As the footballing world looks forward to the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) kick-off in Cameroon on January 9, FRANCE 24 looks at the favourites and outside bets in the battle for the trophy.
Twenty-four national teams will be competing at CAN but only one can win the crown. Here are the favourites as well as some of the often overlooked contenders vying for victory:
Algeria are the favourites to win and pull off their second consecutive CAN triumph after winning the tournament last time, in 2019. They stormed through the qualifiers for both CAN and the 2022 World Cup in December – with four wins and two draws in both cases. Boasting one of Africa’s greatest players in the shape of Manchester City winger Riyad Mahrez, Djamel Belmadi’s side are flying high on a streak of 33 consecutive matches unbeaten in all competitions.
Even without their European-based players – most of their strongest talent, including Mahrez – Algeria surged to victory at the FIFA Arab Cup in Qatar in November and December, with notably impressive performances by winger Youcef Belaili and attacking midfielder Yacine Brahimi. Nevertheless, as football fans have long observed in many a tournament, the status of favourites often creates the burden of high expectations.
The Teranga Lions, as they are nicknamed, have been recognised as one of African football’s most formidable forces ever since their famous victory over France – the mighty Bleus of Thierry Henry and Patrick Viera – in the 2002 World Cup. At every CAN, Senegal is heralded as one of the favourites to seize the trophy.
After narrowly losing out to Algeria in the CAN-19 final, Aliou Cissé’s men are serious contenders to realise their long-acclaimed potential and win their first-ever trophy – especially since they have some of the most impressive talent in the shape of superstar Liverpool winger Sadio Mané, Chelsea goalkeeper Édouard Mendy and Napoli centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly.
Cameroon grabbed the attention of football fans when they became the first-ever African team to reach the World Cup quarter-finals in 1990, losing only to Bobby Robson’s famous England team. They lack the major stars their rivals have – but Cameroon’s opponents will be wary of the home advantage they enjoy.
In any case, Cameroon’s Portuguese manager Antonio Conceicao is not afraid to set very high expectations with his vow to “at least” reach the final
The Pharaohs are the perennial favourites to win CAN for two reasons. The first is that they have historically been the most successful team at the Africa Cup of Nations – winning the trophy seven times, including three times in a row in 2006, 2008 and 2010.
The second reason is Mo Salah. The Liverpool striker is one of the greatest players in the world right now – some would say the best striker football has at the moment. After winning the Champions League and Premiership with his club Liverpool, Salah has every incentive to power Egypt to CAN glory.
Morocco have proven themselves a force to look out for after showing a remarkably successful defensive line-up in the CAN qualifiers – conceding just one goal – and a fearsome attack in the World Cup qualifiers – scoring 20 goals; the second-best tally behind Algeria’s.
Such is Morocco’s strength that manager Vahid Halilhodzic has been able to drop some of their best players – namely Chelsea’s Hakim Ziyech, Ajax’s Noussair Mazraoui and Marseille’s Amine Harit without affecting their performance.
The Eagles of Carthage, as they are nicknamed, look like a strong outside bet to win CAN-22 after romping to the best qualification performance of any team with 16 points (five wins and draw). Manager Mondher Kebaier has got some strong performances from the side – taking them to the FIFA Arab Cup final – but while Tunisia can steamroll to victory over average sides, they have often struggled against the big teams. If Kebaier wants to fulfil fans’ high expectations and take Tunisia to their second CAN victory since their 2004 win, he will have to get them over this psychological barrier.
Mali boast a young and enthusiastic squad and a well-respected manager in the shape of Mohamed Magassouba, impressive performances, an immaculate track record in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers and – above all – an iron defence. All these factors make them strong candidates to pull off a surprise and come back from Cameroon with the CAN trophy.
Ivory Coast are a completely different team from the side that won the Africa Cup of Nations in 2015. Stalwarts Yaya Touré, Kolo Touré and Copa Barry are all gone.
Now a rejuvenated and similarly gifted squad has taken their place – with a magnificent attack centred around Crystal Palace star Wilfried Zaha, arguably the best Premier League player not at one of the big six clubs, and Ajax striker Sébastien Haller, currently the Champions League’s top scorer.
With Arsenal winger Nicolas Pépé making darting runs and whipping in crosses while AC Milan’s Franck Kessié holds the fort in central midfield, Ivory Coast will be running a lot of defenders scared in Cameroon.
It’s a youthful squad hungry for a win, who see no reason to wait for the tournament to play on home soil in 2023 before they lay claim to the trophy.
This article was translated from the original in French.