Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

AFCON 2021 PREVIEW – ROAD TO YAOUNDE (PT 1)

Posted on 3 January 2022 by Mary Akinsola

Africa was initially supposed to converge in Cameroon for the AFCON in 2019 but the country was stripped of its hosting rights for failing to meet the required standards and was awarded the 2021 edition instead. A pandemic ravaged the world and the country had to wait another year to throw its doors open to the continent.

After a long wait, the 2021 edition of the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) football tournament will kick off on the 9th of January in the Central/West African country of Cameroon. A tournament which began 65 years ago and has produced 14 different winners, a platform which celebrates the best of African football alongside its culture and its people.

Embed from Getty Images

The last few days has seen European media questioning the legitimacy and timing of the competition and African players being asked if they would honor your national call-ups to some football clubs flat out refusing to allow players honor national team call ups taking advantages of loopholes in the system like in the case of Watford, Nigerian Football Federation and Emmanuel Dennis.

African football stakeholders do have so much to do in the coming days by using the media as the important tool it is in shaping discussions around this elite competition

There are changes to the competition format this year too as necessitated by the pandemic. CAF has expanded the squad list size to 28 to allow for more squad depth and cover for covid- related suspensions.

AFCON GROUP PREVIEWS 

Let’s take a look at the countries involved according to the group distribution with regards to ranking, prospects and strengths.

AFCON GROUP STAGES
2021 AFCON GROUPS

First, Group A – Cameroon (Host Nation), Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde

CAMEROON

Uncertainties have now been set aside, Cameroon will go ahead to host AFCON 2021. A nation that has won this coveted title five times and last winning it in 2017, there are high expectations from this team which some have touted as title contenders.

Popularly referred to as the Indomitable Lions, the 50th ranked team in the world (7th in Africa) are on paper the strongest in the group and will strive to make the best use of this advantage.

With a relatively young yet experienced side, there are great prospects to look out for in the team.  Al Nasr’s forward Vincent Aboubakar is the man who will wear the armband as he hopes to lead his nation to a sixth AFCON title) .

Aboubakar scored the winning goal to seal Cameroon’s title victory in 2017.

Aboubakar began his career at Coton Sport, Cameroon before moving to Europe in 2010 where he played for Valenciennes and Lorient, clubs both based in France. In 2014, he signed for Porto, where he played over 100 games and scored over 50 goals. He won the Primeira Liga title with Porto and the Turkish Süper Lig title while on loan at Beşiktaş in 2016–17.

On the International scene, the 29 year old Aboubakar has 80 caps for Cameroon since his international debut in May 2010 till date scoring 27 goals. He was part of their squads for the 2010 and 2014 FIFA World Cups, as well as the Africa Cup of Nations in 2015 and 2017. He scored the winning goal to seal their AFCON 2017 title win.

Ajax Goalkeeper, Andre Onana who returns after serving his FIFA ban for doping, Bayern Munich’s Choupo- Moting and Lyon’s Toko- Ekambi are also other players whose prowess will make a difference in the tean’s aspirations.

Cameroon kicks off its title challenge on home soil on the opening day against fellow Group A campaigners, Burkina Faso

The full team list include:

Goalkeepers: Simon Omossola (AS Vita Club, DR Congo), Devis Epassy (OFI Crete, Greece), Andre Onana (Ajax, Netherlands).

Defenders: Collins Fai (Standard Liege, Belgium), Olivier Mbaizo (Philadelphia Union, USA), Michael Ngadeu-Ngadjui (Gent, Belgium), JC Castelletto (Nantes, France), Harold Moukoudi (St Etienne, France), Enzo Ebosse (Angers, France), Ambroise Oyongo Bitolo (Montpellier, France), Jerome Onguene (Red Bull Salzburg, Austria), Nouhou Tolo (Seattle Sounders, USA).

Midfielders: Jean Onana Junior (Bordeaux, France), Malong Kunde (Olympiakos, Greece), Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa (Napoli, Italy), Samuel Gouet Oum (Mechelen, Belgium), Martin Hongla (Hellas Verona, Italy), James Lea Siliki (Middlesbrough, England), Yvan Neyou (St Etienne, France).

Forwards: Ignatius Ganago (Lens, France), Christian Bassogog (Shanghai Shenua, China), Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting (Bayern Munich, Germany), Stephane Bahoken (Angers, France), Karl Toko-Ekambi (Lyon, France), Moumi Ngamaleu (Young Boys, Switzerland), Vincent Aboubakar (Al Nasr, Saudi Arabia), Clinton Njie (Dinamo Moscow, Russia).

 

BURKINA FASO

Although there is no official confirmation yet after midfielders Charles Kabore and Alain Traore were excluded from Coach Kamouy Malo’s list from the tournament, captaincy duties would most likely go to Aston Villa’s Betrand Traore. With 59 caps, he is the man with the highest number of appearances within the present national team squad.

Midfielder Traore began his youth career with Auxerre in France back in 2009 from where he moved to Chelsea Academy. He joined the Chelsea senior team in 2014 where he had loan spells with Vitesse and Ajax before officially securing a transfer to Lyon where he scores 21 goals in 81 appearances.

In September 2020, he signed for Aston Villa.

Bertrand Traore takes over as captain with 59 international caps

On the international scene Traore made his debut for the senior team at the age of 15 and has appeared at three AFCON editions (2013,2015 and 2017)

Traore who has only just returned to action after a thigh injury sustained back in October during international duty will be looking to propel Burkinababes to an outing better than their third place finish at the competition in 2017

The full team list include –

GOALKEEPERS: Hervé Kouakou KOFFI (Sporting de Charleroi, Belgium), Farid Sofiane OUÉDRAOGO (Majestic SC, Burkina Faso), Kilian NIKIEMA (ADO Den Haag, Netherlands), Aboubacar Babayouré SAWADOGO (RC Kadiogo, Burkina Faso)

DEFENDERS: Edmond TAPSOBA (Bayer Leverkusen, Germany), Issoufou DAYO (RS Berkane, Morocco), Yacouba Nasser DJIGA (FC Basel, Switzerland), Soumaïla OUATTARA (FUS de Rabat, Morocco), Steeve YAGO (Aris Limassol, Cyprus), Issa KABORE (Troyes, France), Patrick MALO (Hassania Agadir, Morocco), Oula Abass TRAORÉ (Horoya AC, Guinea), Hermann NIKIEMA (SALITAS FC, Burkina Faso)

After a third place finish at 2017 AFCON, Burkina Faso failed to qualify for the 2019 edition.

MIDFIELDERS: Gustavo Fabrice SANGARÉ (Quevilly-Rouen, France), Dramane NIKIEMA (Horoya AC, Guinea), Adama GUIRA (Racing Rioja CF, Spain), Blati TOURÉ (AFC Eskilstuna, Sweden), Ismahila OUEDRAOGO (PAOK Salonika, Greece), Saïdou SIMPORÉ (Ittihad Alexandria, Egypt)

FORWARDS: Bertrand TRAORÉ (Aston Villa, England), Zakaria SANOGO (Ararat-Armenia, Armenia), Cyrille BAYALA (AC Ajaccio , France), Éric TRAORE (Pyramids FC, Egypt), Mohamed KONATE (Akhmat Grozny, Russia), Dango Aboubacar Faissal OUATTARA (FC Lorient, France), Boureima Hassane BANDÉ (NK Istra, Croatia), Abdoul Fessal TAPSOBA (Standard de Liège, Belgium), Jean Botué Fiacre KOUAMÉ (AC Ajaccio, France), Cheick Djibril Ouattara (Olympique de Safi, Morocco)

CAPE VERDE

Since qualifying for the AFCON finals and making a quarter final berth in 2013, Cape Verde have proved their potential to football lovers on the continent.

Ranked 73rd in the world and 14th in Africa, the tiny Island nation seem to have found their rhythm on the continent and most football lovers will look to them to fancy their chances in this group.

Goalkeeper Vozinha is at the helm of affairs assisted by other experienced team members like Marco Soares, Ryan Mendes, Julio Tavares and Djaniny showing that there is so much to be expected from the Blue Sharks.

The Rock at the Back – Goalkeeper, Vozinha

Vozinha was a part of the impressive 2013 AFCON team. He also was a part of the team at the 2015 finals.  He will be looking to lead the team to an outing better than their 2013 Quarter final stage feat at this finals in Cameroon

Cape Verde will open their account at the 2021 AFCON against Ethiopia on the 9th of January

Full team list include –

Goalkeepers: Vozinha (AEL Limassol, Cyprus), Marcio da Rosa (Montalegre, Portugal), Keven Ramos (Mindelese, Cape Verde).

Defenders: Stopira (Fehervar, Hungary), Steven Fortes (Oostende, Belgium), Jeffry Fortes (De Graafschap, Netherlands), Steve Furtado (Beroe, Bulgaria), Roberto Lopes (Shamrock Rovers, Republic of Ireland), Joao Paulo Fernandes (Feirense, Portugal), Diney Borges (AS Far, Morocco), Ponck (Istanbul Basaksehir, Turkey), Dylan Tavares (Neuchatel Xamax, Switzerland).

 

Cape Verde – A tiny Island Nation that never fails to impress

Midfielders: Kenny Rocha (Oostende, Belgium), Nuno Borges (Casa Pia, Portugal), Patrick Andrade (Qarabag, Azerbaijan), Jamiro Monteior (Philadelphia Union, USA), Nenass (Aalesund, Norway), Marco Soares (Arouca, Portugal).

Forwards: Ryan Mendes (Al Nasr, UAE), Willy Semedo (Pafos, Cyprus), Gilson Tavares (Estoril-Praia, Portugal), Willis Furtado (FK Jerv, Norway), Julio Tavares (Al Faisaly, Saudi Arabia), Garry Rodrigues (Olympiakos, Greece), Lisandro Semedo (Fortuna Sittard, Netherlands), Djaniny Semedo (Trabzonsport, Turkey).

ETHIOPIA

Cape Verde’s Opening day rivals Ethiopia will be captained by El Gouna’s Shimelis Bekele.

Highest International appearances for Ethiopia, Shimelis Bekele (67)

The attacking midfielder who already has 57 national team appearances to his name with nine goals will lead the Walia Ibex at the AFCON tournament in Cameroon.

Ethiopia, the first team to arrive in Cameroon will be looking to Captain Bekele and other team members like Aschalew Tamene and Getaneh Kedebe to bring on much needed experience to this side which boasts of players who play on the African continent which will no doubt we a massive advantage.

The coach Wubetu Abate led side last featured on the continent at the 2013 edition hosted by South Africa.

Opening day fixture is against Cape Verde on Sunday 9th January

The full team list includes

Goalkeepers: Teklemariam Shanko (Sidama Coffee, Ethiopia), Fasil Gebremichael (Bahir Dar Ketema, Ethiopia), Jemal Tassew (Adama Ketema, Ethiopia).

Defenders: Asrat Tunjo (Ethiopian Coffee, Ethiopia), Suleiman Hamid (St George, Ethiopia), Remedan Yesouf (Wolkite K, Ethiopia), Desta Yohannes (Adama K, Ethiopia), Aschalew Tamene (Fasil K, Ethiopia), Yared Bayeh (Fasil K, Ethiopia), Mignot Debebe (St George, Ethiopia), Menaf Awol (Bahir Dar K, Ethiopia).

Midfielders: Amanuel Yohannes (Ethiopian Coffee, Ethiopia), Gatuoch Panom (St George, Ethiopia), Shemeles Bekele (El Gouna, Egypt), Mesoud Mohammed (Jimma AJ, Ethiopia), Fitsum Alemu (Bahir Dar K, Ethiopia), Firew Solomon (Sidama Coffee, Ethiopia), Bezabeh Meleyou (Fasil K, Ethiopia).

After failing to qualify for the last three editions, can the Walia Ibex make a return to glory days in Cameroon?

Forwards: Abubeker Nassir (Ethiopian Coffee, Ethiopia), Getaneh Kebede (Wolkite K, Ethiopia), Amanuel Gebremichael (St George, Ethiopia), Shemeket Gugsa (Fasil K, Ethiopia), Mujib Kassim (JS Kabylie, Algeria), Mesfin Taffese (Hawassa K, Ethiopia), Dawa Hotessa (Adama K, Ethiopia).

GROUP A FIXTURES

9 January    17:00     Cameroon   v  Burkina Faso        Olembe Stadium, Yaoundé

9 January      20:00     Ethiopia     v   Cape Verde           Olembe Stadium, Yaoundé

13 January    17:00     Cameroon    v   Ethiopia                 Olembe Stadium, Yaoundé

13 January      20:00    Cape Verde  v  Burkina Faso         Olembe Stadium, Yaoundé

17 January     17:00    Cape Verde    v   Cameroon              Olembe Stadium, Yaoundé

17 January     17:00   Burkina Faso  v    Ethiopia                Kouekong Stadium, Bafoussam

Cameroon are overwhelming favorites as group topper at the end of the group stage but a tightly contested second place finish battle between the remaining three evenly matches teams will also be interesting.

 

To be continued….