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All eyes on Egypt as Nations Cup kicks off



All eyes on Egypt as Nations Cup kicks off

The twenty-four best teams on the continent of Africa will be in Egypt, the land of the Pharaohs, from this Friday striving to outwit themselves in order to be crowned champions when the African Cup of Nations draws to a close on July 19. Although, Africa’s ‘World Cup’ has always captivated the attention of those on the continent, the rising profile of the “foreign brigade” means that the interest in this edition, which is the 32nd, will spread far and wide around the globe.


For many of the stars descending on the North African country are already household names the world over playing for their various teams in Europe and other places. Only three weeks ago a trio of players from the continent, were spearheaded Liverpool’s march to another European conquest when they beat fellow English side, Tottenham Hotspur in the final of the UEFA Champions League at the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid, Spain.


Egyptian star, Mohamed Salah scored from the spot after just 106 seconds, before substitute Divock Origi sealed the icing on the cake after 87 minutes for the Reds’ sixth European crown. Other African stars that played a pivotal role in ensuring only the second all-England final include Liverpool’s Sadio Mane and Spurs’ Victor Wanyama, who will be filling out in the colours of Senegal and Kenya in Egypt. However, they are not the only foreign-based players leading the armada of 552 players to Egypt over the next one month; with the bulk of the players now plying their trades outside the shores of the continent.


Other equally notable stars heading to Egypt include our own very John Obi Mikel, who will be making his fifth appearance at the continent’s top football competition for national teams, Alex Iwobi, who was a member of the Arsenal side which lost to Chelsea in the final of the Europa League last month, and Leicester City’s Wilfred Ndidi.


Other household names taking part in the month-long tournament include: With 24 teams taking part in the competition for the first time in its 62-year-old history, that means there are six groups of four teams each playing in six stadia dotted across Egypt. However, the capital city, Cairo is hosting two of the venues, namely: Cairo International Stadium, 30 June Stadium and Al Salam Stadium; with the 74,100-seater Cairo International Stadium (which is the largest venue) hosting the opening and final games.


Other venues to be used include: Alexandria Stadium in Alexandria, Suez Stadium in Suez and Ismailia Stadium in Ismailia. The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has chosen 27 of the continent’s top referees to handle matches in Egypt, unfortunately no match official from Nigeria was deemed fit enough to make the grade; while of the 30 assistant referees that will be running the lines only Baba Adel will be representing Nigeria.


Like all football tournament’s Egypt 2019 has had its own fair share of likely winners and stars expected to light up the competition. Some of the heavyweight teams tipped for glory include, 2002 runners-up Senegal, hosts, Egypt, champions, Cameroon and three former champions, Tunisia, Nigeria and Morocco.




Currently the top African football nation, the Lions of Teranga, as the Senegalese national team is called, has been the top team on the continent since replacing Tunisia on top of the FIFA rankings last November. Presently ranked 22nd in the world, according to the (April FIFA), under the guidance of Aliou Cisse, who made 35 appearances for the national team, the Te r a n g a Lions have become a formidable side.


C i s s e , who played either as a midfielder or defender, captained the Senegal team at the 2002 FIFA World Cup. After a stunning 0–1 victory over reigning world champions France on matchday one, the team made it all the way to the quarter finals where they lost 1–0 to Turkey.


The former captain, who was also part of the Senegal team who were the runners-up in the 2002 African Cup of Nations, but was one of the players who missed a penalty during the shootout in the final as they lost to Cameroon, has been in charge of the Lions since March 2015.


Under his leadership, the Teranga Lions qualified for Russia 2018 on November 10, 2017, courtesy of a 2–0 away win against South Africa. Unfortunately, Senegal were knocked out in the group stage of the tournament after becoming the first team in FIFA World Cup history to be eliminated due to fair play tiebreaker rules. Speaking afterwards, a crestfallen Cisse said: “This is one of the rules. We have to respect it. Of course, we would prefer to be eliminated another way. It’s a sad day for us but we knew these were the regulations.”


Senegal, which qualified for Egypt 2019 unbeaten, has gone six games unbeaten with her last loss coming in their 1-0 defeat to Colombia on June 28 last year in Samara, Russia during the World Cup.

Led by their mercurial Sane, who had an outstanding season with Liverpool, the Teranga Lions is full to the brim with foreign-based players, with some of them playing in top clubs around the world including Everton midfielder, Idrissa Gana Gueye, Cheikhou Kouyate of Crystal Palace, Inter’s Keita Balde and Napoli’s towering defender, Kalidou Koulibaly, who is reportedly wanted by a host of clubs including Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea.


Placed in Group C along with Algeria, Kenya and Tanzania, the Teranga Lions kick off their Nations Cup campaign on June 23 against Taifa Stars of Tanzania who are coached by Nigeria’s 1994 Nations Cup hero Emmanuel Amuneke, who ended the East African side’s 39-year wait to return to the tournament. Senegal then follows up with a very tricky clash against 1990 winners Algeria before rounding up their group fixtures against the Harambee Stars of Kenya on July 1. The Teranga Lions conclude their Nations Cup build up today with a tune up match against Nigeria in Ismailia, Egypt.


STAR MAN (Sadio Mane)


Twenty-seven-year-old Sadio Mane, who became a European champion with his English Premier League side, Liverpool, early this month, is captain of the side. With 60 caps and 16 goals he is one of the most experienced players in the side having made his national debut in 2012.

He has since gone on to represent the Lions at the 2012 Olympics, 2015 Africa Cup of Nations, 2017 Africa Cup of Nations and the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Sane began his career with Metz in France on January 12, 2012 after honing his skill at the Académie Génération Foot, Senegalese football academy.


He transferred to Red Bull Salzburg in Austria later that same year. After winning the Austrian Bundesliga and Austrian Cup in 2014, he was signed by Southampton.


In 2015, Mane set a new Premier League record for the fastest hattrick when he scored three times in 176 seconds during a 6–1 win over Aston Villa. He transferred to Liverpool in 2016 for a fee of £34 million, making him the most expensive African player in history at that time. Since joining Liverpool, Mane among other achievements scored in the 2018 UEFA Champions League Final.


The following season he was joint recipient of the Premier League Golden Boot with 22 goals Unlike Russia 2018 when an injury lay off meant that he was not fully fit for the World Cup, Sane goes into Egypt 2019 in the best form of his life and many Senegalese will be hoping that with him in their fold the Teranga Lions will finally be able to make the pinnacle of African football by being crowned Nations Cup champions.




Ranked 8th, the Pharaohs of Egypt are the most successful team in the tournament having already won the title seven previous times. However, their last victory was way back in 2010 when they dimed the Black Stars 1-0 in the final played in Angola.

At the last tournament, played in Gabon, they reached the final were they lost to Cameroon. Like Senegal, the Pharaohs were one of Africa’s representatives at Russia 2018, but also like the Teranga Lions an injury to their key man, Mohamed Salah meant that he was not at his best as the North Africans failed to progress past the group stage. Last August the Egyptian FA decided to place their trust in 60-year-old former two-time Mexico coach, Javier Aguirre.


Aguirre, whose coaching career has spanned 23 years with stints in Spain with Osasuna, Atletico Madrid, Zaragoza and Espanyol, has overseen a minirevival of Egyptian football with the national team going five games unbeaten since September last year until a March 26 1-0 loss to Nigeria in an international friendly played in Asaba.


However, in truth the former Mexican international midfielder, who won 59 caps, did not go to Delta State with a full strength side. With the expectations of the nation on his shoulders, Aguirre, who briefly coached Japan between 2014 and 15, will, however, be able to call on a more formidable side for the Nations Cup campaign.



With a 66.67% success with the Pharaohs having won four, drawn one and losing one of his six matches, Egyptians will be quietly confident that he will be able to deliver in their record setting fifth hosting of the Nations Cup. He will also be able to enjoy a full fit Salah to rely on unlike the half fit player who was in Russia last summer.


The Pharaohs kick off their Nations Cup quest in Group A against Zimbabwe on Friday and follow this up on June 26 against DR Congo before concluding against Uganda four days later.


STAR MAN (Mohamed Salah)


Mohamed Salah is undoubtedly the standout player for the North Africans.


The 26-year-old Liverpool star, who scored the first goal in the Reds’ 2-0 Champions League final win over Spurs on June 1, has had stellar season ending joint leading English Premier League scorer with team mate Sane and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Arsenal with all of them finishing on 22 goals each.


Considered one of the best players in the world, he is known for his finishing, dribbling, and speed, Salah has blossomed under Jurgen Klopp and unlike the World Cup when he was not match fit having been injured in the final of the Champions League, which they lost to Real Madrid, the forward is injury free.


Standing just 1.75 m (5ft 9in) tall, the Egyptian has honed his other attributes to ensure that he is consistent goal threat whenever he is on the field. On April 5, he scored his 50th Premier League goal for Liverpool in a 3–1 win over Southampton and in the process broke Fernando Torres’ record to become the fastest player to reach the milestone for the club, doing so in his 69th appearance.


It also saw him become the third fastest to player to reach the milestone for a single club in the Premier League era, behind Shearer for Blackburn Rovers, in 66 appearances, and van Nistelrooy for Manchester United, in 68 appearances.


Later that month, he scored the second goal in a 2–0 win over Chelsea which helped Liverpool earn a club-record-equalling 26th win for the Premier League campaign; and the club’s second-highest ever wins return in the top-flight after the record of 30 set in 1979. Egyptians will be hoping that “Mo”, as he is fondly called by Liverpool fans, will be able to reproduce the same form for the Pharaohs and pilot them to an eighth triumph.




The Indomitable Lions is one of the most feared teams on the continent with five African titles to their name. Current champions of the biennial competition, the Lions have qualified seven times for the FIFA World Cup, more than any other African team (1982, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2010 and 2014). They were the first African team to reach the quarter-final of the World Cup, in 1990, losing to England in extra time in a game which shot Roger Milla to international fame.


On August 4, 2018 the Cameroon Football Federation (FECAFOOT) surprisingly announced that former Dutch midfielder; Clarence Seedorf would be in charge of the Indomitable Lions.


It was the 43-year-old’s first stint at handling a national team after previously coaching Italy’s AC Milan and Deportivo La Coruna in Spain.


His record so far with the Lions will not be inspiring confidence with Cameroon fans as the former Ajax star has only a 37.50% win ratio after eight matches with only three wins two draws and three defeats. But perhaps what is more worrying is the inability of his Lions to roar with only seven goals scored and an equally number let in! Seedorf can rely on a number of quality players in his effort to secure a sixth title.


STAR MAN (Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting)


Now 30, Choupo-Moting began his career with Hamburger SV, making his Bundesliga debut in August 2007. He spent the 2009–10 season on loan at FC Nurnberg and in August 2011 he joined FSV Mainz 05. After three seasons with Mainz he moved on to Schalke 04 in August 2014. He became a regular for the Gelsenkirchen club, and made over 100 appearances, before joining Premier League side Stoke City in August 2017.



In August last year, he joined Ligue 1 club Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer. He has so far amassed 50 caps for the national team scoring 15 goals.




Ranked the second best team on the continent after Senegal, 2004 champions, Tunisia has participated in three quadrennial major football competitions. It appeared in the end stages of five FIFA World Cups and 18 Africa Cup of Nations, and featured at four Olympic football tournaments.

Nevertheless, they created history in that 1978 tournament in Argentina by becoming the first African side to win a World Cup match, beating Mexico 3–1. In recent times, the Carthage Eagles have turned to former France international, Alain Giresse in a bid to end their trophy drought. The French footballer of the year in 1982, 1983 and 1987 was named Tunisia coach on December 13, 2018 and has achieved a 66.67% win rate with two wins and a loss in three matches so far played.


STAR MAN (Wahbi Khazri)


Wahbi Khazri is one of the most experienced players in the team. At 28 the Saint-Étienne of France player has amassed 43 caps and scored 15 goals.





Nigeria’s Super Eagles will be gunning for their fourth title in Egypt after topping their qualification group despite an opening round shock home defeat to South Africa. Under their German manager, Gernot Rohr, the Eagles have managed some sort of consistency. They may not play very entertaining football but they have remained unbeaten in nine games going back to the 2-1 reversal to Argentina at Russia 2018.


The former defender, who will turn 66 during the Nations Cup, has been able to instil some form of defensive solidity in the Eagles, which means that although they may not score many goals; but they equally do not concede too many either.


Rohr is also not one to shy away from making tough decisions which was obvious in dropping Kelechi Iheanacho and Semi Ajayi from his final Nations Cup squad, which he released last week. The two players were unused substitutes last Saturday as Zimbabwe held the Super Eagles to a goalless draw at the Stephen Keshi Stadium Warri in an Egypt 2019 tune up game.


Incidentally, Iheanacho had featured prominently in ensuring the Eagles qualified for Russia 2018; but an indifferent season with Leicester cost him a place in the Nations Cup team.


However, the former Niger and Burkina Faso manager raised many eyebrows when he opted to recall John Obi Mikel to the team even though the former Chelsea star last featured for the Eagles in the defeat to Argentina.


The German has a fairly decent winning ratio with the Eagles having so far won 21 of the 36 matches he has played (58.33%). He has only lost six games. Rohr, who handled Gabon (2010-12), concluded his Nations Cup tune up yesterday with a game against high ranking Senegal at the Ismailia Stadium in Ismailia, Egypt.


Currently ranked the third best team in Africa, Nigerian fans will be hoping that come July 19 the Super Eagles will be in the final.


The Eagles kick off their Egypt campaign in Group B along with Guinea, Madagascar and Burundi and their first game comes up on June 22 against the Swallows of Burundi, who will be making their ever Nations Cup appearance.


STAR MAN (John Mikel Obi)


John Mikel Obi is undoubtedly the stand out player in the Super Eagles. Although getting to the tail end of a glittering career, the player, who shone like a million stars at the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Holland, placing second behind Lionel Messi, Mikel is still experienced enough to help his younger teammates perform well in Egypt.


Mikel, whose 87th cap against Zimbabwe meant he is Nigeria’s third most capped player, will tie the record of 94 jointly held by Vincent Enyeama and Joseph Yobo should the Eagles fly all the way to the final.


Now 32, the former Tianjin Teda of China star, whose glittering career includes two Premier League, three FA Cups, Football League Cup, Community Shield, Europa League and Champions League titles (all with Chelsea) and the 2016 Olympics football bronze medal, would love nothing more than to add to his solitary Nations Cup trophy (2013) before he finally calls it quits with the national team.




The Atlas Lions of Morocco arrive Egypt as the fourth highest ranked team at the competition and will be hoping to finally lay to rest a 43-year-old jinx. Since winning the competition way back in 1976 the Lions have become the “nearly men” of the Nations Cup coming close in 2004 when they won the silver medal and 1980 when they finished third.


However, they do have some decent pedigree on the international stage for instance they were the first African team to win a group at the World Cup, which they did in 1986, finishing ahead of Portugal, Poland, and England.


They were also the first African team to make it to the second round, barely losing to eventual runners-up West Germany 1–0 in 1986.


They also came within two minutes of moving out of the group stage of the 1998 FIFA World Cup, Kjetil Rekdal’s late winning goal for Norway against Brazil eliminating them.

Morocco qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, making it their first time in 20 years. Under Herve Renard, the man who guided unfancied Zambia to a shock Nations Cup win in 2012, Morocco has only lost once in seven matches since the World Cup and that was to Argentina in an international friendly on March 26 in Tangier, Morocco.


The 50-year-old French tactician, who also won the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations with Cote d’Ivoire, becoming the first coach to win two competitions with different countries, took charge of the Lions in 2016 and has steadily improved them taking them to the quarter-finals of the last edition in Gabon and Russia 2018.


He, however, has his work cut out with the Atlas Lions placed in Group D, the “ G r o u p of Death”, a l o n g – side Cote d’Ivoire, South Africa and Namibia.


STAR MAN (Hakim Ziyech)


They come no bigger than Hakim Ziyech. At just 26, the Dronten, Netherlands born Moroccan was one of the stars of Ajax’s impressive Champions League run which ended in the semis.



Known for his finishing, dribbling, speed, technique and free kick ability, Ziyech, who had featured at all age-grade levels for the Dutch national teams, opted to play for his fatherland in 2015 and since then has gone on to win 23 caps scoring 12 times in the process.


Currently on the wish list of many of the big teams in Europe, Ziyech, who was a member of the Lions’ Russia 2018 party, will be hoping to end his season with a Nations Cup medal around his next.






Group A:


Egypt, Zimbabwe, Uganda, DR Congo




Group B:



Madagascar, Burundi, Guinea, Nigeria




Group C:


Kenya, Tanzania, Algeria, Senegal



Group D:


Namibia, South Africa, Cote d’Ivoire, Morocco



Group E:


Angola, Mauritania, Mali, Tunisia




Group F:


Guinea-Bissau, Benin, Ghana, Cameroon




Overall top goalscorers


Goals                                             Scorers

12                                               Cameroon Samuel Eto’o

14                                                Cote d’Ivoire Laurent Pokou

13                                                Nigeria Rashidi Yekini

12                                               Egypt Hassan El Shazly

11                                               Cameroon Patrick Mboma

Egypt Hossam Hassan

Cote d’Ivoire Didier Drogba


10                                              DR Congo Ndaye Mulamba

Cote d’Ivoire Joel Tiéhi

Ethiopia Mengistu Worku


Tunisia Francileudo Santos

Zambia Kalusha Bwalya

9 Angola Manucho

Cote d’Ivoire Abdoulaye Traoré

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