10 teams most likely to win the Africa Cup of Nations: Everything you need to know about the tournament
AFCON 2021: When are the matches taking place?
Group Stages: 9 January-20 January.
Round of 16: 23-26 January.
Quarter-finals: 29 & 30 January.
Semi-finals: 2 & 3 February.
Third-place play-off and Final: 6 February.
AFCON 2021 Where is the tournament taking place?
Cameroon is hosting the 33rd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations.
This is just the second time the tournament has been played in Cameroon after 1972.
AFCON 2021: What is the format and who’s drawn who?
The format is the same as the European Championships, apart from the fact there’s a third-place match at AFCON.
The top two in each group advance to the round of 16, along with the four best-ranked third-place finishers.
From the round of 16, it’s a straight, single-elimination, knockout competition.
AFCON 2021: Which teams are more likely to win the tournament?
Will this finally be the year Mali get their hands on the Africa Cup of Nations trophy for the very first time?
In their history, they’ve reached the semi-finals of this tournament six times, losing in five of them, with their sole final coming in 1972 when they were beaten by Congo.
That tournament was the last one hosted by Cameroon, so that could be a good omen for the Eagles
In more recent times, Mali have crashed out in the group stages in 2015 and 2017, before making the last 16 three years ago but losing 1-0 to Côte d’Ivoire.
Mohamed Magassouba’s squad doesn’t feature many many established stars, more up-and-coming players who could get a big move after this tournament.
Amadou Haidara of RB Leipzig, Hoffenheim’s Diadie Samassékou and Yves Bissouma of Brighton are a very solid set of midfielders.
Their squad also features two Adama Traoré’s, both of whom scored in the same game at the last AFCON, a 3-0 victory over Mauritania.
The marginally older Adama Traoré, who has 41 caps, shone for FC Sheriff in the Champions League this season, scoring against both Inter and Shakhtar Donetsk.
However, they could lack a bit of firepower as star striker, Moussa Marega, hasn’t been picked by the national team since joining Al-Hilal in Saudi Arabia.
On their day, Mali can certainly beat anyone in this tournament but will probably just fall short when it coms to winning the whole shebang.
Mali are 25/1 to win AFCON 2021.
Tunisia have been uber-consistent in recent years but will they now claim some silverware to show for their efforts?
The Eagles of Carthage ended their 12-year wait to qualify for a World Cup in 2018 and are a two-legged play-off away from being at 2022 too.
Also, at the last AFCON in 2019, wins over Ghana and Madagascar got them to the semi-finals before they were ousted 1-0 by Senegal in extra time.
That was the first time Tunisia have reached the last four since their one and only AFCON triumph back in 2004 on home soil.
But, they’ve now qualified for 16 consecutive tournaments, last failing to do so in 1992, consistency that is unmatched.
While most teams at this tournament will be underprepared, the same cannot be said of Mondher Kebaier’s side.
The majority of this squad were together in Qatar last month, competing at the FIFA Arab Cup.
They beat Mauritania, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Egypt en route to the final before narrowly losing 2-0 to Algeria after extra time in Al Khor.
This though means Tunisia have lost just two of their last 19 competitive matches against fellow African nations.
Their talisman is Wahbi Khazri of Saint-Étienne as he currently has 22 international goals to his name but, in general, it’s a squad without stars.
20 year old Omar Rekik of Arsenal and Manchester United’s Hannibal Mejbri, who’s only 18, will be hoping to break into the starting XI at this tournament.
This lack of star quality might just hold Tunisia back but it’s going to take a top side to knock them out.
Tunisia are 14/1 to win AFCON 2021.
8: Côte d’Ivoire
Will one of the traditional powerhouses of African football rule the continent again?
Between 2006 and 2014, Côte d’Ivoire qualified for three successive World Cups, despite having never appeared at the tournament before.
However, the streak was broken in 2017 following a defeat to Morocco as Ivory Coast missed out on the tournament in Russia.
Five years later, they’re not going to be at Qatar 2022 either having been eliminated in the second round of qualification by Cameroon.
So, this tournament is a chance for les Éléphants to restore some pride in the national team.
During the glory years, Côte d’Ivoire reached three Africa Cup of Nations in just six editions.
They were beaten in the finals of 2006 and 2012, by Egypt and Zambia, before finally lifting the trophy in 2015 with a 9-8 shootout victory over Ghana.
In 2019, Ivory Coast enjoyed wins over South Africa, Namibia and Mali before losing to eventual winners Algeria on penalties in the quarter-finals.
Despite their recent slump in results, Patrice Beaumelle’s squad is jam-packed with talent.
Serge Aurier, Eric Bailly and Willy Boly are all likely to be apart of the defence with Franck Yannick Kessié and Jean Michaël Seri in midfield.
Going forward, the array of talented options they have is enviable.
Maxwell Cornet, Jean-Daniel Akpa Akpro, Nicolas Pépé, Wilfried Zaha and others will all be vying to start in wider positions.
Sébastien Haller will lead the line though; he’s currently the UEFA Champions League’s top scorer this season with ten goals in six appearances for Ajax.
Les Éléphants certainly have the quality on paper but can they turn this into results at this tournament?
Ivory Coast are 8/1 to win AFCON 2021.
Will this be the year Morocco end their long wait to be Africa Cup of Nations champions again?
The Atlas Lions’ sole title in this tournament came way back in 1976, subsequently finishing fourth in 1986 and 1988 and losing the 2004 final to rivals Tunisia.
At the last edition, despite winning all three group games, Morocco were on the wrong end of a huge shock in the last 16, crashing out to Benin on penalties.
So now, they’ll be looking to win an AFCON knockout game for the first time since that run to the final 16 years ago.
The North African side though are in very good form in recent years.
They’ve lost just one of their last 27 competitive games against fellow African teams and are unbeaten in 23, excluding shootouts defeats.
In this time, they’ve qualified for Russia 2018, their first World Cup for two decades, and reached last month’s FIFA Arab Cup quarter-finals.
However, their squad has almost completely changed from that tournament in Qatar with European-base stars now available.
Goalkeeper Yassine Bounou is one of the best at this tournament and he’ll have captain Romain Saïss and PSG’s Achraf Hakimi as part of his back-line.
Bounou’s Sevilla teammates Munir El Haddadi and Youssef En-Nesyri will be the main goal threat up the other end of the field.
Minor is finally available for Morocco following FIFA’s change of eligibility requirements while En-Nesyri has 11 international goals to his name.
However, they will be without Chelsea superstar Hakim Ziyech who’s been left out the squad after a falling out with Vahid Halilhodžić.
Unless his team go on to win the whole tournament, it feels as though the Head Coach has shot himself in the foot with that one.
How far will Morocco go at this tournament?
Morocco are 9/1 to win AFCON 2021.
Will 2022 be the year that Ghana rules African football once again?
The Black Stars have won this competition four times in their proud history, only two nations have more, but the last of these came way back in 1982.
Since, they’ve lost in five semi-finals and three finals, settling for second in 1992, 2010 and 2015, the latter 9-8 on penalties against Côte d’Ivoire.
In 2019 though, they crashed out in the round of 16, again on penalties, this time against Tunisia with Caleb Ekuban the only man to miss.
Penalty shootouts aside, Ghana have only lost four of their last 26 competitive matches, dating back to the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations.
It’s fair to say that Milovan Rajevac’s squad is full of familiar faces and experienced stars.
Leicester’s Daniel Amartey and Thomas Partey of Arsenal play in the Premier League week in week out so will certainly be linchpins.
Centre-back Jonathan Mensah is one of just two players in this squad who were apart of Ghana’s historic run to the World Cup quarter-finals in 2010.
The other is André Ayew who, along with his brother Jordan, are the experienced voices in this dressing room with 100 and 73 caps to their names.
André, who now plays for Qatar Stars League champions Al Sadd, will be looking to score at a sixth different AFCON tournament, emphasising his longevity.
Will 2022 be the year the Black Stars rise again?
Ghana are 12/1 to win AFCON 2021.
Will the hosts be kings of the continent again?
Cameroon won this tournament as recently as 2017, beating Egypt 2-1 in the final in Libreville, to claim their fifth Africa Cup of Nations title.
However, very little has gone right for them since that triumph.
The Indomitable Lions failed to qualify for Russia 2018 and then, at the last AFCON, crashed out at the round of 16 stage, losing 3-2 to Nigeria.
But, to end last year, Cameroon enjoyed a statement victory in World Cup qualifying, beating Côte d’Ivoire 1-0 at home.
This saw them reach the third round, at Ivory Coast’s expense, so will face a two-legged play-off in March with a place at Qatar 2022 on the line.
Before then, Cameroon will host AFCON for just the second time and the first for 49 years.
In the competition’s history, 11 hosts have won the trophy but this hasn’t happened in the last seven editions, dating back to 2006.
Toni Conceição’s side, hopefully roared on by a big home crowd, will be looking to change that and they certainly have the talent to do it.
André Onana is, possibly, the best goalkeeper at the tournament and similar could be said about André-Frank Zambo Anguissa in midfield terms.
Up top, Vincent Aboubakar and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting have 25 and 17 international goals respectively with the former bagging the winner in the final five years ago.
Cameroon don’t have the out-right strongest squad at this tournament but, with home advantage, will believe they can go all the way.
Cameroon are 9/1 to win AFCON 2021.
Nigeria are certainly one of Africa’s great footballing nations but will they be lifting silverware again in 2022?
In their history, the Super Eagles have qualified for six World Cup finals, the second-most of any African side, all coming since USA ’94.
If they win the upcoming two-legged play-off in March, they’ll have made it to four successive World Cups for the first time.
In AFCON terms, Nigeria have won three titles to date, lifting the trophy in 1980, 1994 and 2013, beating Burkina Faso in Johannesburg nine years ago.
At the last edition, they got all the way to the semi-finals before, heartbreakingly, conceding a 95th minute free-kick to lose 2-1 to Algeria.
Staggeringly, Nigeria have, at least, finished third at 12 of their last 13 AFCON appearances, 2008 the exception, so are always there or thereabouts.
Given the talent at Augustine Eguavoen’s disposal, 2022 should be no different.
A more than useful back four can be deployed, featuring Ola Aina at right-back with William Troost-Ekong and Kenneth Omeruo in the middle.
Wilfred Ndidi is without doubt one of the best midfielders in the Premier League while Joe Aribo has been staring for Rangers in recent months.
What could hold them back is the withdrawal of two star centre-forwards for very different reasons.
Victor Osimhen, who scored nine goals in 14 appearances for Napoli this season, will not be back in time due to a fractured cheekbone.
Emmanuel Bonaventure Dennis meanwhile has been left out after his club Watford put pressure on the NFF not to include him.
Even so, there’s still plenty of firepower.
Samu Chukwueze, Alex Iwobi, Odion Ighalo and Ahmed Musa have all scored at AFCONs before while Kelechi Ịheanachọ will look to do so for the first time.
The Super Eagles are always there come semi-finals night but will the be lifting the biggest prize on 6 February in Yaoundé?
Nigeria are 9/1 to win AFCON 2021.
Will the Africa Cup of Nations’ most successful team add another trophy to their haul?
Egypt have won this competition no less than seven times, including winning three-in-a-row in 2006, 2008 and 2010.
They also reached the final of the 2017 edition but were beaten 2-1 in that final by Cameroon at Stade d’Angondjé
Despite this success, the Pharaohs endured a 28-year World Cup exile before eventually putting that right at Russia 2018.
So, going into the 2019 edition, a tournament they hosted, the expectation was that Egypt would walk away with the trophy again.
Expectation levels soared even higher when they won all three group games, beating Zimbabwe 1-0 and then DR Conga and Uganda 2-0.
But then, in the last 16, the Cairo International Stadium was stunned silent when underdogs South Africa scored the only goal of the night four minutes from time.
This saw the Pharaohs crash out of their own tournament prematurely so can that agony motivate them to go all the way this time round?
The majority of this squad, 22 of 28 players, ply their trade in the Egyptian Premier League, six of which with African club champions Al Ahly.
Most of these players, as well as Ahmed Hegazi who’s based in Saudi Arabia, were in Qatar together last month for the FIFA Arab Cup.
Egypt reached the semi-finals of that tournament before losing to Tunisia in Doha, courtesy of a 95th minute own goal by Amr El Solia.
Nevertheless, that extra cohesion can only be a benefit and now they get to add some extra star quality too.
Mohamed Elneny, Mostafa Mohamed and Trézéguet all improve the XI but, in reality it’s all about one man: Mohamed Salah.
The captain’s form for Liverpool means many are saying he’s the best player in the world right now, scoring 23 goals in 26 games so far this season.
At international level, Salah has 45 goals to his name and, having lost the AFCON Final five years ago, will be determined to go all the way this time.
Can the man nicknamed ‘the Egyptian King’ help his nation be kings of Africa?
Egypt are 7/1 to win AFCON 2021.
What about the holders Algeria, can they become only the fourth nation to win back to back Africa Cup of Nations titles?
In July 2019, the Dessert Foxes beat Senegal 1-0 in a pretty drab final, in which Baghdad Bounedjah’s deflected winner came a mere 70 seconds in.
Algeria fans though don’t care about the quality of the goal, nor the excitement of the spectacle as they won their second AFCON and first since 1990.
Despite that 29-year wait for silverware, Algeria won another major honour just last month.
Wins over Sudan, Lebanon, Morocco and hosts Qatar took them to the FIFA Arab Cup Final where they overcame Tunisia 2-0 after extra time.
Just 12, out of 28, members of the squad for this tournament were victories in Qatar but it just adds to the sense of invincibility around this team.
With European-based players now available, Djamel Belmadi has some very high quality players to choose from all over the pitch.
Aïssa Mandi and Ramy Bensebaïni will form part of the backline while Ismaël Bennacer is a top-class defensive midfielder.
Further forward, Sofiane Feghouli, Saïd Benrahma, Baghdad Bounedjah and Islam Slimani can all be dangerous but it is all about their talisman.
Captain Riyāḍ Maḥrez has 26 international goals to his name, including an unforgettable 95th minute free-kick in the 2-1 semi-final win over Nigeria in 2019.
Will Algeria paint Africa green again?
Algeria are 6/1 to win AFCON 2021.
The only side to appear in multiple Africa Cup of Nations Finals without ever winning one; will Senegal put that right in 2022?
The Lions of Téranga have lit up African Football in the past, famously reaching the quarter-finals of World Cup 2002, defeating holders France en route.
That year, they also reached their first ever AFCON Final but were beaten by Cameroon in a penalty shootout after 120 goalless minutes.
17 years later, at the last edition, they got to the final again, beating Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Benin and then Tunisia in extra time to get there.
However, a deflected shot just 70 seconds in would prove to be the only goal of the night as they were beaten 1-0 by Algeria in Cairo.
Having come so close two and a half years ago, will Senegal go all the way this time round?
Head Coach Aliou Cissé was apart of that great 2002 team as a player and now, as the boss, has a superb squad at his disposal.
Goalkeeper Édouard Mendy won the UEFA Champions League with Chelsea last season and is, possibly, the best shotstopper Africa has to offer.
Captain Kalidou Koulibaly missed the 2019 final due to yellow card accumulation and he alongside Cheikhou Kouyaté form a very solid duo.
Idrissa Gana Gueye, Pape Gueye and Nampalys Mendy are very solid midfield options, proving a base for attacking players to shine.
Ismaïla Sarr, Keita Baldé Diao and Boulaye Dia could provide a threat up top but, just like Egypt, it’s really all about their superstar from Liverpool.
Sadio Mané, to date, has 26 international goals to his name, including netting at AFCON 2017 & 2019 as well as the World Cup in between.
With a very solid side throughout, and one world class forward in particular, Senegal are going to take some stopping at this tournament.
Senegal are 4/1 to win AFCON 2021.