The 2021 Africa Cup of Nations has already thrown up a few surprises in the group stages as defending champions Algeria, and perennial underachievers Ghana have both been eliminated.
Algeria started their competition with a 0-0 draw against Sierra Leone before back-to-back defeats to Equatorial Guinea and Ivory Coast saw them humiliated.
Ghana didn’t fair any better. Starting with a 0-1 loss to Morocco, the Black Stars conceded an 88th minute equaliser in their 1-1 draw with Gabon. Although a victory over Comoros in their final group game would have been sufficient to progress, they were beaten 2-3 by the debutants courtesy of an 85th minute winner.
Comoros had started their tournament with 0-1 and 0-2 defeats to Gabon and Morocco respectively before pulling off arguably the biggest victory in the national football team’s history.
16 of the 24 nations progressed to the second round which makes it even more difficult for fans of Algeria and Ghana to come to terms with their early exit.
Who wins it from here?
Nigeria were the only nation to take maximum points from their three group games, beating Egypt 1-0, Sudan 3-1 and Guinea-Bissau 2-0. Their tight defence should allow for Augustine Eguavoen’s side to progress deep into the competition. However, the former defender sees his nation go up against Tunisia in the second round on Sunday – not the easiest is ties, especially given Nigeria were group winners.
The bookmakers have the Super Eagles as 8/2 third favourites to lift the trophy. The joint-favourites are Cameroon and Senegal, at 4/1. Picking a winner from here would take a lot of skill, and probably more luck than anything, such as how tight the tournament has been. You probably have more chance of winning with the worst hand in poker than you do picking a 2021 AFCON winner before the weekend.
Hosts Cameroon were the only nation to score more than one goal in their opening game, as they beat Burkina Faso 2-1 on opening night. They followed this up with a 4-1 thrashing of Ethiopia before drawing 1-1 with Cape Verde after their progression was already secure.
Stars such as Karl Toko Ekambi, André-Frank Zambo Anguissa and Andre Onana make them contenders, whilst former FC Porto striker Vincent Aboubakar has five goals in his three matches so far. If there’s one weakness, they are yet to keep a clean sheet.
Cameroon face Comoros in the second round with the winner going on to face either Gambia or Guinea. They certainly have had the luck of the draw so far.
Senegal won their group with five points. A 97th minute penalty from Sadio Mane helped them to a 1-0 victory over Zimbabwe before back-to-back goalless draws against Guinea and Malawi saw them progress.
With just one goal in the competition a team that includes Mane, Ismaïla Sarr and Boulaye Dia is certainly disappointing. But much is still expected of them and when you have the likes of Edouard Mendy, Kalidou Koulibaly, Bouna Sarr, Abdou Diallo and Idrissa Gueye protecting the goal, it’s perhaps little surprise at their impressive defensive record.
A second round clash against Cape Verde is favourable, whist they could meet Mali or Equatorial Guinea the quarter-finals.
Bookmakers have Morocco (13/2), Ivory Coast (7/1) and Mali (10/1) as the next favourites, whilst Egypt are back at 12/1 and Tunisia 20/1.