The Group Stage of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying event got underway in November with Namibia, Ghana, Gambia, Algeria, Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, Tunisia, Malawi, Nigeria, and Ivory Coast among those all beginning their campaigns with important victories. The 2021 tournament is due to be hosted in Cameroon in June 2021 where Algeria will defend their trophy.
The 2021 tournament will be the 33rd edition of the event which is held every two years. The 2019 edition was the first to feature 24 teams. Algeria became AFCON champions after beating Senegal 1-0 in the final to win their second trophy and a first since 1990, and Nigeria finished third after beating Tunisia by the same scoreline in the third-place play-off match.
Early winners and losers
After matchday two of the qualification campaign, the groups began to take shape with Ghana, Senegal, Algeria, Tunisia, Madagascar, and Nigeria the only teams to maintain a 100% record from their opening two games. Faring less well were Equatorial Guinea, Eswatini, Zambia, Rwanda, Burundi, Angola, Sao Tome e Principe, South Sudan, and Chad, who all failed to earn a point from their opening two fixtures. But which teams will be tipped by football betting and prediction experts ahead of the 2021 event?
Comoros surprise leaders of Group G
The most eye-catching result was Comoros’ opening day win away to Togo. It was the country’s first away win in a major qualifying tournament and they followed it up with a 0-0 draw at home to Egypt to go top of Group G. The Indian Ocean Island nation has never qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations, so making it to Cameroon would be a historic achievement for a country of just 850,00 inhabitants that is blighted by extreme poverty.
Comoros 🇰🇲 0-0 🇪🇬 Egypt: Comoros fans invaded the pitch after their team held African giants Egypt to a goalless draw at home in the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier on Monday. #AFCON2021Q #DiskiFans pic.twitter.com/toUFP7rENT— DISKIFANS (@diskifans) November 18, 2019
Four of the six teams to win both of their opening games also finished in the top four places at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations. So it is no surprise that Algeria, Senegal, Nigeria, and Tunisia will be amongst the favourites to win in 2021. Of those four, Nigeria will feel they have the most to prove after a period of relative failure on the international circuit.
A brighter future for Nigeria?
Early exits in the Under-17 and Under-20 men’s World Cup tournaments, failure to qualify for the 2020 African Nations Championship (CHAN), and the men’s and women’s team’s failure to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo have prompted questions about the governance of the game in Nigeria from senior politicians. However, Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) president Amaju Pinnick hit back blaming recent investigations by anti-corruption authorities and a lack of funding for poor performances on the pitch.
In a 15-page statement, he described the “toxic” environment in which his federation has been operating over an 18-month period due to scrutiny from investigative agencies as a result of “baseless allegations.” The President and five other officials were accused of corruption but the Nigerian government recently dropped its own case against the men. However, investigations by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) are still ongoing.
Despite the dark cloud still lingering, the men’s national team have enjoyed some positive results in recent months, drawing in friendlies against Ukraine and Brazil, before beating Benin and Lesotho to go to the top of their AFCON qualifying group. Their squad is packed with players from Europe’s top leagues including Ola Aina of Torino, William Troost-Ekong of Udinese, Samuel Chukwueze of Villarreal, Alex Iwobi of Everton, Wilfred Indidi of Leicester City, Moses Simon of Nantes, and Victor Osimhen of Lille. Those looking to wager on the Super Eagles should keep an eye on the early odds as they become available with some keen prices expected.
FT Lesotho 2-4 Nigeria. Eagles displayed strong spirit and resilience to take all three points in Maseru from a hard fighting Lesotho #TotalAFCON2021Q #SoarSuperEagles #Team9jaStrong pic.twitter.com/Nl78cIq5It— 🇳🇬 Super Eagles (@NGSuperEagles) November 17, 2019
Can Algeria retain the trophy?
Algeria were the deserved winners of the 2019 tournament having played some exciting football on the way to glory. Unfortunately, they lost a few admirers with the way they resorted to spoiling tactics after going 1-0 up in the final. There were fouls, feigned injuries, dives, and plenty of other time-wasting tactics that were symptomatic of their desperation to win.
They have fewer top-level players than some of their rivals but they still have the likes of Riyad Mahrez, Islam Slimani, Aissa Mandi, and Sofiane Feghouli in their ranks. After a tentative start to their campaign in the form of a 1-0 win in Botswana, they strolled to a 5-0 win over Zambia to go to the top of Group H and will be amongst the contenders again.
Other teams to look out for
Along with Nigeria and Algeria, it is likely that Senegal and Tunisia will also go deep into the tournament once again. Senegal were runners-up in 2019, while Tunisia finished in fourth place. Both sides got off to a perfect start in qualifying.
Madagascar were the surprise package of 2019 when they reached the quarter-finals, and look set to qualify for the second time after winning their opening two group stage games. French Coach Nicolas Dupuis will be in charge once again having extended his contract with the Barea for another four years.
The next round of qualifying matches will take place in August 2020 with qualification concluding in November.