The 2019 AFCON continues today at 15:30 CAT with 1976 winners Morocco taking on Namibia at the Al Salam Stadium in Cairo for the opening fixture for Group D.
Morocco vs Namibia (Al Salam Stadium in Cairo, 15:30 CAT)
1976 winners and 2017 quarter-finalists Morocco will take on the Brave Warriors of Namibia. While Morocco who are regular AFCON participants will be making their 17th appearance in the tournament, their opponents Namibia only previously featured in the 1998 and 2008 tournaments.
Namibia who are ranked 113th in the latest FIFA rankings qualified for the tournament as Group K runners-up, behind Guinea-Bissau, scoring 5 goals and conceding 7.
Under French coach Herve Renard who led Zambia in 2012 and Ivory Coast in 2015 to glory, Morocco reached the quarter-finals of the tournament in 2017 and qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The Atlas Lions qualified as Group B winners scoring 8 goals and conceding 3.
Morocco are expected to comfortably see-off Namibia unless we witness another major upset in the tournament.
Players to watch
Hakim Ziyech (Morocco)
Position: Winger Club: Ajax of Amsterdam Age: 26
Hakim Ziyech had a reference season with his Dutch club Ajax of Amsterdam as they reached the UEFA Champions League semi-final and were only eliminated with the last kick of the ball in the semi-finals against Tottenham. They also claimed the domestic double, piping PSV Eindoven to the Dutch League title and also winning the domestic cup. The Moroccan winger weighed in with 21 goals and 24 assists and was voted the Ajax Player of the Year. He played the 2017 tournament that saw Morocco bow to Egypt at the quarter-finals and he will like to see them go a step or two further. With some uncertainty surrounding his club football future, if Ziyech puts that aside and concentrates in this tournament he will be a handful for every opponent.
Ryan Nyambe (Namibia)
Position: Full back Club: Blackburn Rovers Age:21
21 years old Blackburn Rovers defender Ryan Nyambe is only one of two European based players in coach Ricardo Mannetti’s team. With 29 games under his belt for English Championship side Blackburn Rovers, Nyambe is going to be one of the key players in today’s game for the Brave Warriors.
However, they will also depend heavily on the frontline partnership of Ismaily striker Benson Shilongo and Highlands Park forward Peter Shalulile.
Senegal vs Tanzania (30 June Staduim in Cairo, 18:00 CAT)
Senegal are ranked 22nd in the recent FIFA rankings, the best by any African nation. However, as good as they have always been on paper, from Jules Bucande to El Hadji Diouf and now Sadio Mane, the Teranga Lions have never lifted the AFCON trophy in their previous 14 attempts. The closest they ever came to winning it was in 2002, when their current coach Aliou Cisse captained them to the final against Cameroon which they lost through penalties with captain Cisse agonizingly missing his spot kick in that shoot-out.
The Taifa Stars of Tanzania are returning to the competition for the second time after a 40 years absence. They will enter the tournament today ranked 131 in the FIFA rankings, below Nicaragua and Chinese Taipei.
Senegal qualified as unbeaten Group winners of Group A (W5, D1), scoring 12 goals and conceding 2.
Tanzania were Group L runners-up in the qualifiers with 8 points, five points behind group winners Uganda, scoring 6 goals and conceding 5.
Despite the odds and the stats being against them, Emmanuel Amuneke’s Tanzania are a well drilled team who will let come into today’s contest as before-hand losers. Senegal are expected to live up to their bidding and see-off the Tanzanians.
Players to Watch
Sadio Mane (Senegal)
Position: Forward Club: Liverpool Age: 27
Sadio Mane is without any doubt the player to watch in this Senegal team. After helping Liverpool to second place finish in the English Premier League with 22 goals in 36 matches and above all weighing in with 4 goals in 13 matches on their way to UEFA Champions League glory, Mane will be the man to stop in this Senegal team. He has however not really blossomed with the national team with just 16 goals in 60 caps. This is his chance to shine for him but he will miss today’s game.
Mbwana Samatta (Tanzania)
Position: Forward Club: Genk Age: 26
Mbwana Aly Samatta is the player Tanzania will depend on for goals in this game. The Genk striker scored 23 goals and provided 5 assists in 38 league games for his Belgian club. He scored twice in the qualifiers and is expected to do more in the tournament.
Algeria vs Kenya (30 June Stadium 21:00 CAT)
1990 winners Algeria will take on Kenya as they try to win the tournament for a second time.
The Desert Foxes qualified as Group winners of Group D scoring 9 goals and conceding 4. They will be making their 18th appearance in the tournament.
The Harambee Stars of Kenya qualified as Group F runners-up with 7 points behind Ghana with 9. They scored 4 goals and conceded one.
Kenya’s 48 year old French coach Sebastien Migne will try to lead them out of the group stage for the first time after they failed to qualify for the knock-out stages of the competition in all their five previous attempts.
Algeria are the favourites to win this game against the 105th ranked nation in the wirld but there should be no room for complacency.
Players to Watch
Riyad Mahrez (Algeria)
Position: Winger Club: Manchester City Age: 28.
28 year old Algerian winger Riyad Karim Mahrez has not had the best of seasons at club level, but he remains Algeria’s best player and most creative player.
He scored 7 goals and provided 4 assists in 27 league games for Premier League champions Manchester City.
Yacine Brahimi of FC Porto is another player coach Djamel Belmadi will be counting on in tonight’s game.
Victor Wanyama (Kenya)
Position: Midfielder Club: Tottenham Hotspurs Age: 27
The Harambee Stars have returned to the AFCON after a 15 years absence. How long they last in this tournament depends on the form of their 27 year old midfielder and captain Victor Magubi Wanyama.
The Tottenham midfielder who has had a season with mixed fortunes, suffering from a serious injury then a wonderful run to the UEFA Champions League final which they lost to Liverpool, will try to put all that aside and seek national pride with his national team.