The upcoming Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) will commence on June 21 with Group A matches as hosts Egypt, DR Congo, Uganda and Zimbabwe clash in search for qualification rights.
Egypt will open the tournament when they engage Zimbabwe in the first match before DR Congo play Uganda in the second game of the day.
The group is expected to be an open one with the likes of DR Congo, Uganda and Zimbabwe ready to prove a point to favourites Egypt at their own backyard by eliminating them at the group stage.
With Egypt keen on delivering their eighth AFCON title on home soil, the Pharaohs must begin their quest to conquer Africa again at the Cairo International Stadium where all Group A games will be played.
The Pharaohs of Egypt were confirmed by the Confederation of Africa Football (CAF) as hosts after the rights were taken from Cameroun but they had already secured qualification in Group J where they finished second to Tunisia, with Niger and Eswatini failing to make the continental competition.
The Egyptians were able to garner 13 points from a possible 18 to finish below leaders Tunisia who finished with 15 points. Niger and Eswatini ended up as third and fourth respectively and failed to get the chance to feature in this year’s competition.
The Leopards of DR Congo are participating in this year’s continental showpiece after finishing second in Group G of the AFCON qualifiers with nine points.
Zimbabwe finished above DR Congo in the group with 11 points and gave the two the nod to participate at this year’s competition.
The Cranes of Uganda won Group L of the qualification group with 13 points, with Tanzania finishing just behind them with eight points.
Lesotho and Cape Verde were the third and fourth placed sides in the group so they failed to qualify for the AFCON to be hosted in Egypt.
The Warriors of Zimbabwe beat the likes of DR Congo and Congo in Group G to qualify to the AFCON finals slated for Egypt.
Zimbabwe defied all odds to finish top of the group with 11 points with DR Congo obtaining nine points to place second.
Egypt remain the most successful country in the history of the AFCON, having won the competition for a record seven times in 1957, 1959, 1986, 1998, 2006, 2008 and 2010.
The Pharaohs hope to win their ninth competition at home when they host it in their 24th appearance at the finals.
DR Congo on the other side is a two-time AFCON champions in 1968 and 1974 and will be making their 19th appearance at the AFCON finals.
Aside winning the tournament on two occasions, the Leopards finished as second runners-up in 1998 and 2015.
Another Group A contender, Uganda, will be making their seventh appearance at the AFCON, with their best performance being in 1978 when they finished second.
Uganda hopes to improve on their last AFCON outing in 2017 when they exited the competition at the group stage and are ready to make an impact this time around.
Zimbabwe have participated at the AFCON on three occasions and this year’s campaign marks their fourth appearance at Africa’s biggest sporting event.
The Warriors will attempt to go past the group stage for the first time in their history, having failed in all their three previous attempts in 2004, 2006 and 2017.
Mohammed Salah: The Liverpool marksman will captain the Pharaohs at home as they seek to capitalise on playing on their home soil.
Salah remains the best player for the Egyptians and having led Liverpool to a UEFA Champions League victory, much will be expected from the 26-year-old to deliver his nation the title.
Everton forward, Yannick Bolasie, who currently plays for Anderlecht on loan, will be instrumental for the Warriors in their quest to win a third AFCON.
Bolasie, 30, will be a key player in DR Congo’s set-up and is expected to lead the team towards their bid with the likes of West Ham defender, Arthur Masuaku, Cédric Bakambu and Britt Assombalanga set to play a key role.
Skipper of the Cranes, Dennis Onyango, remains the first choice for his country and is still expected to lead his team to make an impact.
The 34-year-old Mamelodi Sundowns goalkeeper faces a tough test to inspire his players to AFCON victory when Africa converges on Egypt.
Anderlecht’s Knowledge Musona will be the player to watch for Zimbabwe in Group A when they make their fourth appearance at the AFCON.
The 28-year-old forward possesses a good record for the Warriors with 22 goals in 34 appearances and will be a delight to watch when the tournament kicks off.
Egypt: Javier Aguirre
DR Congo: Jean-Florent Ibenge Ikwange
Uganda: Sebastien Desabre
Zimbabwe: Sunday Chidzambwa
The group is expected to be a tough and open one but I tip Egypt and Dr Congo to finish above their opponents and to qualify to the knockout phase of the competition.