. As is the case often in these tournaments, the rotations may steer him away from his best XI. Provided the gaffer sticks to a template similar to this irrespective of what transpires in the first two fixtures, the team should have no problems topping this group.
COOL NAME ALERT--Algeria
It wasn't always the case that the bookie exhibited fondness for North African teams. Previous chapters are riddled with pot-shots from this sub-Saharan enthusiast. Eventually I learned to embrace this continent as a whole.
The actual sub-Saharan readers never had any problem identifying with them. That helped me realize just how needlessly silly I was being. North Africans had to deal with the oppressive colonial yoke as well.
Stupid, stupid Vicey.
The scorer of the game-winning goal in the 2019 Final just keeps scoring. Four more in AFCON qualifying this year. Two more in the WMQ. Another two in the recent FIFA Arab Cup.
It almost makes one sad to think that no one will of heard of him since--unlike Slimani, Ounas, and Mahrez--he's never played for a European club.
At the 30, he likely never will. [Boon-eh-Jah] has twelve months and two tournaments to see to it that this changes. Twenty two international goals in 47 caps for the Gulf State professional.
The (relatively) young dynamic midfielder from the Twente Academy just began getting call-ups last Spring, around about the time he broke out of the Dutch club's reserves. Another name we could all get familiar with in the coming year.
Here come what are, to be sure, the fan favorites. Syndicate -Ms and bookie alike remain eternally grateful for what Les Elephants have given us over the years.
Through three World Cups and four AFCONS, they've always supplied us with the unforgettable. Okay. Perhaps the once exception proved that group stage elimination in 2017. That's something most of us would prefer to forget.
Apart from that, we're solid. Even if there may have been some more awkward transitional Ivorian teams, all of that gets easily counterbalanced by the 2015 Continental Championship side.
Hands down the best AFCON of the four covered in this Sportsbook. Didier Drogba's family watching the final moments of the tense penalty shootout win remains quite possibly the best thing ever shared on the Internet. There shall be absolutely no complaints if the team manages an orange crush in this tourney.
Ah. Hell with it.
Hit the bookie with another bit of nostalgia!
The chapter that can't possibly be topped. Amen.
Our latest Ivorian incarnation seeks to take revenge upon Algeria for the quarterfinal elimination back in the summer of 2019. Herve Renard's former assistant Patrice Beaumelle has the team in pretty good form, though not good enough to best Cameroon and advance out of their World Cup Qualifying group.
At the moment, Les Elephants feature a strong collective force of individuals. Mawel Cornet, Franck Kessie, Serge Aurier, Jean Michaël Seri, Serge Aurier, and even Serey Die all still make their contributions.
What's missing happens to be a reliable go-to star in attack. Sebastian Haller and Nicolas Pepé aren't quite there yet. They could conceivably attain breakthroughs during this tournament. Wilfried Zaha could also shock all of us by finally finding some form for country.
Given the presence of all of these "potential" weapons, Cote d'ivoire aren't necessarily bad outside sleeper picks. Things could get clicking and rolling relatively fast. Just make sure that you bet with your head and not your heart.
Yes, we all want to see Bambo as much as possible. If it came down to a contest of fans, this country would make the final every year. Scouting of on-pitch matters reveals some issues.
Projected Lineup (4-4-2)
Despite just the one loss in qualifying, Beaumelle has our boys all over the place. Christ, I've seen Maxwel Cornet work as the sweeper and a striker on this team recently on this team recently. The defensive line never looks the same and the French trainer oscillates between single and four attacker sets.
I guess it could work like this. Something resembling a footballing thesis would be much appreciated. Goals during the WMQ qualifying phase have come from a variety of different strikers. As silly as that might sound, that's the problem. Ahead of the two rearward axes, nothing is set.
If there were a go-to-target, we'd be watching this team in Qatar next Winter. Many of us will be more than content to watch them here, but the nagging suspicion is that Beaumelle has to pick something. Anything. Haller, Zaha, Pepé, Sangaré. Maybe even Jérémie Boga.
Let someone at least try to carry the mantle of this team. One can't rotate endlessly in tournament football and we all want to see them go far. Haller gets the bookie's vote, but that's pure Bundesliga bias at work.
COOL NAME ALERT--Cote d'Ivoire
You want classic Ivorian crests, don't you? I actually miss the most recent one.
How about the proposed updated design that didn't make the final cut?
Or maybe the emblem of the country's domestic league?
This country cannot help but be cool. We're in agreement there.
The keeper who led the team all the way to the 2015 Final, yet had to make way for Boubacar Barry in that epic shootout still got the hero treatment remains a hero to this day. Many more would know his name had the thigh injury not sidelined him in the match everyone was watching.
[Goo-Bo-Wh0-Oh] in the event anyone's wondering.
The 21-year-old Leverkusen central defender hasn't gotten off to the same cracking club start that teammate Edmond Tapsoba did 18 months ago. Steady improvement nevertheless means that plenty more should know his name soon.
[Koh-So-New] is much easier than some might assume.
Jean-Daniel Akpa Akpro
The Serie A attacking midfielder has been in and out of the national team since the 2014 World Cup. After some time in the lower European footballing divisions, he's back with top flight club Lazio and back with Les Elephants.
Say his name three times fast. Go ahead. Accept the challenge. Try not to stumble.
Always knew that the young winger would end up in the Premiership. Observing his form back in 2019--when he was a Lille player--most of us were thinking €40-60 million transfer. The Gunners eventually snapped him up for about €80 million.
Which player will instill in us such grandiose transfer thoughts this year?
There will be at least one.
The former member of the SGE "Buffelhürde" switches allegiances to play for his mother's country 14 months ago. Bookie genuinely hopes he has a great tournament....and genuinely wants him back in the Bundesliga. We really miss him.
Equatorial Guinea "The National Thunder"
Our final Guinea of the tournament field. The 2015 hosts of Cote d'Ivoire's magical run no less; the ones that defied all odds with that incredible run to the semi-finals.
COOL NAME ALERT--Equatorial Guinea
Well. The bookie (against his better judgement) took a look at this country's domestic league in an effort to attempt to learn something. None of the national team players currently on the roster play for Racing FC Micomeseng.....but I liked the crest as well as the name.
A bit on the colonial side, of course. Sadly most of them are. This was about as subdued a badge as it gets.
Let's see if any players of suspicious origin are being paid to play for this country this time..
Well. Esteban is from Spain. He's evidently adopted and sometimes goes by the moniker "Esteban Orozco Fernandez". We'll give him the benefit of the doubt.
Another Spanish dual citizen. This one happens to have been born in Bata and chose to represent the land of his birth. He started getting capped for the the thunder just after the last tourney.
The benefit of the doubt to him as well.....though it's hard to trust that last name for reasons totally unrelated to football.
Our returning champion. No questions about the striker's heritage here. It's complex. He's nevertheless completely legit. Happy to have him and his awesome name back.
Pedro Oba Asu
Three goals in tournament qualifying from this 21-year-old "dreamer". He's completely homegrown, perhaps prepping to catch the eyes of some scouts.
Sierra Leone "The Leone Stars"
And welcome to what are, by default, the most likely last placed finishers.
Nothing quite like the thrill of the unexpected. A competition during which an oddsmaker doesn't get his ass kicked isn't a competition worth watching. Here's hoping for the shock.
Alas, I've never heard of any of these guys; not even the ones active in the Scandinavian leagues or the German pro-am tiers. May they make themselves known to all of us.
Vicey’s Fearless Group Projection (2 to 1 Odds for Bookie)
2) Cote d'Ivoire
3) Equatorial Guinea
4) Sierra Leone
Round of 16 Odds
Algeria (NO BETS)
Cote d'Ivoire (NO BETS)
Equatorial Guinea (Straight Up)
Sierra Leone (2 to 1)
Algeria (NO BETS)
Cote d'Ivoire (NO BETS)
Equatorial Guinea (3 to 1)
Sierra Leone (5 to 1)
Algeria (Straight Up)
Cote d'Ivoire (Straight Up)
Equatorial Guinea (5 to 1)
Sierra Leone (9 to 1)
Group F (Tunisia, Mali, Mauritania, Gambia)
It took us until the final group, but the bookie is finally ready to unveil his favorites. Prepared to note it down, 33-M? I'm picking Tunisia to win this tournament based on form, overall strength of squad, and something going on with the number four that I haven't quite figured out yet.
The one-time continental champions should have no trouble topping this group. One of the syndicate's most cherished teams, "Les Aigles" of Mali, should also have no problems advancing. Some may rightly chastise the bookie for skimping a bit on his research when it comes to the bottom two teams.
The fact is that none of them look particularly good and the humble Africa fan does have work commitments apart from this humble fan blog. Mauritania and "The Gambia" have to come to me if they want more respect. That's the way it is.
Tunisia "The Eagles of Carthage"
Qualifying for their 14th straight AFCON, the 2019 fourth place finishers must be considered perennial favorites.
Finally winning in the quarters...it all comes down to four.
The current team retains all the veterans, many of which were able to participate in FIFA's recent Arab Nations Cup; the pseudo Confederations Cup replacement that served as Qatar's dress rehearsal last month.
Courtesy of the fact that they're all now in the twilight of their careers, Naim Sliti, Youssef Msakni, Mohamed Amine Ben Amor, and Ferjani Sassi were all able to partake in that competition thanks to releases from their Gulf State clubs.
Tunisia went all the way to the final, where they lost against Algeria. Now that the real tournament is at hand, the European club stars like Wahbi Khazri, Anis Ben Slimane, Dylan Bronn, and (Vicey's most esteemed "Bundesliga Buddy") Ellyes Skhiri have linked up with the team.
Favorites? Yes, we've finally gotten there.
Apologies for making you wait for the last of six groups to get there. I really like this team. All of the seasoned players are here, fit, and drilled. There's also a bunch of new and exiting prospects like Omar Rekik (Arsenal), Hannibal Mejbri (Man U), and Hamza Reifa (Liege).
This could be the year in all comes together for them.
Their second continental championship.
Nice little picture of the 2004 winners there. Still working out the significance of the number four. Haven't figured out the pattern there, but give the bookie time.
Projected Lineup (4-1-4-1)
It's a 4-1-4-1. An exciting one at that. Still no pattern to discern in terms of the numbers booking, so we'll stick to how this works. FC Köln midfielder Ellyes Skhiri--recently confirmed as the Tunisian national player of the year--runs the show as the flight director. Former Bundesliga professional Mohamed Dräger keeps Sliti fed up that left side.
A truly neat feature of this constellations involves how many underlapping runs Dräger and Oussama Haddadi make. Kebaier dispenses with the whole concept of a block and sends everyone forward. This is the reason Laidouni and Ben Slimane see their fair share of action as well. This produced a highly convincing 11 goals in the most recent WMQ qualifying round.
Bookie is willing to bet that we'll get a few tally-heavy matches out of this team. It's almost as if they've come full circle from the last tournament. Kebaier either devised this or let it evolve naturally. That's of no consequence, of course. Your friendly oddsmaker has his favorites regardless.
COOL NAME ALERT--Tunisia
No real fan designs of a classic crest out there, but I did manage to find this lapel pin for you.
Be advised that it looks to be about the size of a dime. It could get lost by those automatic post sorting machines far too easily.
He's a Breisgauer! Full disclosure. That's the only reason I brought included him hear. Bookie has no problems pronouncing that German name.This Bundesliga regular whom we all only recently became a fixture on the Tunisian national team.
He's also playing in the English Championship now! Congratulations to our boy. Can't wait to see you light it up Junge! Do Breisgau and old gaffer Christian Streich proud!
Germans can lay claim to this genuinely awesome player to, even if he's of French heritage and has only been playing in the German top flight for a couple of years. Can't wait to see you too, Junge! Help the bookie make a correct Championship pick for a change.
Incidentally, his first name is pronounced [EL-YESH]. Disappointing I know.
We would all prefer [Hell-yes], but the "H" is in the wrong spot.
Surname goes a simple [Ske-REE]
There's always at least one "Hannibal" on the Carthaginian team. Good to see the Man U fro-kid filling the role this time.
Firas Ben Larbi
Generally, the Tunisian team also includes at least one "Firas". This year's is a veteran who came out of nowhere mid-career from the U.A.E. league. Two goals in qualifying. Only six caps for the 25-year-old.
Mali "Les Aigles"
We can't begin to discuss these Eagles without first delivering our traditional "Fuck Ansar-Dine".
The one on the far right--once referred to as Adama Traoré II, is the former Monaco midfielder who was on loan at Metz last time. He now plays regularly for Hatayaspor in the Turkish Süper Lig and goes by the moniker "Adama N. Traoré"
Below on the right you have the player once known as Adama Traoré I, formerly of Orleans. He's now at Sheriff Tiraspol and has selected "Adama M. Traoré" as his name.
Whew. Okay. Bookie would like to claim that everything is cleared up now, but the problem is that both players have apparently been given opposite kit numbers this time. Adama N. Traoré now sports #14 while Adama N. Traoré has been given #21.
Damn this is confusing. I'll concede that I and the AFCON database may have gotten it backwards again this time. We really are screwed since--unlike in past years when covering this team, the players actually both have a middle name that starts with "N" and were born in the same year.
This may be the greatest riddle in the history of the syndicate. All the -Ms know that the bookie adores this team and won't give up. If I got it wrong again for the 53rd time, I'll keep striving until I get it wrong 46 more times before getting it right!
Projected Lineup (3-3-2-2)
Both Bundesliga stars have a place in the regular constellation that cruised through the WMQ qualifying group undefeated. With some luck, we could see this country qualify for its first ever World Cup in a couple of months. Fingers crossed that everyone will soon have to familiarize themselves with all the Traorés, Konés, Coulibalys, and Camaras.
The big star of the qualifying round is this 22-year-old kid known as Ibrahima Koné. Er...he's not to be confused with the six other Malians, four other Ivorians, and three Guineans who shared the same names. Look. I'll just quit while I'm ahead and tell you that the current Norwegian league star has bagged eight tallies in just six caps. Five of these came in the last WM qualifying round.
COOL NAME ALERT--Mali
It's a good team. You'll simply have to trust your friendly bookie on this one. I know that all the Mande-language-group naming customs make it hard to get into them, but at least make an effort.
More Malian sympathizers out there would make the bookie very happy.
So close. One vowel away from greatness. No, this is not French legend "Moussa Sissoko". The 20-year-old has been making a name for himself over at Standard Liege, though. Perhaps his name will become more familiar in time.
Vicey's first Bundesliga Buddy. Man, is this cat good. Just wait until you see him. A few rungs down from N'Golo Kanté on the skills ladder, but not by much. Trust the bookie.
Trust the bookie again. The RB Leipzig professional whispers to the ball like its a goddamn girl he's wooing with romantic pillow talk. I just know he's about due for a big break.
Adama N. Traoré
The Hatayspor man. Has to be!
Adama M. Traoré
Don't fail me database. This must be the Sheriff attacker!
Back for just their second AFCON ever, we have the team that surprised us last time around by drawing both Tunisia and Angola.
What a nice looking crew. Let's see what we can build.
Bookie remembers Adama Ba and Abdoul Ba from the last tournament. They weren't half bad. The rest of these guys.....er...okay....Mohamed Delilah Yali "presumably" ran the midfield according to the old pages. Khassa Camara also..."ostensibly" logged some minutes. Aly Abeid was....well...he was "supposedly" there.
Hopefully, the bookie isn't going totally senile, but its quite hard to conjure up memories of this team. They converted a penalty in the opening 1-4 defeat to Mali, then completed two 0-0 draws. Oh well. They're not the worst team in this group. That's all that matters.
This remains a humble fan blog. Accordingly, you'll have to forgive your extremely busy bookie if he didn't quite have time to research all the sixth and seventh tier footballers on this team that qualified for the tourney out of a very weak group.
Here's a wall pennant for you:
And we'll also take a stab at pronouncing some names. Of course we will.
Christ. Thank goodness this guy is the third-string keeper.
We also have tons of accent marks to help guide the way.
Easy does it, Vicey. There's a guy playing for SpVgg Greuther Fürth with a similar name. Here we go.
Onwards and upwards.
Actually wanted to talk about the player here. Saw him once whilst scouting Stuttgart's Congolese star "Silas" over at Paris FC. The 29-year-old's story is one of a steady rise up the footballing ranks through a lot of hard work.
A shame to learn that he's playing for a pro-am team in Belgium now. A slow rise and a quick fall. Life comes at you fast.
Okay. I actually require more accent marks for this pro-am player. Is is [ALL-mike] or [Aahl-Me-Kay]? I just don't know.
"The" Gambia "The Scorpions"
How cool it is that all of our "doormat teams" have cult-status names?
If there's a miracle to be had, it shall come from this fluent German speaker. There's also Musa Barrow (Bologna) and Sulayman Marreh (KAA) Gent. Never heard of the rest of these guys. Four of them apparently don't even have a club team at the moment.
Let's see if anyone can make a name for themselves. Then I'll consider referring to the country as "The" Gambia. For now, we'll just assume that this team will be about as forgettable as the Mauritanians were back in 2019.
Vicey’s Fearless Group Projection (2 to 1 Odds for Bookie)
Round of 16 Odds
Tunisia (NO BETS)
Mali (NO BETS)
Gambia (3 to 1)
Tunisia (NO BETS)
Mali (Straight Up)
Gambia (6 to 1)
Tunisia (Straight Up)
Mali (Straight Up)
Gambia (9 to 1)