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Pan-Africa Football’s AFCON preview: Group D

It is time for Africa’s showcase football tournament as the delayed 2021 Africa Cup of Nations prepares to kick off in Cameroon starting on January 9. Pan-Africa Football will be covering the competition in depth and is previewing the tournament by going through all of the groups and identifying who and what to watch for all teams. For the third entry in our preview series, we now look at Group D featuring Nigeria, 7-time winners Egypt, Guinea-Bissau and Sudan.

Egypt

Manager

Carlos Queiroz

Queiroz was born in Mozambique while it was still a Portuguese colony, playing as a goalkeeper in Mozambique’s league known as the Moçambola until retiring early at the age of 21. The 68-year-old has managed the national teams of Portugal (twice), United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Iran and Colombia before arriving in September to help Egypt rescue a faltering FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign. Also an assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson during Manchester United’s recent glory years in the 2000’s, Queiroz has shown a preference for players based in European football during his brief tenure with Egypt that has come at the expense of star performers in the Egyptian Premier League. The results have been positive so far, but his team’s fourth place finish with domestic players at the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup was viewed with disappointment. If Egypt cannot make it far in Cameroon, Queiroz’s job is on the line in a country where expectations are always high due to Egypt’s record of seven AFCON titles.

Key Players

Mohamed Salah – Liverpool FC (ENG)

The 29-year-old forward is probably the most in-form player in world football coming into the competition, and now Mohamed Salah needs to replicate his form at English Premier League side Liverpool for the Pharaohs to succeed in Cameroon. Egyptian supporters were not fully satisfied with Salah’s inconsistent contributions during their FIFA World Cup qualifying games at the end of 2021 as the team struggled to find the net before picking up their form and finishing first in their group. As the team’s fortunes improved under manager Queiroz, Salah began to create more for his teammates and find the net himself. Look for Salah to line up at his favored position on the right side of the attack and cut inside to attack the goal, with plenty of freedom to roam and provide defense-splitting passes for his fellow Egyptian attackers.

Mohamed Elneny – Arsenal FC (ENG)

Consistent playing time at Arsenal continues to elude Elneny, now in his tenth season of European club football since following Mohamed Salah from Arab Contractors to Swiss club FC Basel in 2013. Elneny plays in the center of midfield is known more as a deep-lying player in European football, but has both defensive and attacking qualities that make him more of a box-to-box midfielder for Egypt. Injuries limited Elneny to only six appearances out of a possible twelve games for Egypt in their recent AFCON and FIFA World Cup qualifying campaigns, but if he is fit for Cameroon he will be crucial as a link between the defense and attack.

Mostafa Mohamed – Galatasaray (TUR)

The Zamalek youth product made his name the way many young talents at Egypt’s top clubs do, by going on loan to lesser Egyptian Premier League clubs to gain their first professional experience. Mohamed scored 12 goals on loan at Tala’ea El Gaish in the 2017-18 season, returning to Zamalek for the 2018-19 season and scoring 20 goals across all competitions to earn a move to Turkish giants Galatasaray. The 24-year-old will add little to the buildup but is a pure goal scorer who can strike either on the ground or in the air with his ability in the air. Mohamed’s momentum has stalled a bit for club and country and the form of Al Ahly’s Mohamed Sherif is a threat to his playing time, but the striker spot up top is his to lose at this point as the Pharaohs prepare for Cameroon.

PAF’s Evaluation

Goalkeeper:
Defense:
Midfield:
Attack:

Prediction

Having Africa’s best player at the moment makes this Egypt team a threat with Salah’s ability to provide moments of brilliance. Egypt are now slight favorites to edge Nigeria for top spot in Group D following the withdrawal of Super Eagles star striker Victor Osimhen, but when they compete against Africa’s elite teams they are likely to be exposed. Egypt has a solid core of key players and no obvious weaknesses, but the performances have been uneven recently and the defense is not quite at a high enough level to repel high-level attacking units. Expect Egypt to progress to the quarterfinals and perhaps the semifinals, but an 8th AFCON trophy will take an inspired run that this team does not look capable of pulling off.

Guinea-Bissau

Manager

Baciro Candé

The 54-year-old played in the second division of Portugal and represented Guinea-Bissau before beginning his coaching career in 1989, finding plenty of success in Bissau-Guinean club football. Candé led the Djurtus during both of their previous appearances at the AFCON in 2017 and 2019 where they were eliminated at the group stage on both occasions and will be hoping his team can capture their first win at the competition. Candé will look to have his team catch their Group D foes on the counter, typically utilizes a target forward alone up top and prefers using a backline with four defenders.

Key Players

Alfa Semedo – Vitória Guimarães (POR)

As a ball-winning presence in the center of midfield, Semedo’s performances will play an important part in how Guinea-Bissau performs. A Benfica youth graduate, the 24-year-old could never establish himself at the Portuguese giants during two separate spells and gained valuable experience by going on loan to play in England’s second tier for a season each at Nottingham Forest and Reading. Over 60 appearances in English football set up a permanent transfer to Vitória Guimarães and regular playing time in Portugal’s top division. The physical profile of Semedo stands out and his ability to muscle the ball away from opposing players will be crucial, but he will need to be effective with the ball at his feet and with his passing for Guinea-Bissau to have any chance of advancing out of Group D.

Fali Candé – Portimonense (POR)

A 23-year-old left back, Candé continues to progress on an upward trajectory at Portuguese Primeira Liga side Portimonense, where he has steadily established himself as the starting left back since joining from Benfica in 2018. Possessing very good pace and agility, Candé covers ground well and likes to get forward where his crossing ability contributes to attacking opportunities. With FC Porto’s Nanu likely to start on the right flank and Candé on the left, Guinea-Bissau can count the fullback position as a strength and both players will need to contribute going forward to help jumpstart an attack that has been very stagnant in recent times.

Jorginho – Wisla Plock (POL)

Born in Bissau, Jorginho joined Manchester City’s youth academy when he was 17 and his journeyman career at the club level has seen him loaned out five times, with his latest stop at Poland’s Wisla Plock on loan from Bulgarian champions Ludogorets Razgrad. Guinea-Bissau are in desperate need of a playmaker and the 26-year-old dribbling wizard appears to be the most capable of breaking down defenses. Jorginho’s ability with the ball is clear, but the quality of his end product in the final third is very inconsistent and his finishing can be quite poor, major reasons why he has been unable to stick with one club for an extended period.

PAF’s Evaluation

Goalkeeper:
Defense:
Midfield:
Attack:

Prediction

Guinea-Bissau have proven they are no pushovers at this point, but it is going to be difficult for them to improve on their previous two appearances where they ended with a draw and two losses on both occasions. An experimental Sudanese team gives the Djurtus an excellent chance to obtain their first ever win in the competition, but to advance to the knockout stage they will need to claim a point off of either Nigeria or Egypt. A solid defensive core will allow Guinea-Bissau to be competitive in these matches, but the team lacks potency in the attacking third and another group stage exit looks likely, but do not be surprised if they manage to qualify for the knockout stage.

Nigeria

Manager

Augustine Eguavoen

A hardnosed defender who appeared at two FIFA World Cups and made nearly 50 appearances for Nigeria in his playing days, the 56-year-old Eguavoen took over as national team coach on an interim basis after the dismissal of German tactician Gernot Rohr. Eguavoen has managed Nigeria on two prior occasions under similar circumstances and led the team to a third-place finish at the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations. The departure of Rohr in December just before the competition was a divisive move with Nigerian supporters disliking the timing of the move, and Eguavoen has had little time to leave an imprint on the squad. While the talent in the Super Eagles squad is undisputed, concerning recent results including a shocking home loss against Central African Republic in World Cup qualifying leave questions about how the team will perform in Cameroon.

Key Players

Kelechi Iheanacho – Leicester City (ENG)

With the latest news of Victor Osimhen’s withdrawal from the Super Eagles squad, it is now truly Kelechi Iheanacho’s moment to be the vocal point of the Nigerian attack. Like the younger Osimhen, the Leicester City player was a youth phenom, starring for Nigeria at the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup and being named Most Promising Talent of the Year at the 2013 CAF Awards before joining Manchester City when he turned 18. Now 25, the Owerri-born forward has steadily developed into a regular starter at Leicester City after years of being known as a rotation player who excelled in cup competitions. Known in the English Premier League for his trickery and ability to stretch defenses with his runs behind, Iheanacho acts in more of a playmaking role when playing for the Super Eagles and will look to act as a complete forward in Cameroon with the capability of creating for teammates or finishing goals with his favored left foot.