The Africa Cup of Nations will get underway tonight with the hosts Egypt set to face Zimbabwe in the opening fixture. Here is a look at the things to expect. Bet on AFCON here.
AFCON new format
The African Cup of Nations has traditionally been held in January and February. However this arrangement caused a lot of disputes with European clubs who had to release players in the middle of the season. The Confederation of African Football decided to move the tournament to June and July in a bid to get rid of the challenges of the past. This will present a huge marketing opportunity for young African players seeking to benefit from the exposure that comes with the competition. There is also little else going on in terms of club football and players will no longer have to worry about split loyalties of choosing between club and country, guaranteeing a high level tournament.
One other sweeping change that will be seen for the first time in AFCON 2019 is the increase of participating teams from 16 to 24 teams. This is a very similar format to Euro 2016 as the top four third-placed teams from the six groups will make it into the last 16. This has opened up space for more countries to participate and we should look out for new faces that have hitherto not been seen.
Egypt to start strongly
Egypt are hosting the AFCON for the fifth time and they are the most successful team in the tournament’s history, after winning in seven previous occasions. The Pharaohs have brought in former Mexico and Atletico Madrid head coach Javier Aguirre to help them put up another campaign. Since taking over the team, they have been scoring lots of goals and playing entertaining football after registering 20 goals in their last eight matches. The home nation will not be settling for anything less than a strong start in the group stage and you can expect nothing short of that.
Huge milestones for the East African contingent
The change in the tournament’s structure has brought with it good tidings for many countries and East Africa have been well represented this time around. For the first time ever, the region will have four countries participating; namely Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and Kenya. Burundi have qualified for the first time ever whilst Tanzania is making a comeback after a 39-year hiatus. Kenya last participated in the tournament in 2004 whereas Uganda are the more experienced side after qualifying for the second consecutive time.
African football has been evolving over the years and AFCON 2019 is an opportunity for us to witness some of the improvements firsthand. At least 26 players who will be taking part were contracted to Premier League clubs in the 2018/19 season. Mohamed Salah finished as joint top scorers in arguably the best league in the world after winning the Premier League Golden Boot. We expect them to give a good account of themselves, and with other world class strikers such as Odion Ighalo, Baghdad Bounedjah and the likes also taking part, we can only predict a flurry of goals.