Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita will all be competing for African glory over the next month.
The delayed 2021 Africa Cup of Nations is ready to get underway this Sunday with several stars on show.
Africa’s biggest men’s international tournament was originally scheduled to be played in the summer of 2021 but after two different postponements, we are finally ready to get the tournament started. The Confederation of African Football (CAF) moved the 33rd edition of the continental championship from June and July of 2021 to January and February of 2021 because of climate challenges during those summer months. The tournament has been rescheduled a second time from January and February of 2021 to January and February of 2022 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
A number of household names will be playing in Cameroon looking to bring glory to their home nations. Outside of the Liverpool squad, some big Premier League names will be competing: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon), Thomas Partey (Ghana), Nicolas Pepe (Ivory Coast), Mohamed Elneny (Egypt), Frank Onyeka (Nigeria), Yves Bissouma (Mali), Maxwel Cornet (Ivory Coast), Edouard Mendy (Senegal), Jordan Ayew (Ghana), Wilfried Zaha (Ivory Coast), Cheikhou Kouyate (Senegal), Romain Saiss (Morocco), Eric Bailly (Ivory Coast), Ismaila Sarr (Senegal), Riyad Mahrez (Algeria), Said Benrahma (Algeria), Alex Iwobi (Nigeria), Daniel Amartey (Ghana), Wilfred Ndidi (Nigeria) and Kelechi Iheanacho (Nigeria).
The AFCON is often regarded as one of the most wide-open tournaments in international football — there have been six different winners in the last six editions.
Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah will captain Egypt as they look to recapture African dominance. Egypt have won the AFCON a record seven times including winning three straight tournaments from 2006-2010. They have not won since the 2010 edition but are considered to be one of the favorites for this year’s competition.
Salah and Egypt are in Group D with Guinea-Bissau, Nigeria and Sudan. Egypt opens their group stage play against the other heavyweight in the group, Nigeria. The winner of this match is likely to top the group so it’s vital Salah and his teammates hit the ground running. Nigeria is also poised to make a deep run in the tournament.
Egypt has been in great form under former Manchester United assistant and Portuguese national team manager Carlos Queiroz. The Pharaohs finished fourth in the recent 2021 FIFA Arab Cup after a 95th-minute own goal sealed their fate in the semifinals. Egypt would go on to lose the third-place match on penalties to Qatar.
Mohamed Salah and Egypt’s AFCON schedule:
Tuesday, January 11 vs. Nigeria
Saturday, January 15 vs. Guinea-Bissau
Wednesday, January 19 vs. Sudan
Sadio Mane and Senegal enter the tournament with probably the deepest team and are favorites to win the whole competition. Senegal arrives as the highest-ranked African team in the FIFA World Rankings, coming in at 20.
Senegal lost in the 2019 AFCON final to Algeria, the countries second runners-up finish. Mane and his Senegalese teammates have been in impressive form since and went through AFCON qualifying with an unbeaten record.
Mane and Senegal are in Group B with Zimbabwe, Guinea and Malawi. A favorable draw for the tournament favorites should see Senegal top the group without much trouble. Mane will play Liverpool teammate Naby Keita and Guinea in the second group-stage match.
Sadio Mane and Senegal’s AFCON schedule:
Monday, January 10 vs. Zimbabwe
Friday, January 14 vs. Guinea
Tuesday, January 18 vs. Malawi
Naby Keita and Guinea have struggled as of late, their last competitive win came back in March. Guinea was very poor in CAF World Cup Qualifying, finishing third in their second-round group taking only four points from six matches played.
Keita captains the side as they expect to get out of the group and make a run. Former Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain striker Kaba Diawara was named manager in October and hopes to turn around a disappointing start to his managerial reign.
Keita and Guinea are in Group B with Senegal, Zimbabwe and Malawi. They are pinned to be fighting for second or third in the group with Zimbabwe. With Senegal expected to top the group and Malawi likely to round out the bottom, the clash against Zimbabwe might determine Guinea’s fate in this year’s AFCON.
Naby Keita and Guinea’s AFCON schedule:
Monday, January 10 vs. Malawi
Friday, January 14 vs. Senegal
Tuesday, January 18 vs. Zimbabwe
The 2021 Africa Cup of Nations is all set and expected to be a competitive and unpredictable tournament. Hopefully all players can stay healthy, and we are treated to some quality football. Our Liverpool stars have high expectations on their shoulders as their respected national teams are among the favorites to win the whole thing. Salah and Mane will be looking to lift the trophy on February 6 when the tournament comes to a close while Keita will have a tougher challenge with Guinea who are considered outsiders to win the AFCON. A safe and injury/Covid free tournament where our Liverpool stars bring glory to their respected nations is something we all want to see.