AFCON 2021: The favorites to win

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It’s almost time for the delayed Africa Cup of Nations 2021, where some of the game’s top talents will fight for continental glory.

24 teams have traveled to Cameroon, and of them there are more than a handful who can really dream of getting their hands on the trophy when all is said and done.

Here is a summary of the 10 best challengers …

With some real firepower and what looks like a friendly path to the knockout stages, Mali has a chance to make some noise here.

Yves Bissouma, Amadou Haidara and Moussa Djenepo are three of their biggest names, and they should make it into Group F.

How far these stars will be able to guide the team is up for debate, but Mali should enjoy a fairly long run.

Four-time winners in Ghana could have a long or a short tournament. They are in Group C together with Gabon and the title jump Morocco, so we will know a lot about their pedigree after just a few weeks.

If they can get it started early, expect great things. Thomas Partey is the main leader and young stars like Kamaldeen Sulemana and Mohammed Kudus are expected to light it up as well.

Ghana has a good core of players, but once they start dancing with the heavy favorites they may not have enough of them.

The draw has not been favorable for Tunisia. They will probably go to Group F but will have to beat one of Ivory Coast or Algeria if they want to reach the quarterfinals.

It is not completely outside the realm of opportunity. Led by Wahbi Khazri and with Ellyes Skhiri and Hannibal Mejbri lighting it up on both sides of the midfield, Tunisia is a really nice side.

But to be honest, that does not seem likely.

AFCON qualifier Hakim Ziyech has been dropped from the squad after a clash with manager Vahid Halilhodzic, and it will not make Morocco’s chances of winning very good.

In Ziyech’s absence, it will be up to Achraf Hakimi and Youssef En-Nesyri to do most of the heavy lifting, with Sofiane Boufal and young llias Chair ready to do the creation.

Releasing Ziyech is a big conversation and one that may hamper Morocco’s development here.

Nigeria would be much higher up here if they had Napoli’s Victor Osimhen, Genk’s Paul Onuachu or Watford’s Emmanuel Dennis, neither of whom has traveled.

But they still have real quality. Kelechi Iheanacho, Moses Simon and Samuel Chukwueze lead the line, but Nigeria are likely to ruin missed opportunities with three of their stars absent.

The Super Eagles will have to beat Egypt to the top spot in Group D if they want to avoid Algeria in the last 16 and that is a high order.

The hosts Cameroon not only have a home advantage, but they have stars across the board in various areas of the pitch.

Goalkeeper Andre Onana will enjoy playing football again and he will enjoy watching Andre-Franck Zambo Anguissa in midfield in front of him, but where Cameroon is most devastating is in the attack.

Karl Toko Ekambi, Vincent Aboubakar, Ignatius Ganago and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting help to make a real monster in the last third that can overwhelm many opponents.

Egypt is an above-average team that just happens to be blessed with perhaps the best player on the planet at present in Mohamed Salah.

Most of their hopes will rest on Salah’s shoulders, which are in devastating form and are more than good enough to carry the team on their own, but that presupposes that no other opponent can come up with a way to neutralize him.

That would be a concern for Egypt, whose squad lacks other bonafide superstars. They will need Salah if they are to win.

Keep an eye on Group E. The Ivory Coast is one of the tournament favorites and will have to fight another challenger – and current holder, Algeria, for an easier way to the final.

On paper, it can be a difficult question, but Les Elephants has a huge squad bursting with talent that can overlook any opponent on any given day.

Sebastien Haller is in the shape of his life in attack, and he is complimented by Wilfried Zaha, Franck Kessie and Nicolas Pepe at the top. The Ivorians are here to compete.

We’ve talked a lot about how scary Algeria will be, and for good reason. The reigning champions are still without a doubt one of the top sides on the continent.

With Riyad Mahrez, Islam Slimani and Said Benrahma on the offensive, Algeria are just as intimidating as any other side here, but they also have talent in midfield and at full-back, where Ramy Bensebaini and Youcef Atal can wreak havoc.

If they can finish above the Ivory Coast as expected, Algeria will be favorites for every match they face at least until the semi-finals, so expect them to make some noise late.

Few teams have the same type of quality as Senegal. Wherever you look, you will find stars.

Sadio Mane is sensational at the top, Kalidou Koulibaly can be the tournament’s best defender and Edouard Mendy will be in the Golden Glove conversation after all is said and done.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg of Senegalese ice. Their depth is second to none and they are the highest ranked African side in the FIFA rankings for a reason. If Senegal do not reach the final, something has gone terribly wrong.

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