Africa Cup of Nations Finals 2022

Article: Africa Cup of Nations Finals 2022 Preview & Predictions

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By Brian Beard | 1 JAN 2022

Before even a ball was kicked in the 33rd Africa Cup of Nations there was controversy when racism once again popped into the equation with several high-profile football figures having their say.

Ian Wright accused media coverage of Europe-based players going to the competition as being “ tinged with racism”. The former England international, now a well-known and, more importantly, well-respected pundit added that the issue of players being released by their clubs is in marked contrast to the way players were regarded when they were released for Euro 2020.

Wright added

“Is there ever a tournament more disrespected than the Africa Cup of Nations? There is no greater honour that representing your country. The coverage is completely tinged with racism.”

Wright`s outrage was even more specific when he said.

“We played our Euros across 10 countries in the middle of a pandemic and there`s no issue at all. But Cameroon, a single country hosting a tournament is a problem.”

Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira agrees with his former Arsenal team mate. He says the AFCON should be held in the same regard as the European Championships. He says.

“I respect and understand the passion and the importance to players to go and represent their country. I believe that competition needs to be more respected.”

It is a particularly brave stance by Viera who will be without key players, Wilfried Zaha, Cheikhou Kouyate, Jeffrey Schlupp and Jordan Ayew for up to a month, and he is not alone. Liverpool lose Salah, Mane and Nabe Keita; Leicester will be without Wilfrid Ndidi and Iheanacho; Arsenal lose Pepe and Thomas Party while, arguably, the most impacting absence will be that of Edouard Mendy. Chelsea are already wobbling in the Premier League and their back up to the Senegal `keeper, Kepa Arrizabalaga, fills no one with confidence when he steps between the sticks, least of all his team mates in front of him.

When the AFCON kicks-off it promises to be a star-studded competition with a galaxy of players from top European clubs who will be just as familiar to fans from Manchester, London to Liverpool as they are to fans in Lagos, Yayounde, Cairo and Dakar. Of the 24 teams competing in Cameroon some are very well known, and some will have fans reaching for their atlases or Google. Algeria are the current cup holders and led by Riyad Mahrez they will be looking to match only three previous nations who have won consecutive trophies; Cameroon, Ghana and Egypt.

Algeria are in Group E and will lock horns with another of my favourites to lift the trophy, Cote D`Ivoire- Ivory Coast.

Ivory Coast have arguably the best quality squad in AFCON. Wilfried Zaha is renowned for being a game changer while Arsenal`s Nicolas Pepe is slowly beginning to go some way to living up to his club-record £72 million transfer fee. Burnley`s Maxwel Cornet could well play himself into a big money transfer with one of Europe`s big clubs if he performs well in Cameroon and Ivory Coast can also boast Eric Bailly and AC Milan`s Frank Kessie. Oh, nearly forgot, they also have Seb Haller who has been setting records left, right and centre in the current UCL competition.

Egypt have a core of Premier League players and are led by the cream of them, arguably the most in-form player in world football, Mo Salah. But they are not a one-man team as they can field El Mohamedi, Ahmed Hegazi and Mohamed Elneny. Egypt`s biggest competition in Group D is Nigeria so it will be interesting to see who tops that group. Sudan and Guinea-Bissau are the others in D.

Egypt should at least reach the last four.

Cameroon should be good enough, with home support, to reach the last eight as their Group A opponents are Burkino Faso, Ethiopia and minnows Cape Verde although the small Atlantic Island nation are competing in their 3rd AFCON tournament in nine years.

Senegal have a squad more than capable of lifting the AFCON trophy. Led by the much coveted Kalidou Koulibaly, a defender with Napoli, they also have the striker who may vie with club mate Mo Salah for the Golden Boot, Sadio Mane. Perhaps the ultimate game-changer Mane can twist any defender in world football inside out and with Edouard Mendy at the other end of the pitch and ably supported by AC Milan`s M`Baye Niang, Ismaila Sarr and Idrisse Gueye they have to be strong favourites to reach the Final.

My last four for the 2022 AFRICA Cup of Nations is;

Egypt, Ivory Coast Senegal and Algeria and if I had to stick my neck out further, draw permitting, I would suggest a Senegal v Ivory Coast final with skipper of the latter, Serge Aurier, to lift the trophy on February 6th.

By Brian Beard, Associate Historian to the Football Association

Africa Cup of Nations Finals 2022