The 2019 Africa cup of nations kicks off a special era in African football. A refreshed tournament that expands to 24 teams in the summer months of June-July allows the bulk of European-based stars to concentrate fully on continental gold. 
For years, the African continental tournament was undermined by being played in January, when Africa’s biggest stars are right in the middle of the season at their European clubs. The new scheduling eliminates the risk to players’ health mid-season as well as distractions over losing their place at the club.

Mo Salah is Egypt’s hope of a successful AFCON. Image Credit: Ahmed Awaad/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Hosts Egypt want to extend their record-seven titles on home soil to cap their resurgence to the limelight, considering their dominance in previous years and African Player of the year Mohammed Salah, the host country have a target on their backs. Salah would no doubt be raring to go, however, after winning the Premier League Golden boot with two other Africans on 22 goals and scoring in Liverpool’s champions league triumph over Spurs. 
Alex Iwobi is looking to further establish his family in African football history by making a mark for Nigeria much like his uncle Jay Jay Okocha did. The young but talented Super Eagles begin their tournament against Burundi, before facing Guinea and Madagascar in group B. 

Cameroon won the last AFCON in 2017. Image Credit: Gallo Images

Defending champions Cameroon hope their coaching crew consisting Clarence Seedorf and Patrick Kluivert add some Dutch tactical masterclass that can lead them to glory in Africa. With Dutch Eredivisie champion André Onana as one of the most important players, the Ajax goalkeeper would look to inspire the indomitable lions to a sixth AFCON title.

Senegal. Image credit: Twitter/ football Senegal

Star-studded Senegal are the team to beat on paper and the Teranga lions are poised to dominate African football with their talented squad. The highest-ranked African nation are led by Liverpool’s Sadio Mané, one of Africa’s three Premier League golden boot winners; they also have Kalidou Koulibaly, Moussa Wagué, Salif Sané, Idrissa Gueye, Cheikhou Kouyaté, Ismaïla Sarr and Keita Baldé in their ranks. Needless to say, the big question for most star-studded African teams is if they can gel properly to succeed in the African game. They are up against Algeria, Kenya and Tanzania in group C.

Morocco face Namibia, South Africa and Ivory Coast and are one of my personal favourites. The most-impressive African team at the FIFA world cup are led by AFCON specialist Hervé Renard, who won it with Zambia and Ivory Coast to become the first coach to do so with two different countries. Such that he became an awkward club manager when he did leave Africa for French clubs Sochaux and Lille, he managed short, unsuccessful spells.

Africa nations cup specialist Herve Renard. Image credit: Getty Images. 

The Frenchman can count on the talents of Hakim Ziyech, with 19 goals and 16 assists for Ajax, Younès Belhanda, Nordin Amrabat, Sofiane Boufal, Noussair Mazraoui , Nabil Dirar, Youssef En-Nesyri, Achraf Hakimi and captain Mehdi Benatia. 
2015 champions Ivory Coast are in an interesting group alongside Namibia, Morocco and South Africa. The Elephants have a particularly strong squad with the likes of breakout star Nicolas Pépé who notched 22 goals and 11 assists in the French Ligue 1, Wilfried Zaha, Serge Aurier, Geoffrey Serey Dié, Franck Kessié, Maxwell Cornet and Jonathan Kodija.

Nigeria are hoping for an upsetting triumph. Image Credit: Instagram/Mikel Obi

The refreshed nature of this year’s AFCON, alongside the searing heat in the summer months of Egypt means many surprises await. Will Nigeria make a return to the tournament with a bang? Can Senegal get the job done? Will Egypt rekindle their dominance? I can only write and speculate so much, it’s left to the titans.
That said, I am particularly looking forward to the performances of Nigeria’s Samuel Chukwueze and Ivory Coast’s Zaha and Pépé.

Bolu Alabi-Hundeyin
June 20, 2019

Bolu Alabi-Hundeyin

Chief Editor of the Football Castle, Bolu Alabi-Hundeyin is a football junkie and writer of the beautiful game.

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