Tunisia should run away with Group E, right?
Group E is a slightly strange group in that Tunisia are probably the best team in it and they did qualify ahead of Egypt, winning five and losing one of the six qualifiers, but you look down their squad and their best player is probably Wahbi Khazri – it's not a team with a lot of creativity. Tunisia have probably been the most consistent team in African football over the past 10-15 years. They were champions back in 2004 and they've been quarter-finalists for five of the last seven tournaments including two years ago when they lost in a really good game against Burkina Faso. They've appointed Alain Giresse as head coach, now for all the entertainment and excitement he brought as a player he seems to have done away with any of that as a manager. He's got a lot of experience in Africa, managing Gabon, Mali and Senegal but always slightly underperformed with them. Finishing ahead of Egypt in qualification is clearly an achievement but you'd expect that quarter-finals will be the limit of Tunisia’s ambitions again.
Mali are probably the second team in Group E although they seem in complete chaos. They were runners-up in 1972 but it's a long way from being as strong a Mali as we've seen over the last decade or so. They do have Moussa Marega, who has done great things at Porto, and Lassana Coulibaly as well. They qualified unbeaten but it was quite a straightforward group and you'd think they're probably scrapping it out with Angola for that second automatic qualification place.
Angola have appointed a very smart Serbian coach in Srđjan Vasiljević after failing to qualify for Gabon two years ago. They had a sort-of peak around ten years ago when they got to the quarter-finals in 2008 and 2010. Their best-known player is probably the Lazio defender Bastos, but this is not as good a squad as the team of a decade ago. They did finish top of their qualification group, ahead of Burkina Faso who surprisingly didn't get through this time, and Mauritania who are the fourth team in Group E.
Mauritania have never qualified before and have a handful of players with European experience. They've got Abdoul Ba, a defender from Auxerre, and Khassa Camara who's a midfielder at Xanthi but it's not really a squad that's going to frighten a many.
Jonathan's Prediction: Tunisia, Mali, Angola, Mauritania.
Who are the teams to look out for in Group F?
There's defending champions, Cameroon. Surprise winners last time out and it would be an even bigger surprise if they won it this time – but they have got Clarence Seedorf as head coach, so there's an interest there to see what one of the great midfielders of the nineties can do as a manager. Cameroon’s record in the tournament is great, they've won the Cup of Nations five times so they're the second most successful team behind Egypt. The form of Christian Bassogog, player of the tournament two years ago, hasn't really taken off, still playing in China at Henan Jianye. Vincent Aboubakar, whose goals were vital and scored the winner in the 2017 final, isn't in the squad. But they do have a number of well-known players with a lot of European experience, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting probably the best-known of them. There’s Clinton Njié and Gaetan Bong as well, so it is a squad with depth and lots of experience. They qualified behind Morocco and that probably tells you their status. They're a team that will expect to go through to the knockout stages, despite not being an easy group, but quarter-finals is as far as they’re going to go.
Then you've got Ghana who will challenge Cameroon hard to win this group. Kwesi Appiah has come back which is a slightly underwhelming managerial appointment – his first stint didn't go particularly well. They're a team with great pedigree in the tournament having won it four times and reached the semi-finals two years ago in Gabon when they were beaten by Cameroon. They struggled to break Cameroon down and that's really been their problem for years. They can dominate the ball but just don't have the firepower to take advantage, which is a surprise when you look at the squad – Christian Atsu, the two Ayew brothers and then Thomas Partey driving the midfield. With Ghana you always feel that they are slightly less than the sum of their parts, they should be better than they are. If they played to their potential then they could win it, but the truth is that they haven't played to their potential since 2010 in Angola when they last reached the final.
With two African football heavyweights joining them in Group E, how will Guinea Bissau and Benin get on?
Guinea Bissau qualified for the first time two years ago and have built on that by sticking with the same coach in Baciro Candé. It's not a squad with very familiar names, captain Zezinho who plays for Senica in Slovakia is probably their best-known player. They did do well in Gabon, certainly better than expected, and finished top of a fairly difficult qualifying group with Namibia, Mozambique and Zambia although they only won two games. They’re pretty sound defensively though lack a bit of firepower going forward but they probably are more likely to finish third than Benin.
Benin have qualified three times before but didn't make it to Gabon and their best-known player is probably still Stéphane Sessègnon who's still going strong at Gençlerbirliği. They qualified second behind Algeria and ahead of Gambia and Togo but realistically I think they're a long shot to go through.
Jonathan’s prediction: Cameroon, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Benin
Head back to Jonathan's guide to Groups A & B here.
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