Good day readers and welcome to my second AFCON 2017 preview. Yes I’ve decided to add a little title and in my head it is sung to “let’s all do the conga!” Just so you know, if you ever want to join in. But that’s not important right now; what is important is our look at AFCON 2017 Group B.
At every tournament there’s always a group of death. It’s the group that you look at and think “wow who will proceed?” It’s a group where even the ex players can’t decide. Well, in true AFCON style, this isn’t the group of death. Nor is there one in the whole tournament. Ignore the pundits, this group is a two horse race, although I feel I’m weeks away from a Grenada exploding in my face for that prediction.
So, the favourites to top the group are Algeria and this is where we start.
Algeria have some quality players. However the form of Riyad Mahrez, who won African player of the Year this year, is a worry going into the tournament. Somewhere along the line Mahrez got lost dreaming of a big money move to one of the Premier League big boys. Instead he woke up to find himself still at Leicester with the honeymoon over, probably in the middle of his worst nightmare, wondering who put cement in his boots. The squad also boasts two other Premier League players in Leicester City’s Islam Slimani and Watford’s Adlene Guedioura. Add to that Faouzi Ghoulam of Napoli, Schalke pair Nabil Bentaleb and Yacine Brahimi and the Desert Foxes have a strong team capable of going a long way. Algeria coach George Leekens will be hoping Mahrez finds his form, or at least a new pair of lighter boots for Algeria, to progress far in the tournament.
Now I, for one, was shocked with the amount of talent that Senegal possess and they will be pushing Algeria all the way. Coach Aliou Cisse has named in form Liverpool forward Sadio Mane in his final 23. Throw in Keita Balde of Lazio along with quality defender Kalidou Koulibaly and The Teranga Lions (gotta love that nickname) have a chance to go far and maybe reach the final like they did in 2002. They also boast Idrissa Gana Gueye of Everton who’s having a very good season so far, albeit once again in a poor team. Cheikhou Kouyate of West Ham is having an average season, Stoke’s Mame Biram Diouf needs a goal, and we even have some small Championship team from the North East representation with Mohamed Diame of Newcastle in the squad, and who cares how he’s playing right? If The Teranga Lions (seriously, this has got to be the best nickname ever – have I mentioned that?) get going and build up some momentum, they could be the ones to beat.
Tunisia are not in the best of form and struggled to reach the tournament but managed to scrape through in a group that contained Mauritania and Liberia. I actually think I could have put together a pub team and comfortably got out that group. In fact even Hull would have stormed the group, but hey. Tunisia are a regular feature at AFCON and won the trophy back in 2004. However, when your key player is a Sunderland player you are hoping for a large slice of luck along the way. Wahbi Khazri will be hoping to kick start his season and get on the score sheet, maybe even get the rare treat of starting a game. They also have Aynem Abdennour of Valencia and the Lille forward Naim Sliti who will be looking to push them through the group.
Zimbabwe may have a tough task already, with behind the scenes unrest before the tournament has even begun. Oh, where to begin. Well, it seems the players are demanding money owed to them from the qualifiers and want $5000 appearance fee for each game they play at AFCON 2017. They were due to fly out Saturday after attending a send off dinner with the country’s acting president, but they actually failed to do either. The Warriors finally took flight in three batches after agreeing with Zifa a package for the team. According to the players, all is now well in the camp but after having previous problems of accommodation this could be some tournament for them for controversial reasons alone. Not that I’m hoping for trouble for them – who am I kidding, I need controversy to get a laugh in my writing. They will be hoping Belgium based striker Knowledge Musona from KV Oostende can continue his goalscoring exploits and with a name like Knowledge this is a headliners dream. Player of the tournament? Man I hope so, just so I can use the headline “Knowledge is Everything!” Finally to add, The Warriors have an attacking player called Khama Billat who will look to continue his strong season with South African team Mamelodi Billiat. Yeah I have absolutely no idea who he is either and with a non headline inducing name I’m happy for him to disappear without a trace.
Now for my neck on the line moment. The top two isn’t easy to predict but I’m going for Senegal …… just. The runners up will be Algeria with Tunisia and Zimbabwe third and fourth respectively.
I also predict Mahrez to find his form and get back to something like the player he was when the big boys were looking over at him in the summer. I also say Mane to take the tournament by storm and, well, Zimbabwe will equal more controversy. We could play Zimbabwe bingo where anyone who ticks off problems with the hotel falling apart, 1 star accommodation, food not cooked properly, and players not getting enough spending money for gifts for the family can shout HOUSE. There is never a dull moment.
Welcome to AFCON people. It’s one crazy tournament.
Tomorrow we look at Group C with tournament favourites Ivory Coast minus Yaya Toure and a juice called Um Bongo.
3 days and counting. I can almost feel your excitement from here.