Following a two-year break, the year of 2017 brings the 31st edition of the biennial international football competition of Africa back to the forefront, with some exciting battles predicted to take place. Originally scheduled to be played in Libya, the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations was redirected to Gabon in 2014 due to the ongoing war in Libya. The 2017 edition of the most prestigious competition on the African continent will see Ivory Coast attempt to defend their 2015 title, but we predict the Elephants could face an uphill task. They won the tournament held in Equatorial Guinea for their second-ever title, having beaten Ghana 9-8 in the penalty shootout. Most of the participants are the seasoned competitors in the Africa Cup of Nations, whereas the 2017 edition will be the first-ever for Guinea-Bissau, the qualifying Group E winners, who will be looking to continue their dream in the finals.
The Title Race
Two-time winners and reigning tournament champions Ivory Coast have been given the best betting odds to defend the title, but we predict a tough battle between several teams that should be considered proper contenders. The 2002 runners-up Senegal and 1990 winners Algeria have got to be placed within this bracket, but if we are to make football predictions based on the form and individual quality – Ghana have to be considered the main title favourites. Lead by the experienced football tactician Avram Grant, Black Stars cruised to the top of their group stomping over Mozambique, Rwanda and Mauritius without losing a single point in the process. Having failed to lift the title in the previous edition of the competition, the 2015 runners-up will be fired up to make amends for the defeat in the final. Packing the likes of Leicester City’s pair Jeff Schlupp and Daniel Amartey, Chelsea’s Christian Atsu, Atletico Madrid’s Thomas Partey and West Ham striker Andre Ayew who has just returned from his injury, Ghana possess the quality needed to lift the crown in the end.
The Fight Against Early Elimination
We predict that the 2017 Africa Cup of nations debutants Guinea-Bissau will have the toughest time surviving the cut in the early stages of the competition. Paulo Torres’ men were fortunate to summit their group, which they managed to achieve despite losing two of the group stage games but having been pitted against the likes of Gabon, Cameroon and Burkina Faso is Group A, Guinea-Bissau will have hard time grabbing the place in the knockout stage. Another team predicted to leave the finals after the group stage are Zimbabwe. Callisto Pasuwa’s side have never gone past the group stage of the competition before and are sure to be in for a beating against the likes of Algeria, Tunisia and Senegal. Winning a single point in Group B would be considered an achievement for the underdogs.
The Biggest Surprise
One of the countries we are prone to predict could go out to upset the big guns in the competition is Mali. Alain Giresse’s men have been quite unfortunate not to advance to the knockout stage in their first Africa Cup of Nations appearance since 1972 two years ago, as they finished the group stage in third place, level on points with the second-placed Guinea. Sadio Mane and his teammates will be extremely motivated to push up a notch and skip the first hurdle, which is quite possible and plausible knowing they will have Ghana, Egypt and Uganda to beat to the first two Group places, so we predict a successful campaign for them.
The Biggest Disappointment
We will stick to the Group D to comment on the side which has seen a noticeable decline in their performances at the competition over the past few years. Having last been on the brightest African stage in 2010, the Egyptians will hope AS Roma key man Mohamed Salah will lead them to glory, but our prediction is seven-time Africa Cup of Nations winners will be forced to wait a bit more for glory days to come back. Mohamed Salah is just coming off from an injury layout and could succumb to the pressure of high expectations that is bound to crush on his shoulders.
Players to Watch
All eyes will be on Mohamed Salah and West Ham striker Andre Ayew who are both coming off from their respective injuries with a huge point to prove at the international level. Liverpool star performer Sadio mane is strongly expected to continue his formidable club form, whereas Riyad Mahrez is tipped to raise the level of his performances and try to replicate his last season’s form. The main star of the competition however will be Borussia Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the Gabon striker who has bagged 20 goals in all competitions midway through December and will be particularly motivated to succeed in front of the home crowd.
Managers to Watch
A huge load of pressure will be placed on Jose Antonio Camacho’s back. The experienced Spanish manager is keen to guide Gabon to success in front of home fans and all eyes will be on the 61-year-old and his team. Two-time Africa Cup of Nations winners topped Group B and former Espanyol, Real Madrid, Benfica manager and head coach of the Spanish and Chinese national teams is expected to build up on the fine performances displayed during the qualifiers. Another tactician who will be under great scrutiny in Gabon is Avram Grant. The Israeli tactician was brought with the sole purpose of leading his team to glory and former Chelsea manager is expected to deliver. Our prediction is that he will succeed and that Ghana will go out to win the competition, much to the excitement of their manager and fans alike.
Ghana to win the title
Mali to reach the semifinals
Guinea-Bissau not to win a single point
Egypt to be eliminated in Group Stage
Aubameyang to become topscorer