Democratic Republic of Congo’s elimination to Congo Brazzaville in the first qualifying round of the African Nations Championship saw the defending champions, and two-time winners miss out on the tournament in Morocco, opening the door to a plethora of contenders to slug it out for their title.
Hosts Morocco may not have the best pedigree in the tournament, heck they were eliminated in the Group stage of the biennial competition two years ago in Rwanda, yet it’ll be naïve not to include the hosts as one of the favorites this time around. No host nation has ever won the competition, however, so the Atlas Lions have their work cut out in trying to make history. They face 2016 semi-finalists Guinea, Sudan and Mauritania in Group A.
Nigeria may have made the last three tournaments, but the competition continues to elude them. The home-based Eagles will be out to do better than their 2014 showing (which still remains their best performance in the competition) when they ended third. Salisu Yusuf’s side also have to do better than two years ago when they failed to make it to the knockout rounds. They face favourites Libya, Rwanda and Equatorial Guinea in Group C.
2014 winners Libya come into the biennial competition as one of the favorites. Having missed out on the chance to defend their title last time out in Rwanda, the Mediterranean Knights will be extra motivated when they cross that white line in Morocco. They will have to better Nigeria and Rwanda (with debutants Equatorial Guinea not given much of a chance) if they are not to see dreams of a second ACN title crushed.
Ivory Coast are making their fourth appearance in the biennial tournament, and having secured third place last time out in Rwanda, will seek to better their performance. The Elephants will have to outfox Zambia, Uganda and Namibia in Group B if they are to avoid what will surely be a shocking group-stage elimination for a side touted to make an impact in the latter stages of the competition.
Cameroon are two-time quarter-finalists in the competition having made the last eight in 2011 and 2016. However, the West Africans have failed to ever make it into the final four and beyond in their three appearances in the competition. They will have to contend with the 2011 runners-up Angola, Congo and Burkina Faso in Group D.
So which team will emerge as African champions come February 4 at Stade Mohamed V, Casablanca. Vote in our comment section!