Sports Gazette’s 2021 AFCON preview train moves to Group E which hosts defending champions Algeria, 2015 Champions Ivory Coast alongside long absent Sierra Leone and twice hosts Equatorial Guinea.
If there is any doubt left about Algeria’s intent to successfully defend the title they won in 2019, the 2021 Arab Cup win and the 3-0 thumping of Ghana in an international friendly on 5th January is enough to clear them.
With two title wins in 19 appearances at AFCON, the Desert Warriors are in Cameroon to not only win a third but also to break the record of most consecutive matches without defeat in international football. The record is currently being held by Italy (37) but Algeria’s 33 consecutive wins could match and surpass 37 at AFCON 2021.
Manchester City forward Riyad Mahrez is the marshal of this highest ranked African team. He has a huge task before him but the secret weapon in this team is currently unattached winger Youcef Belaili who will take the AFCON opportunity to increase his market value.
Algeria are a compact and complete side. Its chemistry is top notch and the man in charge, coach Djamel Belmadi has proven that he has the masterplan for Algerian success.
The defending champion’s team in Cameroon include:
Goalkeepers: Rais M’Bolhi (Ettifaq, Saudi Arabia), Alexandre Oukidja (Metz, France), Moustapha Zeghba (Damac, Saudi Arabia).
Defenders: Djameleddine Benlamri (Qatar SC, Qatar), Aissa Mandi (Villareal, Spain), Mohamed Amine Tougai (Esperance, Tunisia), Ilyes Chetti (Esperance, Tunisia), Abdelkader Bedrane (Esperance, Tunisia), Ramy Bensebaini (Borussia Mönchengladbach, Germany), Youcef Atal (Nice, France), Houcine Benayada (Etoile du Sahel, Tunisia), Mohamed Reda Halaimia (Beerschot, Belgium), Mehdi Tahrat (Al Gharafa, Qatar)
Midfielders: Ismael Bennacer (AC Milan, Italy), Ramiz Zerrouki (FC Twente, Netherlands), Adem Zorgane (Charleroi, Belgium), Haris Belkebla (Brest, France), Sofiane Feghouli (Galatasaray, Turkey), Sofiane Bendebka (Al Fateh, Saudi Arabia).
Forwards: Riyad Mahrez (Manchester City, England), Adam Ounas (Napoli, Italy), Youcef Belaïli (Unattached), Said Benrahma (West Ham United, England), Yacine Brahimi (Al Rayyan, Qatar), Farid Boulaya (Metz, France), Islam Slimani (Lyon, France), Baghdad Bounedjah (Al Sadd, Qatar), Mohamed Amine Amoura (Lugano, Switzerland).
The 2021 edition marks the Nzalang Nacional’s first appearance at a tournament they have not themselves hosted.
Ranked 114th in the world and 28th in Africa, this team’s strength lies in the presence of home-based players who have been together for quite some time.
This list has Futuro Kings goalkeeper Manuel Sapunga, Deportivo Unidad goalkeeper Mariano Magno, Futuro Kings defender Miguel Angel Maye, Futuro Kings forward Pedro Oba, Deportivo Unidad defender Cosme Anvene and Futuro Kings defender Luis Enrique Nsue.
Deportivo Alaves midfielder Alex Balboa also made Coach Juan Micha’s team alongside Olympiacos forward Oscar Siafa and Las Palmas defender Saul Coco.
Micha leads this team to their third AFCON appearance. The team’s best performance thus far is a fourth-place finish on home soil in 2015 where they lost 4-2 on penalties to DR Congo after extra time ended goalless.
Their campaign starts against Ivory Coast on January 12 at the Japoma Stadium, Douala.
Equatorial Guinea squad for 2021 AFCON include:
Goalkeepers: Aitor Embela (Somozas, Spain), Jesus Owono (Deportivo Alaves, Spain), Manuel Sapunga (Futuro Kings, Equatorial Guinea), Mariano Magno (Deportivo Unidad, Equatorial Guinea).
Defenders: Carlos Akapo (Cadiz, Spain), Marvin Anieboh (Cacereno, Spain), Cosme Anvene (Deportivo Unidad, Equatorial Guinea), Saul Coco (Las Palmas, Spain), Miguel Angel Maye (Futuro Kings, Equatorial Guinea), Luis Meseguer (Navalcarnero, Spain), Basilio Ndong (Start, Norway), Luis Enrique Nsue (Futuro Kings, Equatorial Guinea), Esteban Obiang (Antequera, Spain)
Midfielders: Javier Akapo (Ibiza Islas Pitiusas, Spain), Alex Balboa (Deportivo Alaves, Spain), Ruben Belima, Federico Bikoro (both Hercules), Jannick Buyla (Gimnastic Tarragona, Spain), Santiago Eneme (Nantes, France), Pablo Ganet (Real Murcia, Spain), Jose Machin (Monza, Italy), Josete Miranda (Niki Volos, Greece).
Forwards: Dorian Hanza (Langreo, Spain), Luis Nlavo (Sporting Braga, Portugal), Emilio Nsue (unattached), Pedro Oba (Futuro Kings, Equatorial Guinea), Iban Salvador (Fuenlabrada, Spain), Oscar Siafa (Olympiakos Volos, Greece).
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Les Elephants have won this tournament in 1992 and 2015, but have been unable to convince pundits and commentators that they still have what it takes to rule the continent again. A group stage finish in 2017 and a Quarter final loss in 2019 leaves so much to be desired from this team who are currently ranked 10th in Africa and 56th in the world.
Crystal Palace forward Wilfried Zaha will be with the team which will be a huge relief to Coach Patrice Beaumelle .The manager initially had doubts after the 29-year-old reportedly asked not to be included for last year November’s World Cup qualifiers.
Manchester United defender Eric Bailly is also available for selection and will hope to be injury free while the tournament lasts.
Ajax striker Sebastian Haller has had a stellar performance so far this season with 12 goals in 17 Eredivisie. The striker, who also holds the Champions League record for most goals (9) in their first five matches, will be crucial to this team’s success. Wolverhampton Wanderers defender Willy Boly and Arsenal forward Nicolas Pepe are also included.
Sadly, Manchester United forward Amad Diallo who has played just once this season for United is left out. This exclusion is most likely due to a lack of playing time.
The man to watch out for in this squad meanwhile is Burnley winger Maxwel Cornet who has impressed this season in the Premier League so far this season with six goals in 11 appearances for the Clarets.
Italy-based players such as AC Milan midfielder Franck Kessie, Sassuolo midfield pair of Hamed Traore and Jeremie Boga and Lazio’s Jean-Daniel Akpa Akpro all bring an interesting European depth to this squad.
Ivory Coast play their opening game against Equatorial Guinea on 12 January
The Cote d’Ivoire squad for AFCON 2021 includes :
Goalkeepers: Sylvain Gbohouo (Wolkite Ketema, Ethiopia), Badra Ali Sangare (JDR Stars, South Africa), Abdoul Karim Cisse (Asec Mimosas, Ivory Coast), Ira Eliezer Tape (San Pedro, Ivory Coast).
Defenders: Serge Aurier (Villarreal, Spain), Eric Bailly (Manchester United, England), Willy Boly (Wolverhampton Wanderers, England), Wilfried Kanon (Pyramids, Egypt), Odilon Kossounou (Bayer Leverkusen, Germany), Simon Deli (Adana Demirspor, Turkey), Ghislain Konan (Reims, France).
Midfielders: Habib Maiga (Metz, France), Maxwel Cornet (Burnley, England), Serey Die (Sion, Switzerland), Ibrahim Sangare (PSV Eindhoven, Netherlands), Jean-Daniel Akpa Akpro (Lazio, Italy), Franck Kessie (AC Milan, Italy), Hamed Traore (Sassuolo, Italy), Jeremie Boga ( Sassuolo, Italy), Max Gradel (Sivasspor, Turkey), Jean Michael Seri (Fulham, England).
Forwards: Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace, England), Jean Evrard Kouassi (Trabzonspor, Turkey), Nicolas Pepe (Arsenal, England), Sebastien Haller (Ajax, Netherlands), Christian Kouame (Anderlecht, Belgium), Yohan Boli (Al-Rayyan, Qatar), Karim Konate (Asec Mimosas, Ivory Coast).
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The Leone stars return to the continent for their first AFCON appearance since 1996. Currently ranked 108th in the world and 25th in Africa, this team’s steady rise makes them one of the teams in Cameroon.
Holding Nigeria home and away during the 2021 AFCON Qualifiers (4-4 and 0-0) was the Leone Stars’ statement of intent on the continent and the team will hope to build its confidence around that performance.
Head coach John Keister finally named his 28-man squad in late December and few days after he complained that he received death threats due to his inclusion of certain players. Hopefully, this terrible development can be cast aside, and this team can focus on its set targets in this competition.
AGF Denmark striker Mustapha Bunda, East End Lions goalkeeper Mohamed Nbalie Kamara, Neuchatel Xamax defender Umaru Bangura and LA Galaxy forward Augustin Williams are crucial members of this squad having come through the youth ranks from U-17 to U-23 now to the senior team.
Sierra Leone’s 2021 AFCON opening game is against defending Champions Algeria at the Japoma stadium in Douala on the 11th of January.
Squad members include:
Goalkeepers: Mohamed Nbalie Kamara (East End Lions, Sierra Leone), Ibrahim Sesay (Bo Rangers, Sierra Leone), Isaac Caulker (FC Kallon, Sierra Leone).
Defenders: Yeami Dunia, Saidu Mansaray (both Bo Rangers, Sierra Leone), Osman Kakay (QPR, England) Kevin Wright (Unattached), Steven Caulker (Gaziantep, Turkey), David Sesay (Wealdstone, England), Umaru Bangura (Neuchatel Xamax, Switzerland), Daniel Francis (Rot Weiss Ahlen, Germany).
Midfielders: Mohamed Kamara (Unattached), John Bankole Kamara (Kesla, Azerbaijan), Abu Dumbuya (East End Lions, Sierra Leone), Saidu Bah Kamara, Prince Barrie (both Bo Rangers, Sierra Leone), Kwame Quee (Vikingur Reykjavic, Iceland), Saidu Fofana (FC Kallon, Sierra Leone), Issa Kallon (SC Cambuur, Netherlands), Idris Kanu (Peterborough United, England), Alhassan Koroma (Real Balompedica Linense, Spain).
Forwards: Musa Noah Kamara (Bo Rangers, Sierra Leone), Augustine Williams (LA Galaxy, USA), Mustapha Bundu (AGF, Denmark), Alhaji Kamara (Randers, Denmark), Sullay Kaikai (Wycombe Wanderers, England), Mohamed Buya Turay (Henan Songshan, China), Kei Ansu Kamara (HIFK, Finland).
Group fixtures include:
11 Jan. 14:00 Algeria v Sierra Leone
12 Jan. 20:00 Ivory Coast v Equatorial Guinea
16 Jan. 17:00 Ivory Coast v Sierra Leone
16 Jan. 20:00 Algeria v Equatorial Guinea
20 Jan. 17:00 Algeria v Ivory Coast
20 Jan. 17:00 Sierra Leone v Equatorial Guinea
All games except Sierra Leone vs Equatorial Guinea will take place at the Japoma stadium in Douala. Sierra Leone v Equatorial Guinea will take place at the Limbe Stadium in Limbe.
All games are in local time (GMT +1).
Algeria’s recent exploits make them a favorite candidate for not just the top spot in the group but also the 2021 AFCON title itself. Ivory Coast has an array of stars that can deliver the second spot. The third and final spot would be a tussle between Sierra Leone and Equatorial Guinea but the Leone stars have a team who have been together a while and can rely on that to nick third place.
To be continued….
You can read more of our AFCON 2021 coverage here: https://sportsgazette.co.uk/category/football/
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