46 African teams will be involved in 23 qualification matches for AFCON 2019 across the continent beginning from this Friday March 22nd to Sunday March 24th 2019.
In Group A, Senegal and Madagascar have already booked their places while Sudan and Equatorial Guinea meet in Khartoum for a game of honours. Madagascar booked their place with 10points thanks to the great work of their French coach Nicolas Dupius who had great support from Ahmad Ahmad, CAF’s President and their ability to get some bi-nationals like Jeremy Morel who plays for Lyon in France. Alioum Cisse’s Senegal are still running after an AFCON trophy and will use the game against Madagascar as a good test of the team’s potentials and how much of a challenge they can put up in Egypt in three months time. Senegal tops the group with 13 points, three more than Madagascar in second place while Sudan and Equatorial Guinea both have three points.
Morocco have already booked their place in Egypt with 11points in Group B, they will be welcoming bottom of the group Malawi who have just 4points. The game of interest both on and off the pitch will be the one between Cameroon and the Comoros Islands in Yaoundé. The defending AFCON champions lost their automatic qualification spot for the AFCON when they were stripped off the hosting rights of the tournament due to their lack of preparedness. Comoros are third with 5points and could qualify for the competition if they beat the reigning champions in Yaoundé on Saturday March 23rd 2019. The five times African champions have not lost a competitive fixture in Yaoundé since they lost to Congo Brazzaville in the 1972 AFCON. There could be an off the pitch twist if results don’t go the way of the Comoros who have deposited a complain with the Court of Arbitration for Sports on the claims that Cameroon ought to have been eliminated from the competition automatically invoking Articles 92 of the CAF Status. Both teams will be without key players, Farouk Ahmed will be missing for Comoros while Cameroon will be without Toko Ekambi suspended and Stephane Bakohen who saved their blushes in that 1-1 draw in Moroni injured.
Mali have already qualified from Group C, Abdoulaye Diaby and his teammates will try to earn all three points against South Sudan who have not registered a single point with a negative 15goals difference. Mali have two points more than second place Burundi and four more than the Panthers of Gabon. Therefore, the game of interest will be the clash between surprise package Burundi and Gabon with all their managerial problems. Goalkeeper Didier Ovono, Defender Bruno Ecuele Manga, midfielder Didier Ndong and forwards Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang should have more on paper against Burundi but coach Daniel Cousin’s team has struggled for consistency. For Burundi, coach Olivier Niyungenko has invited players from mostly African based clubs from Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa and Egypt. Only Saido Berahino from Stoke City in England, Nduwarugira Christopher from Amora TB Saad in Portugal and Gael Bigirimana from Herbnian in Scotland are from Europe. The Itambamurugamba as they are known, need just a draw this weekend at the Prince Louis Rwgasore Stadium in Bujumbura to earn a well deserved place for Egypt 2019.
In Group D, 1990 champions Algeria have already qualified but will not leave any stone unturned to beat Gambia. The Gambians still have a chance of going through in the group with 5points though bottom of the table. Claude LeRoy’s Togo are third with five points too, two behind second placed Benin. At the General Mathieu Kerekou Stadium in Cotonou on Sunday March 24th, Emmanuel Adebayor and the Hawks of Togo will try to outplay the Squirrels of Benin in what promises to be a very entertaining game and considered by the Confederations of African football as a game of high risk. Togo will try to beat Benin while hoping for an Algerian victory against Gambia. In the absence of captain Stephane Sessegnon, Coach Michel Dusseyer has handed the responsibility to Abdul Khaled Adenon who is expected to remind his teammates that a win spares them any algebra irrespective of results elsewhere to seal a place on the plane to Egypt.
The Super Eagles of Nigeria are another team to be present in the African football party in Egypt. With 13points the 2013 champions are already sure of winning the Group and welcome minors Seychelles who have recorded just one point in five games. Gernot Rohr’s team will not want any unpleasant surprise in their game this Friday against their visitors with no football history.
The game of the group is the clash between second placed South Africa and Libya in Sfax Tunisia. The 1996 champions are second of the group with 9points while Libya in third place have 7points. The Libyan government have thrown its weight behind the team by sponsoring over 3000 fans to travel to Tunisia where they play their home games, to push their team to victory. Meanwhile their coach also invited an unprecedented contingent of nine foreign based players. Bafana Bafana have lost away from home in AFCON qualifiers only five times since 1992 when they were readmitted into international football. However, Stuart Baxter’s men will be without Dolly Keagan their Montpellier forward, but Strasbourg’s Lebo Mothiba will be a worthy replacement. A week of preparation in Tunisia could be an additional advantage for the South Africans.
The game of no stakes between Sierra Leone with no point and 1962 winners Ethiopia with one point was canceled by CAF since Sierra Leone is still under a suspension from FIFA after the country’s anti-corruption commission put aside the FA President Isha Johansen and Secretary General Christopher Kamara and handed over control to Vice President Brima Mazola Kamara and the Vice Secretary General Abdul Rahman Swarray. FIFA considered this as government intervention and have said they can uplift the ban after the case is concluded in court after both men denied any wrong doing.
Group leaders Kenya will travel to Ghana to face the four times African champions. The Harambee Stars on 7points have a point more than the Black Stars. It’s a top of the table clash at the Ohene Djan Stadium this Saturday. The Black Stars have won six of their last eight AFCON qualifiers on Ghanaian soil. Ghana are also unbeaten in their last five Afcon qualifiers under coach Kwesi Appiah. With four clean sheets in their last six qualifiers, the Black Stars will still have to dig deep to beat Victor Wanyama and his teammates who have not lost any of their last five qualifiers.
Group G is a highly disputed group with all four teams still on course for a place in Egypt. Leaders Zimbabwe welcome Congo Brazzaville who are bottom of the group with 5points just three less than their hosts. Congo will be wary of Zimbabwe’s captain Knowledge Musona. The ‘smiling Assassin’ as he is popular known has already scored four goals in the qualifiers and he is currently the top scorer. Chimzamdga’s men still have a chance to qualify even if they are defeated at home but that will depend on results in Kinshasa where DRC welcomes a 41 man delegation from Monrovia. Liberia’s Coach Charles Kojo will hope to have all 20 players that he called up at his disposal, though his Russian based winger Sylvanus Nimely was not allowed in the DRC on Monday for visas irregularities. Florent Ibenge knows the stakes of the game for the DRC who are third on the log with 6points, one less than Liberia on second place. He has invited old hands like Tresor Mputu, Youssouf Mulumbu, Jonathan Bolingi and Paul Jose Mpoku to employ all their experience. It promises to be a cracker.
Surprise group leaders Guinea Conakry on 11points will take-on third placed Central African Republic on 5points in Bangui. The Guineans though already qualified will try to consolidate their lead while the Central Africans led by their Valencia midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia will seek a final push for a place in Egypt given that second placed Côte D’Ivoire are three points better than them with a far superior goal difference and host already eliminated Rwanda on just 2points. After all there is no harm in trying.
The Mauritanian football revolution which is an example in Africa is already yielding fruits. The Mauritanians have already booked their place from Group I on 12 points ahead of Angola on 9points and Burkina Faso on 7. Only Botswana are just playing for honors with 2points.
Botswana hosts Angola while already qualified Mauritania makes the trip to Ouagadougou to face the Burkinabes. Burkina Faso’s experienced coach Paulo Duarte has tried to assemble a team of his best which includes a maiden call for 28 years old Sogne Yacouba of Asante Kotoko of Ghana who has been in fine form. Lyon’s Betrand Traore is the man the nation will be looking up to for inspiration.
Angola seem to have an easier task against Botswana but don’t write off the Zebras who might just give them a serious kick of a dying house to leave them out of the flight to Egypt.
Group J is a group in which the important decisions had been made already. Hosts and record winners Egypt and Tunisia both on 12points did not give Niger and Eswantini any chance, imposing their superiority from the start. However Group leaders Tunisia will host Eswantini in game to determine the group winners. Niam Sliti and his teammates are overwhelming favorites. On Saturday, Daouda Kassali’s Niger travels to the land of the Pharaohs to challenge seven times champions Egypt. The 2019 AFCON hosts will want to use this as game to send a clear message to all potential challengers in three months.
2012 Champions Zambia will not be present in Egypt with just 4points to their account. Enock Mwepu and his teammates have been poor all through. They’ll host a very determined and highly spirited Namibian team who are currently in second place with 8points, the same like group leaders Guinea-Bissau. The group leaders will host third placed Mozambique on 7points. The Brave Warriors of Namibia prepared for the game that can see them qualify for the AFCON for the third time in their history at the facilities of South African top flight club Highlands Park. However coach Ricardo Mannetti’s team will be without dependable defender Vitapi Ngaruka due to passport issues.
As for the Chipolopolo of Zambia, they will do everything to spoil the party for the Namibians, interim coach Aggrey Chiyangi will be without the safe hands of goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene in goal while he overlooked midfielder Rainford Kalaba and defender Stopilla Sunzu who were at the heart of that 2012 triumph.
Uganda outclassed all their group opponents to comfortably book their place in Egypt. Goalkeeper Denis Oyango and his teammates top the group with 13 points while second and third placed Lesotho and Tanzania are both on 5points respectively. Foot of the table Cape Verde Islands are not far off with 4points. While it’s clear that the Cranes of Uganda will be in Egypt, there is a big suspense on who will join them from the group. Cape Verde welcomes Lesotho while top of the pack Uganda takes on Tanzania in Dar es Salaam. Lesotho’s coach Moses Maliehe is on verge of becoming the first coach to lead the country to the AFCON. With five South African based players ( Tswarelo Bereng,Tumelo Khuklang and Luciano Matsoso from Black Leopard as well as Nkoto Masaobi and Thabo Sefuli from Real Kongs in the second division) the team made up of mostly home based players is determined to make history in Praia after a period of intense tranining in Pretoria. Coach Maliehe expects a physical game and thinks his team is up to the task.
Meanwhile still on Sunday Nigerian legend Emmanuel Amunike will try to tap from the euphoria generated by Simba FC though with just one player in the team, in the CAF Champions League to rally the Taifa Stars of Tanzania to earn a crucial win against Uganda. The old rivalry between the legendary Ugandan President Idih Amin and Tanzanian’s Julius Nyerere could inspire Amunike’s team that counts on their dreaded Genk striker Mbwana Samatta who currently top the goal scorers’ chat in Belgium and the home support at the National Stadium in Dar es Salaam.
The 2019 African Cup of Nations will be Africa’s first with 24 teams and the continent holds its breath to know who will miss out of the party in three months as both top and underdogs scramble for the available tickets.