Credit: Confederation of African Football

What are we expecting to see at AFCON?

A look at the favourites, the dark horses and key players vying for glory at the latest instalment of the AFCON

In the pulsating world of African football, anticipation is building as the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) 2024 unfolds in January. The tournament promises a thrilling showcase of skill, passion and intense competition as the continent’s footballing giants clash in pursuit of glory. With a myriad of talented teams, identifying the favourites, potential dark horses, and standout players poised to take the tournament by storm is a captivating exercise for fans worldwide. 

As the whistle prepares to blow, several teams stand out as early favourites to clinch the coveted AFCON title. Senegal are reigning champions – under the stewardship of coach and former Paris Saint Germain midfielder Aliou Cisse, they will be eager to defend their crown and boast a squad brimming with top-class talent. Led by their captain Kalidou Koulibaly and the ever-prolific Sadio Mane, the Senegalese combine experience and youth, creating a formidable force that will be a threat to any opposition. Another team with their eyes set on glory is perennial powerhouse Nigeria. The Super Eagles, known for their attacking prowess and dynamic play, feature a blend of seasoned campaigners and emerging stars. Boasting the likes of Victor Osimhen and Samuel Chukweze, Nigeria carry the weight of expectations and will aspire to reclaim the AFCON throne over 10 years since their last triumph in 2013. An additional team to keep your eyes on is Egypt. Led by Liverpool icon Mohamed Salah, they stand as a formidable force in the tournament. After reaching the final in AFCON 2022, The Pharaohs will certainly be looking to go one step further this time around. Coach Hossam El Badry has crafted a team that blends defensive solidity with attacking flair, making Egypt a force to be reckoned with on the continental stage. 

While these nations emerge as favourites, the beauty of AFCON lies in its unpredictability, with potential dark horses lurking in the shadows, ready to upset the established order. One such team is Cape Verde, the Blue Sharks, who face Ghana in their opening fixture. With a fairly experienced squad, including winger Garry Rodrigues, Cape Verde has the potential to surprise and go deep into the competition. 

As the tournament unfolds, the spotlight will undoubtedly shift to individual brilliance, with several players poised to take AFCON 2024 by storm. One name that echoes loudly is Sadio Mane, the aforementioned talismanic forward from Senegal. The former Liverpool star has consistently delivered standout performances for both club and country, and AFCON provides him with a stage to further solidify his status as one of Africa’s footballing greats. Another player to watch is Achraf Hakimi, the Moroccan full back who plies his trade with Paris Saint-Germain. Hakimi’s blistering pace, defensive solidity and attacking prowess make him a potential game-changer for Morocco, and his performances could be instrumental in their quest for AFCON glory. Morocco will be looking to build on their success from the Qatar 2022 World Cup, where they progressed as far as the semi-finals, eventually coming out in fourth place. 

Despite all the glorious success and beauty of African football, previous tournaments have been marred by the presence of apparent corruption on the pitch. For instance, in last year’s group stage encounter between Tunisia and Mali, referee Janny Sikazwe blew the full-time whistle in minute 85, and again in minute 89, in an attempt to cut short the game in favour of the former. A total of seven referees have been banned in Africa due to links to corruption, adding to the total of 14 who have been suspended across the last 5 years.

AFCON 2024 promises to be a spectacle that will captivate football enthusiasts around the globe. The favourites will battle to maintain their supremacy, while dark horses will strive to upset the order, and individual talents will seek to etch their names into the annals of African football history. It will also be important from a club perspective too. With many European clubs losing their African talents mid-season as they compete, we will see how they manage during an action-packed and relentless campaign.

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