Five time winners and defending champions Cameroon will take on Guinea Bissau in the opening fixture of the Group while four time Ghana will taken on the Squirrels of Benin three hours later in the Ismailia stadium.
Cameroon vs Guinea Bissau (Ismailia Stadium, 18:00 CAT)
Five time winners and defending champions Cameroon who are making their 19th appearance in the competition will be playing against Guinea-Bissau who are making only their second appearance in the tournament. The Djurtus where present for the tournament in Gabon and drew one game and lost two including that 2-1 loss to Cameroon.
Coach Baciro Cande is in second spell as head coach of the Guinea- Bissau national team after haven previously taken charge from 2005-2008 as a 36 year old. He was reappointed in 2015 and he has succeeded to lead them to two consecutive AFCON tournaments. He is highly respected as a coach in his country especially after the former Estrella Amadora and Amora defender led Sporting Bissau to nine national league titles. Cande is one of 11 nationals in-charge their national teams as compared just three in 2017 though with just 16 teams as opposed to 24 in 2019.
Ranked 118th in the recent FIFA rankings, they will be punching above their weight when they take on 51st ranked Cameroon and AFCON’s all time second best with 5 titles .
Guinea- Bissau were winners of Group K in the qualifiers, ahead of Namibia. They earned 9 points scoring goals and conceding 7.
Cameroon’s build up to the tournament has been marred by participation bonuses protests from the players, injuries to key strikers Aboubakar Vincent and Jean Pierre Nsame and just yesterday their 25 year old Maritimo Striker Diederick Joel Tagueu Tadjo was diagnosed with a heart defect which has ruled him out of the competition.
Coach Clarence Seedorf has however remained positive and counts on the mental strength of his players and hopes they will not panic and will not underestimate any opponents.
Cameroon lost the hosting rights of the tournament and qualified as B runners-up with 11 points just like group winners Morocco.
They scored 6 goals and conceded 3, with Choupo-Moting finishing as their top scorer with 2 goals.
Cameroon are the favourites to win this game, but if they look back at their previous meeting in the AFCON against Guinea-Bissau, though they won they will know that they have a game on their hands this evening.
Players to watch
Karl Brilliant Toko Ekambi (Cameroon)
Position: Winger Club: Villarreal Age: 26
With 18 goals in all competitions in 43 games in his first season with Villarreal, Toko Ekambi will be a player to watch in this Cameroon team he if he finally hits his best form with the Indomitable Lions.
2017 best player of the tournament Christian Bassogog will also be a key player in Seedorf’s team as well as captain Eric Choupo- Moting and goalkeeper Andre Onana.
Frederic Mendy (Guinea-Bissau)
Position: Forward Club: Vitoria Setubal Age: 30
30 year old Vitoria Setubal forward Frederic Mendy was the top scorer of the Djurtus (The African Wild Dogs) in the qualifiers with 3 goals. He will be the spead head of their line along side FC Shoulla’s Piqueti Djassi Brito Silva.
26 year old Senica midfielder José Luís Mendes Lopes (Zezinho) is the captain of the team and leads the team by example. He is another player to watch out for in this Guinea Bissau team.
Ghana vs Benin (Ismailia Stadium, 21:00 CAT)
The Black Stars of Ghana are in Egypt to try and finally get that elusive fifth star on their shirt after a 37 years wait since they were lastly crowned champions in the competition. They have lost three finals since then including that cruel loss to Ivory Coast in 2015 which left Andre Ayew crying out his lungs.
Ghana who lifted the trophy in 1963, 1865, 1978 and 1982 have reached the semi-finals at each of the last six tournaments and will definitely be a force to reckon with again in the tournament.
The four times champions will take on Benin in the second game of the opening round of fixtures in Group F.
Ghana who will be making their 22nd appearance in the competition qualified as Group F winners ahead of Kenya scoring 8 goals and conceding 1.
Benin will be making their fourth appearance in the tournament and will try to get out of the group stage for the first time.
To achieve this, coach Michel Dussuyer their 60 year old French coach who learnt from the hands of some of the best coaches to have worked in the continent, Claude Leroy and Henri Micheal has assembled a team of young hungry players incarnated by Huddersfield Town’s 24 year old forward Steve Mounie and a group of old campaigners like Mikael Pote and captain Stephane Sessegnon.
Benin qualified as Group D runners-up behind Algeria with 10 points, just one less than the Algerians. Benin beat Algeria and Togo in the qualifiers to justify why they should not be underestimated. They scored 5 goals and conceded 6 in the qualifiers.
Most big names have kept their rank in the competition so far, with Nigeria, Egypt, Ivory Coast and Mali all winning their opening games. The 50th ranked team in the FIFA rankings, Ghana, should normally have the better of Benin. The 88th ranked team Benin have shown that they have what it takes to pose problems even to the best.
Players to Watch
Andre Morgan Rami Ayew (Ghana)
Position: Winger Club: Fenerbahce Age: 29
Andre Ayew will captain Ghana in Egypt after he led them to a losing final in 2015. The Fenerbahce winger managed just 5 goals in 29 games for his Turkish Super League side. With the Black Stars he always ups his game. With 81 caps and 14 goals for his country he is one of the most experienced players in the tournament and will be participating in the tournament for the third time.
The Ghanaians can also count on 26 year old Atletico Madrid midfielder Thomas Partey who played 42 games in all competitions for Diego Simeone’s team which finished second in the Spanish league. Partey’s eye catching performances last season have already attracted interest from clubs like Manchester United and Arsenal.
Coach Kwesi Appiah also has the ever reliable Kayserispor forward Gyan Asamoah as a source for goals. Gyan captained the team in the 2013, 2015 and 2017 tournaments and has been appointed as the General Captain of the team in the 2019 tournament after losing the arm band to Andre Ayew. He is Ghana’s all times top scorer with 51 goals and their most capped player with 106 caps.
Steve Mounie (Benin)
Position: Forward Club: Huddersfield Town Age: 24
Steve Mounie recorded just two goals and three assists in 31 games for relegated Huddersfield Town in the English Premier League, but Steve Mounie is one of if not the most dangerous player in this Beninese team in Egypt. The native of Parakou will be a real goal threat for the Squirrels and will thrive on all kind of service, both on the ground and in the air.