With the 2015 African Cup of Nations set to start on Saturday with opening game between Equatorial Guinea and Congo, here are some things to look out for at this year’s tournament.
Must-Watch Games in the Group Stage
Ghana v Senegal – Back in the African Cup of Nations after a one tournament absence in 2013, Senegal have been handed the toughest draw in 2015 as they face Ghana, Algeria and South Africa. Their tournament opens with a game against Ghana in Mongomo and it should be just the game to whet the appetite for what should be an enthralling group.
Both sides come into the tournament with pressure to perform; Senegal must perform better than in 2012 when they went out in the group stage despite entering the tournament as one of the favorites. Meanwhile, Ghana must give back to the fans following their off the pitch antics in Brazil.
Mali v Cameroon – When Mali and Cameroon meet in Malabo for their Group D opener, it will perhaps be their most important game of the group stage. Given Ivory Coast are also in the group, the pair should be fighting for second place. It should have a winner takes all feel to it, since it will touch and go in terms of qualification for whoever loses.
Ghana v Algeria – Another battle in Mongomo as two of the continent’s best teams battle it out for a potential place in the knockout stage. Providing both teams win their opener, it should be set up for winner advances to the quarterfinals. It does also have the potential to be the final given both sides will fancy their chances of winning the tournament.
The Final Matchday from Group A – While it is not just one game, the end of Group A should be an intriguing watch considering how all the teams are quite closely matched heading into the tournament. Equatorial Guinea will be keen to impress once again after reaching the quarterfinals in 2012, as will Cape Verde who reached the Quarter Finals in 2013, while DR Congo and Tunisia will hope to perform much better than the last time when both fell below their expectations.
Players to Watch
Emilio Nsue – The Middlesbrough winger will be expected to be the driving force behind Equatorial Guinea’s campaign along with Javier Balboa and Randy – both of whom impressed in the 2012 edition. The 25-year-old Nsue has performed well in his short time in the Championship and he comes into AFCON in some fine form after playing at right-back for the past month.
Jonathan Pitroipa – The top scorer in the qualifying campaign, the Al Jazira winger will be keen to impress once again at the international stage after an excellent tournament in South Africa two years ago. A flying winger with tricks in his bag, Pitroipa will be the talk of the tournament should Burkina Faso live up to expectations.
Christian Atsu – After failing to shine in his short time with Everton so far, Atsu will be keen to prove he’s got what it takes to become a major star in the African game. During the World Cup there was flashes of the brilliance he can provide but generally the final ball was lacking. With pace in abundance and eagerness to succeed, it should interesting to see if Atsu can impress for the Ghanaians this time around.
Riyad Mahrez – Another winger in our list, Mahrez has made a rapid rise in last 12 months from second division French player to Algerian Premier League star. The Leicester City player was not really given his chance to shine in Brazil, so this tournament will provide him with a big chance to impress on the international stage. Should he come off the bench, he will be one of the most dangerous options in the tournament and that could come in handy, especially if Algeria ever find themselves trailing.
Cheikhou Kouyaté – While much of the focus on West Ham’s rise up the Premier League table has been on Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia, it has also been the performances of Kouyate that have gotten the Hammers where they are now. Arguably one of the best defensive midfielders at the tournament, Kouyate’s contribution could be the difference between qualifying and not qualifying for Senegal.