2019 AFCON: Five Group-Stage Subplots To Watch

Bad Memories

While Tanzania will be delighted to have returned to the continental high table for the first time since 1980, there will have been a few shudders when they were drawn alongside Algeria in Group C.

The last time these two met in a competitive fixture was a World Cup qualifier in November 2015, when Les Fennecs ran out 7-0 winners.

Yes, you read that correctly, 7-0.

They met each other last year in a friendly, with Algeria winning 4-1, so things have improved, but Emmanuel Amuneke will be desperate not to oversee another mauling this time around.

Worryingly for the Taifa Stars, the North Africans have been hitting some fine form in the pre-tournament friendlies.

Achilles heel?

In 15 matches between Egypt and Uganda, the Pharaohs have only been defeated twice, so any claims that the Cranes are the North Africans’ Achilles heel ought to come with a major caveat.

Egypt even won the last meeting between the pair, with Mohamed Salah helping them take a massive step towards the World Cup with a 1-0 victory in Alexandria in September 2017.

However, when they met in August 2017—also on the road to Russia—it was the Cranes who came out on top on home soil, as Denis Onyango delivered a masterclass to keep Salah and co. at bay.

Can Uganda, who also made life difficult for Egypt at the last Afcon, once again demonstrate that they know how to frustrate the Pharaohs and, who knows, perhaps snatch something at the other end…?

The Group of Life

Nigeria’s group—Group B—is being celebrated as the ‘Group of Life’, with African football scholar Dr. Wiebe Boer even claiming on Twitter that it was the easiest Afcon group of all time.

Certainly, the Super Eagles—and probably Guinea—should have little trouble advancing, although the draw also represents a massive opportunity for two of the tournament’s three debutants.

Madagascar and Burundi wouldn’t have been expecting a spot in the competition proper when the qualifiers started—certainly before the Afcon was expanded to 24 teams, but now both have a realistic chance to progress to the latter stages.

Even three points could be enough to progress, and the battle between these minnows on June 27 in Alexandria could take on titanic proportions!

The Herve Renard Derby

Ivory Coast fans must be sick of the sight of Herve Renard.

The French coach was responsible for the Elephants’ Golden Generation missing out in the final of the 2012 Nations Cup—as Zambia conquered them on penalties—and then his Morocco side eliminated the West Africans from both the 2017 Afcon and the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.

Admittedly, Renard did guide the Ivorians to the African title in 2015, but since then he’s demonstrated that he knows how to get the job done against his former charges.

Will it be the same old story once again after Morocco and the Ivory Coast were drawn together in Group D?

Semi-final rematch

There are a few particularly tasty first-round clashes between African heavyweights on offer in the group stage, with Senegal and Algeria and Ivory Coast and Morocco both set to collide.

However, the pick of the lot could be Ghana’s meeting with Cameroon in Ismaila on June 29.

This will be the first time the duo have crossed paths since their semi-final meeting in 2017, when the Indomitable Lions dispatched the Black Stars 2-0 in Franceville en route to winning their fifth title.

In 2019, it will be their sixth meeting at the tournament; so far, Cameroon have won two, two matches have been drawn, and Ghana have won one (in 1998). Will the West Africans complete the set when these two collide?

The fact that these two both demonstrated weaknesses during qualification makes this one even more intriguing.