African Cup of Nations 2017 Predictions
Ivory Coast come into the 2017 installment of the African Cup of Nations looking to defend the title they won two years ago, whilst Premier League clubs across the country curse the mid-season tournament for taking their valuable players away for five weeks.
Read on to find out all our winner predictions, top goalscorer tips, and to find out which Premier League club is likely to suffer the most over the next five weeks.
Outright Winner - Senegal
Senegal had a pretty dreadful time in the 2015 instalment of the African Cup of Nations, but they have improved immeasurably in the last two years. They were the only team to maintain a perfect record in qualification for the competition and have an extremely well balanced side, not overly relying on one player.
A host of familiar European based names make up the back line, not least of all the in demand Kalidou Koulibaly. In midfield the likes of Idrissa Gueye, Mohamed Diame, and Cheikhou Kouyate provide a lot of quality both going forward and staying back, and at the exciting end of the pitch there is the in form Sadio Mane, Moussa Sow, and Mame Biram Diouf.
Mane will obviously be a key figure for them and it helps that their star player is extremely high on confidence at the moment. He slipped into Liverpool’s setup seamlessly in the summer and has notched nine Premier League goals, so expect him to be up there on the scoring charts.
Senegal have won six of their eight matches in 2016 as well and will be highly motivated to collect their first ever African Cup of Nations title. The closest they came before was a final appearance back in 2002, but now they have somewhat of a golden generation to utilise.
To make matters even better they should have a fairly favourable route to the final. Algeria are their main competition in the group stages but they should take the top spot, in which case they will face likely runners up Burkina Faso or Cameroon in the knockout stages. The semi final is likely to pit them against Ghana or Morocco as well, so they couldn’t have asked for a more favourable route.
Dark Horse - Morocco
Morocco enjoyed the joint second best qualification campaign of all the teams in the competition, and despite lacking a host of star players they actually have a relatively good quality and well balanced squad coming into this game. They missed out on the 2015 iteration of the competition but have had their ban overturned, and they will be looking to take advantage of that stroke of good fortune.
In terms of the group stages they will face off against current champions Ivory Coast, and whilst it’s entirely possible for them to win that group with a couple of good results a 2nd place finish wouldn’t be the end of the world. They would probably end up facing Ghana in the quarter finals and then go up against Senegal if our predictions are correct.
One of the major keys to success in these tournaments is having a solid back line and then a key figure going forward, helping teams to snatch victories even if under a lot of pressure. This is exactly what Morocco has available, with Juventus defender Medhi Benatia and Nabil Dirar and Achraf Lazaar also in the back line. The midfield has some rather limited talent, but Sofiane Boufal and Nordin Amrabat provide all the quality in the attacking sense.
Top Goalscorer - Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
The Borussia Dortmund attacker will undoubtedly be the centre of attention as his nation host this tournament. Their star man has netted a huge 21 goals in his 23 games for club and country this season and faces the mouthwatering prospect of facing African Cup of Nations newcomers Guinea-Bissau in the group stages.
The newcomers were the joint worst group winners in qualification and also had the worst defensive record of all the teams who won the group. Aubameyang will also face the likes of Cameroon and Burkina Faso in the group stages, meaning the only recognised defensive talent he will be facing is Cameroon’s Nicolas Nkoulou.
In addition to his opposition Aubameyang will also have the advantage of the home crowd on his side and is the undisputed lynchpin of his nation’s attack. Him bagging a few goals in these games is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility, and considering Gabon are expected to reach the semi-finals at least he’s an excellent choice at 9/1.
Effect On The Premier League
Whilst the African Cup of Nations is a welcome break from the January blues for football fans, it’s not quite such a treat for the Premier League clubs who lose out. There are a growing number of players involved in the tournament, and as such a few teams will have to face weeks without some of their key figures.
Most notably are Leicester. Fortunately for them Jamie Vardy has just returned from his suspension, but it only serves to soften the blow of losing both Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani to the Algerian national team. Daniel Amartey is also called up for Ghana, although much to Leicester’s susprise Avram Grant has left Jeffrey Schlupp out of the squad. This is a key time for the Premier League champions, and considering they are currently threatened from relegation they could do without it.
Crystal Palace have been dealt a blow by Wilfried Zaha‘s Ivory Coast call up as well. Bakary Sako will also travel to Gabon to play alongside his Malian colleagues, and the fresh injury to Christian Benteke means that they could be a bit light at the front over the coming month.
Liverpool only have one player involved in their African Cup of Nations thanks to Joel Matip snubbing his Cameroon call up, but it happens to be one of their most influential players. Sadio Mane is their top scorer this season, and they will miss him as they try to chase down Chelsea at the top of the Premier League.
Southampton also only have one player involved, but Sofiane Boufal will be a huge miss at the moment. This is largely because of their lack of depth up front and the fact main striker Charlie Austin is injured, leaving The Saints with a very shallow front line.
Stoke have seen attacking trio Wilfried Bony, Mame Biram Diouf, and Ramadan Sobhi depart for Gabon now, and despite none of them playing a particularly important part so far this season it leaves them with just Peter Crouch and Bojan up front for the next five weeks. Any injuries here would put them in a bit of a crisis.