Group A: Egypt, DR Congo, Uganda, Zimbabwe
Group B: Nigeria, Guinea, Madagascar, Burundi
Group C: Senegal, Algeria, Kenya, Tanzania
Group D: Morocco, Ivory Coast, South Africa, Namibia
Group E: Tunisia, Mali, Mauritania, Angola
Group F: Cameroon, Ghana, Benin, Guinea-Bissau
The biggest ever Africa Cup of Nations kicks off on 21st June with the Final on July 19th. Not only will the eyes of Africa be on the tournament but the growing number of African players plying their trade all over the world means that global interest will be huge and appetites of a watching public will be satisfied by ever increasing television coverage.
The finals will be the biggest because for the first time there will be an increased number of participating nations, 24. It is also the first Africa Cup of Nations to be held in the European summer rather than in the middle of domestic football league campaigns so there is no reason, injury apart, why competing countries will not be able to call upon full strength squads.
There is a chance of more history as Morocco coach Herve Renard attempts to become the first winner of the trophy to manage the feat with three different countries. The Atlas Lions line up in Group D with one of the teams he led to victory previously, the Ivory Coast.
Another fascinating aspect of this Cup of Nations is the closing of the gap, in terms of quality, between the teams. Something Egypt`s assistant coach, Hany Ramzy feels strongly about. He says.
“The big difference in quality between the teams is really not there any more, like it was 10 years ago in Africa. Now, every team has players who play in Europe so they have the experience to play at a high level.
There is much anticipation of some of the top draw players from the elite European leagues lighting up the tournament which kicks off with hosts Egypt against Zimbabwe on June 21st. Egypt`s talisman Mo Salah could go into the tournament as a Premier League winner, a UCL winner, or both.
There are three nations making their Cup of Nations bow; Madagascar and Burundi are in Group B while Mauretania join Tunisia, Mali and Angola in Group E.
The top two in each group will progress along with the four best third-placed teams.
Egypt, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Zimbabwe
Egypt must be considered favourites for the competition although if they win this group, as they should, they could face a tricky last 16 game against South Africa. This group is considered the toughest by FIFA rankings and perhaps more than ever it is vital for any team to win its opening game.
The Democratic Republic of Congo could be the surprise team of this Africa Cup of Nations. Primarily they have some very good players, notably Yannick Bolasie who now plies his trade in Belgium with Anderlecht and Jacques Maghoma who has been Birmingham City`s most impressive player for some time and if you throw in Benik Afobe and Britt Assombalongo then this bunch can shock any one in the finals.
PREDICTION: Egypt and DR Congo
Nigeria, Guinea, Madagascar, Burundi
Nigeria have a relatively easy task ahead of them in this group. The team is unbeaten since the 2018 World Cup and have some excellent players, notably Arsenal`s Alex Iwobi and Leicester City`s Wilfred Ndidi.
Guinea are lead by skipper Naby Keita and much will rest on the broad shoulders of the Liverpool midfielder who grew in stature as Liverpool chased the Premier League title. Guinea should claim second place and, with a little more belief, could even contest top spot with Nigeria
Debutants Burundi and Madagascar will both regard the chances of third place as a real achievement, and achievable.
PREDICTION: Top two should be Nigeria and Guinea
Senegal, Algeria, Kenya, Tanzania
A nice little backdrop in this group is the face to face between Sadio Mane, Senegal`s talisman and Algeria`s Riyad Mahrez who will have spent the duration of 2018-19 Premier League season driving their respective clubs, Liverpool and Manchester City towards the title.
Whoever goes into this group with domestic medals it will not detract from what could be the game of the tournament.
Senegal and Algeria will both have too much for Kenya and Tanzania and could be in the mix come semi-final time.
PREDICTION: Senegal and Algeria
Morocco, Ivory Coast, South Africa, Namibia
Morocco coach Herve Renard has got his team playing some impressive football but the staging of the finals in the uncomfortably hot Egyptian summer could hinder the type of game Morocco like to play, high-intensity tactics which require many kilometres of running.
This is the mandatory `Group of Death` which is far more difficult, than Group A, according to the widely regarded more accurate ELO ranking than that of FIFA.
The Ivory Coast have a fine track record in the Africa Cup of Nations and some top players, notably Eric Bailly, Serge Aurier and Wilfried Zaha, and Yaya Toure so must be considered tournament favourites, especially as they have reached at least the quarter final stage in each of the last 5 tournaments. Whoever finishes second in the group could face Tunisia, Africa`s second highest ranked side, in the last 16. And third place could be `rewarded` with a tilt at Egypt or Nigeria.
PREDICTION: Morocco and Ivory Coast
Tunisia, Mali, Mauritania, Angola
On the surface it seems the draw has been kind to Tunisia but even if they do, as expected, win Group E they could face a mighty tough tie in the last 16, against the runners-up of Group D. Tunisia have won this tournament before and twice been runners-up.
Mali should finish second in this group and much will be expected of Brighton`s 22 year old forward Yves Bissouma and Antwerp`s Sambou Yatabare if they are to progress.
PREDICTION: Tunisia and Mali to reach last 16
Cameroon, Ghana, Benin, Guinea-Bissau
Cameroon are favourites to top this group and also to be in the mix come the latter stages but for the first time since anyone can recall they will have to do without Samuel Eto`o, the Africa Cup of Nations all time leading scorer. But they do have veteran striker, Porto`s Vincent Aboubaka who has a one on three games goal record for his country. At the other end of the team is the impressive young goalkeeper Andre Onana who has been starring in the Ajax team that stunned both Real Madrid and Juventus in this season`s Champions` League.
Ghana are also blessed with some top talent with vast European top level experience, notably Asamoah Gyan, Emmanuel Agyemang and Andre Ayew.
Both these sides should have too much for Benin and Guniea-Bissau.
PREDICTION: Cameroon and Ghana for the last 16
By Brian Beard
Africa Cup of Nations Order of Merit 1957 to 2017