The 2019 Africa Cup of Nations kicks off on 21st June, when hosts Egypt take on Zimbabwe at the Cairo International Stadium. It will be the 32nd edition of the tournament, and it may prove difficult to forecast from a betting perspective as there have been some important changes since the 2017 finals in Gabon.
What is different about AFCON this year?
In previous years the tournament has been held in January and February, but it has been moved to fit in alongside the European football calendar. Top players such as Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané will arrive at the finals off the back of very long club seasons, which in their case only ended this month. Will they be able to bring their top form to the tournament?
The other main change is that there will be 24 nations competing in Egypt, when there have never previously been more than 16. With the teams split into six groups of four – with the top two from each group plus the four best performing third placed sides reaching the knockout stage – the group stage will see 36 matches played but only eight teams eliminated.
With nine teams from outside the world’s top 100 taking part (according to the FIFA rankings), it’s highly likely the first eight teams to go out will come from these countries. This is a competition which will truly spark into life once it reaches the round of 16, which begins on 5th July.
Are Egypt favourites to win?
History is on Egypt’s side, as they were the last hosts to win the tournament, back in 2006. The Pharaohs have also claimed the crown seven times, the most of any side, and were beaten finalists in 2017.
While having a tournament record like that can’t hurt, and having one of the world’s top forwards leading the line is never a bad thing, there’s one other very important factor in Egypt’s favour: the draw for the knockout phase.
Javier Aguirre’s team are expected to glide through Group A with no issues, illustrated by them being the shortest priced favourite to top any of the six groups. As Egypt haven’t lost a competitive home game since November 2014, they shouldn’t have any major problems.
Assuming they do emerge from Group A on top, the Pharaohs will host all of their matches in the knockout phase at the 75,000 capacity Cairo International Stadium. They can be sure to receive tremendous support from the home fans.
Not only that, but they will face a third placed team in the first knockout round, and if they navigate that hurdle, the runner up from either Group B or Group F in the last eight. In other words, if Egypt top Group A, they won’t face another group winner until the semi-final at the earliest. Home advantage plus a kind draw sees the hosts as worthy favourites.
Can Senegal become champions?
One team who could stand in their way is Senegal, who are second in the outright tournament betting. Aliou Cissé’s team are expected to top Group C, and will be on course for a meeting with Egypt in the last four if they do.
They have a surprisingly modest record in the competition, having only made the final once, back in 2002. As Sadio Mané is having a superb 2019 – with 14 league goals, plus Champions League strikes against Bayern Munich and Porto – Senegal can definitely carry hopes of claiming their first African title.
Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Ghana’s chances
With the top two in the outright betting looking unlikely to meet in the final, there should be a team in the other half of the draw with a decent chance of getting there.
The top half of the bracket will include the winners from Groups B, D and F. According to the bookmakers, these look likely to be Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Ghana respectively. These three teams are directly behind Egypt and Senegal in the outright betting too.
All three will fancy their chances. It’s hard to get a feel for Ghana’s form, as they have only played two matches since last September. They did win them both, but victories over Kenya and Ethiopia carry little weight compared to the tougher challenges which lie ahead.
Ivory Coast are in decent form, having won four and drawn two of their first six matches in 2018/19. However, they are in what appears to be the ‘group of death’, alongside Morocco and South Africa. Les Éléphants should qualify from the group, but it may not be straightforward for them to top it.
It would seem Nigeria, who are fifth in the outright betting, are the value bet. Their form is good too, having won five and drawn two since the World Cup, a run which includes a win over Egypt in March.
Gernot Rohr’s team also have Odion Ighalo in their ranks, who was the top scorer in qualifying with seven goals. The Super Eagles may yet fly under the radar and go all the way this summer.
Do you fancy their chances? Or have you got your eye on another team? Make your predictions at our sportsbook today and see how far your pick gets in the competition this summer.