In my previous Africa Cup of Nations round-robin preview, I believe I wrote something like, “stay tuned for our preview of the marquee qualifying groups D through F.”
Absolutely no disrespect meant to the first 3 groups. After all Egypt is playing in Group A, and Mohamed Salah just finished another decorated Premiership season with a heart-warming moment and a big grin that clues us in as to why his latest statue looks like a bust of Art Garfunkel.
Mo Salah's daughter scores in front of the Kop ❤️ pic.twitter.com/VjTgDmETj2
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) May 12, 2019
I don't understand why people are being so rude about the new statue of Art Garfunkel that as been unveiled in Egypt! It doesn't look a bit like Mo Salah! So stop saying it does! The only sound I want to hear from all you mockers is the sound of silence! pic.twitter.com/zQbf8FU8z3
— WALDEMAR JANUSZCZAK (@JANUSZCZAK) November 8, 2018
I also feel strongly about Senegal in Group C, and Salah’s club teammate Sadio Mané can also now turn his attention to the international schedule, beginning with the UEFA Champions League final against Tottenham but winding-into appearances with the national team over the summer.
Just because a team isn’t in a “marquee” betting group doesn’t mean that it’s not a favorite.
But it’s the D-through-F groups at AFCON which could provide more enticing underdogs hiding in the Kalahari…or elsewhere.
There are lopsided match-ups in Groups A and C that make the pair or trio of favorites more enticing on the moneyline in some circumstances. If it all comes down to a single match anyway, why not? There are too many weak sisters in the fold, and Guinea (+1600) is the only solid sleeper.
Groups D through F could be largely different. Morocco will have hands-full with Ivory Coast and an historic Namibia side in the D round-robin, while Cameroon should be interesting to watch in what could be an extremely-competitive Group F.
Here’s a look at the favorites and long-shots (gold medal odds included) at Bovada Sportsbook as the June kickoff of AFCON approaches.
Africa Cup of Nations – Group D Preview
Ivory Coast (+800)
The Ivory Coast’s national team has been one of the most successful modern squads in AFCON, winning the tournament in 1992 and 2015. 2017 was not a great performance, however, as supporters suffered the gloom of being ousted in the group stage.
Forward Gervinho recently moved to the Italian club Parma and has scored 10 goals in 23 appearances. But all eyes will be on an English club player, as in a 2nd stint with Premier League side Crystal Palace, Wilfried Zaha has scored 30 goals in in the past 4 seasons.
Morocco (+1200 Odds-to-Win AFCON 2019)
In 2018, the Atlas Lions returned to the FIFA World Cup for the first time in 20 years. The team failed to escape the group stage but posted a remarkable 2-2 draw against favorite Spain.
A rising tide lifts all boats, and AFC Ajax might as well be known as “AFC Atlas” for helping to hold-up a new favorite in African soccer. 26-year-old midfielder Hakim Ziyech has been sensational for the Dutch club, scoring 30+ goals over 3 seasons and leading a charge to the Champions League semifinals against all odds (literally and otherwise).
Noussair Mazraoui of the Morocco National Team has made over 30 appearances for Ajax as well.
That’s not the only fine European club represented on the Moroccan squad. Captain Medhi Benatia has made a move to the Qatari club Al-Duhail after playing for Bayern Munich and Juventus, 2 of the absolute giants of Champions League and domestic football.
French manager Hervé Renard won the AFCON title with Zambia prior to taking the job with Morocco in 2016. Renard has utilized a 4-1-4-1 formation drive up pressure, preferring to force the issue with opposing midfields.
South Africa (+2500)
South African captain and goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune has spent his entire 15-year career with the Kaizer Chiefs, and has made 89 appearances for the national team.
The makes it a safe bet that the squad can continue the status quo. The trouble is, that “status quo” isn’t so great following a failed qualifying effort in 2017.
The Namibia Brave Warriors will be making a 3rd appearance in AFCON in 2019.
Forward Benson Shilongo has scored 6 goals in 13 appearances for the Egyptian club Ismaily since joining in 2019. Midfielder Deon Hotto notched 2 goals in the 2015 COSAFA Cup which turned into an historic maiden international trophy for the squad.
Africa Cup of Nations: Group E Outlook
Murray Rothbard once used Tunisia for an awesome parable about human nature. He wrote that we tend to say things like,
“France sent her ships to invade Tunisia,”
but really it’s just a few soldiers-for-hire from each country making war at the orders of a few, while the rest of the citizens in the land masses known as “France” and “Tunisia” just tried to press on with their normal lives. The recounters of our history only seem to notice the big money, ahem, the big picture.
The Tunisia National Team is an example of such madness on a sports-world scale. The Eagles of Carthage returned to the World Cup in 2018, a narrative that will continue to dominate headlines. The rest of the main copy-space will be choked-out by Wahbi Khazri, a recent club star in France who has scored 12 goals in his first 19 appearances for Ligue 1 club Saint-Étienne.
But there’s more to the team than World Cup and Paris glory. Midfielder Ferjani Sassi is a fine contributor to any attack, and defender Ali Maâloul gives the Group E favorites another dynamic presence on the back line.
Manager Alain Giresse is going to a formation with 5 midfielders and 1 lone striker. If Khazri is the man up front, then try to focus your eyes elsewhere (it will be hard to) to have a fairer opinion of what’s going on. Offense could come in spurts, and what appears to be a friendly draw could portend episodes.
Mali has inched close to an AFCON championship in the past, finishing 2nd in 1972 and 3rd in 2012 and 2013. But the team failed to advance past the group stage in 2017.
Forward Moussa Marega has notched 29 goals in 57 appearances for Porto since 2016, while another face familiar to European fans, Abdoulay Diaby, had an excellent run with Club Brugge of Belgium where he tallied 31 goals in 82 appearances before moving on to his current club in Portugal.
It’s hard for a Westerner to see “Mauritania” and not think of “Oceania” and the other fictional nations of Orwell’s 1984. Suffice to say that the Mauritania National Team has always been at war with the other soccer clubs in AFCON, and probably always will be.
Mauritania made (real) history and qualified for the AFCON for the first time in 2019 with a 2-1 win against Botswana. Forward Ismaël Diakité is the hero who scored the winner.
“I don’t know much about Angola, but I know they in trouble.” – Charles Barkley, prior to the Dream Team’s debut at the Olympics
Angola made history by making the World Cup for the first time in 2006, but the team has never made it past the quarterfinals in AFCON. The squad advanced to consecutive quarterfinals in 2008 and 2010 but could not qualify for the tournament in 2017.
Veteran attacker Manucho moved to Spanish club UE Cornellà in 2018 after scoring 14 goals in 112 appearances for Rayo Vallecano from 2014-2018. Forward Gelson is a Sporting CP commodity.
Africa Cup of Nations: Group F Preview and Lines
Ghana had an incredible run in the 2017 AFCON before losing to Cameroon in the semi-finals.
The Black Stars have finished 4th place or higher in each of the last 6 tournaments, but the 4-time AFCON champs have not claimed the title since 1982.
Star striker and captain Asamoah Gyan has scored 51 international goals competing for his home country. 29-year-old winger André Ayew notched 5 goals in 27 appearances for Süper Lig club Fenerbahçe since joining on-loan in 2018.
The defending AFCON champs missed out on the 2018 World Cup after advancing to the FIFA tournament in 2010 and 2014. But in addition to winning the AFCON title in 2017, Cameroon has hoisted the trophy in 1984, 1988, 2000, and 2002.
27-year-old striker Vincent Aboubakar has scored over 30 goals for Porto since 2014. Forward Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting joined Paris Saint-Germain in 2018 and scored 3 goals in his first 19 appearances. (Don’t read too much into his status due to limited minutes on an All-Star squad.)
But looky looky at Ajax again – André Onana has made roughly 100 appearances there over the past 3 seasons.
(No, I didn’t forget about the “A” in A(jax). It stands for adulterous over-reading. Shoo!)
Former Dutch club midfielder Clarence Seedorf took over as manager for Cameroon in 2018.
Benin has qualified for the AFCON for the first time since 2010. Les Écureuils (The Squirrels) have competed in three previous tournaments never advancing past the group stage.
Versatile veteran Stéphane Sessègnon joined Süper Lig club Gençlerbirliği in 2018. Look for young striker Abdel Fadel Suanon has scored 10 goals in a recent campaign with Saudi Arabian club Damac.
The sleeper in the group is coming off the first AFCON appearance in the country’s history in 2017. Guinea-Bissau will look to surpass a performance which ended in the group stage.
26-year old midfielder Zezinho plays for Slovak club FK Senica. However, there’s another name on the squad that will make Les Bleus supporters turn a double-take.
Before joining Portuguese club Vitória de Setúbal, forward Frédéric Mendy competed for Bangkok Glass, scoring 4 goals in his first 13 appearances.
No, it’s not the “Mendy” you’re thinking of. But you know how certain handicapping sites always put last names only on each lineup?
Some unlucky gambler out there is going to be “Bangkok Glass” indeed after a truly terrible misunderstanding.
My Picks for the Africa Cup of Nations
I love Morocco’s chances to make things uncomfortable for an overvalued Ivory Coast team and to sail through the group stage.
Cameroon has lengthened to (+1000) after opening as the favorite of Group F, meaning that soon (or now) is the time to invest in the market.
With no real odds-on favorite in Group E, I’m going with Tunisia.