ALGERIA

15th January
16:00
Stade de Franceville

V

ZIMBABWE

Algeria’s star studded midfield and attack will be hoping they can make up for what has the potential to be a pretty leaky defence. Whilst the likes of Riyad Mahrez, Yacine Brahimi, Nabil Bentaleb, Islam Slimani, and El Arabi Hillel Soudani make up the midfield and attack, the defence is clearly lacking in the well known quality department.

This could be the reason they have conceded in five of their last eight games, despite playing a host of rather weak opponents. On the plus side they have scored a huge 29 goals in this period, so their attack is definitely flourishing.

Despite this abundance of talent they aren’t the group favourites here. That goes to Senegal, but Algeria have every chance of qualifying for the knockout stages, as long as they perform to the best of their abilities.

Their warm up games have looked promising so far as well, with a 3-1 and a 6-0 thrashing of Mauritania to make it seven wins, three draws, and just one defeat from their last 11 outings. This led them to the top spot in their qualification group, with them dropping just two points in six matches and scoring a huge 25 goals.

Zimbabwe’s qualification campaign wasn’t quite so dominant. They picked up 11 points from their 12 games despite having a group including the likes of Swaziland, Guinea, and Malawi. They have managed to avoid defeat in all but one of their last 13 matches, but the quality of their competition has generally been much lower than the likes of Algeria.

Whilst their opponents are leaving Premier League players such as Sofiane Feghouli out of the squad Zimbabwe are staying closer to home with their squad selection. The vast majority of their squad are based in Africa, with their top scorer Knowledge Musona being one of the few European based players present.

The underdogs are quite a defensive side by nature, but I doubt they can keep Algeria out for the entire match here. El Arbi Soudani is the one I’m expecting to break the deadlock. He has scored 21 goals in 39 appearances for Algeria, making him the second top scorer behind Islam Slimani but having played seven fewer games than him. He comes in at a very promising 7/4 to score anytime, so I’m backing him for my goalscorer predictions.

PREDICTION: ALGERIA WIN 2-1.

TUNISIA

15th January
19:00
Stade de Franceville

V

SENEGAL

Tunisia come into the African Cup of Nations having had a rather poor build up to the competition. They have only won one of their four friendlies leading up to the African Cup of Nations,losing to Egypt and Basque Country and drawing against Mauritania.

This doesn’t bode well for the coming group stages, as they need to somehow earn results against either Algeria or Senegal to stand any chance of upsetting the pecking order and qualify for the knockout rounds. Tunisia weren’t overly confident in their qualifiers for the tournament either, picking up 13 points from their six games and only outdoing Togo by two points in the end.

The underdogs will undoubtedly be looking towards Sunderland’s Wahbi Khazri and Ittihad’s Ahmed Akaichi for attacking inspiration here.  Khazri has managed a squad topping ten goals from his 28 international appearances, whilst Akaichi has nine goals in his 22 international outings.

However, they face a very tough opponent in Senegal. They have in demand Napoli centre back Kalidou Koulibaly leading the defence, with fellow European based players in Cheikh M’Bengue and Zargo Toure also in the back line. The midfield consists of the likes of Idrissa Gueye, Mohamed Diame, Cheikhou Kouyate, and Henri Saivet, whilst they can rely on Sadio Mane and Moussa Sow up front.

This well balanced squad served them very well in qualifying as they earned the only perfect record in qualification, winning all six of their matches and conceding just two goals in the process.

Senegal’s two warm up friendlies saw them pick up wins against Libya and Congo to make it eight wins and one defeat in their last nine matches. They have only conceded in three of these matches, and they have scored exactly two goals in eight of them.

This excellent record and talented squad makes them one of the favourites to lift the trophy at February, but first things first they must qualify from their group. Sadio Mane has been in sensational form for Liverpool this season, scoring nine goals in the Premier League and bagging four assists as well. He doesn’t fail to deliver for Senegal either, so backing him to score anytime at 13/5 looks a good choice for our goalscorer predictions.

PREDICTION: SENEGAL WIN 2-1.

IVORY COAST

16th January
16:00
Stade d’Oyem

V

TOGO

Ivory Coast come into this match as defending champions of the African Cup of Nations, and with the bookies placing them as favourites to win this one as well the pressure is on them to get off on the right foot against Togo.

It’s no surprise they are favourites really. They have European stars such as Serge Aurier, Eric Bailly, Franck Kessie, Wilfried Zaha, Wilfried Bony, and Salomon Kalou in their squad. Zaha is a new addition after he decided to ditch his England career in favour of Ivory Coast, and he got off to a good start by assisting a goal against Sweden and then scoring against Uganda in his first two appearances.

That goal against Uganda was one of three for Ivory Coast, making it four wins and six draws for them in their last ten outings. They have kept a clean sheet in half of these, but going forward they have seemed to have some problems breaking teams down. This resulted in them picking up just six points from their four qualifying games, scoring three goals and conceding two in a series of uninspiring matches.

Togo managed 11 points from their six qualifying matches, which was enough to earn them 2nd in the group behind Tunisia. Since then they have managed to beat Uganda and Mozambique in friendlies, but more recent friendlies have seen them draw against Comoros and lose to Morocco.

The underdog’s squad is much less recognisably talented than Ivory Coast’s. Emmanuel Adebayor is by far the biggest name in there, with the free agent having 30 goals in 73 international appearances. Fulham midfieldre Floyd Ayite and Genoa midfielder Serge Gakpe are also notable inclusions, but apart from that they are somewhat lacking in the quality department.

They have conceded four goals in their last two matches, so despite Ivory Coast’s occasional struggles up front I think the favourites will be able to find a way through. They have scored five goals in their two warm up friendlies for this too, and with Wilfried Zaha making such an instant impact on the international scene I think backing him to score anytime at 11/5 is a good choice for our goalscorer predictions.

PREDICTION: IVORY COAST WIN 1-0.

CONGO DR

16th January
19:00
Stade d’Oyem

V

MOROCCO

Congo DR incurred another defeat on Thursday as they lost 2-0 to Cameroon in their only warm up friendly for the African Cup of Nations. This made it three wins and three defeats in their last six outings, which isn’t a good record at all considering the quality of the opposition.

They did manage a rather impressive qualifying record for this competition though, winning five and losing one to pick up 15 points from their six games. This left them five points clear of 2nd placed Central African Republic, but they face a tough ask to outpoint Ivory Coast and Morocco in the group stages.

Congo DR’s squad largely consists of lower Premier League to Championship level players, with Hull striker Diemerci Mbokani leading the line with 18 goals in his 37 appearances and Championship midfielders such as Youssouf Mulumbu, Neeskens Kebano, and Hacques Maghoma sitting behind him. Whilst there are no huge talents in the squad it is a rather well balanced team that is capable of picking up results.

Morocco are in a similar position, although they did have the star potential in Sofiane Boufal before he incurred a knee injury that has seen him withdraw from the squad. They do have a number of high profile defenders in Juventus’ Mehdi Benatia and Monaco’s Nabil Dirar, whilst Lekhwiya striker Youssef El-Arabi has an impressive 15 goals in 39 international appearances.

El-Arabi’s scoring record is by far the best here, and with Morocco being the favourites for this match I think backing him to score at 2/1 is the best choice for our anytime goalscorer predictions.

Their unbeaten streak did come to an end on Monday though as they lost 1-0 to Finland in their warm up friendly. This followed on from a run of eight wins and four draws since their last defeat almost a year ago.

PREDICTION : MOROCCO WIN 2-1.

GABON

14th January
16:00
Stade d’Angondjé

V

GUINEA BISSAU

Gabon couldn’t have hoped for a much easier fixture to kickstart their African Cup of Nations hosting. They face off against Guinea Bissau, who are playing in the competition for the first time in history and won their qualifying group with the lowest tally of points of anybody else.

The fact that Guinea Bissau’s defensive setup largely consists of reserve players with fewer than 15 caps to their name will please Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang greatly. The Borussia Dortmund attacker will captain Gabon during this competition and has been in incredible form this season. He has scored 21 goals in 23 games in all competitions for club and country, and his 21 international goals make him the highest scorer in the squad.

Gabon have struggled to pick up wins of late, but with the home advantage on their side and facing the minnows of the whole competition they will feel fairly confident about their chances in this one.

Guinea Bissau have a marginally better form record going for them, but in fairness they have had an easier run of fixtures and were playing in competitive games, whereas Gabon were limited to friendlies whilst qualification was going on.

The minnows have won three, drawn one, and lost four of their last eight games, beating Kenya twice and Zambia once. Outside of Guinea Bissau they have only won one match in the last six years though, so it could be a tough group stage for them.

To be honest neither of these teams are brimming with quality, but Gabon edge is due to their star player potential. Malick Evouna and Aubameyang provide incredible goal threat for the hosts and they have Juventus midfielder Mario Lemina and Sunderland midfielder Didier N’Dong to feed the strikers. Their defence is notably lacking in quality, but Guinea Bissau are unlikely to provide much of a goal threat considering the top scorer in their squad has just two goals.

PREDICTION: GABON WIN 2-0.

BURKINA FASO

14th January
19:00
Stade d’Angondjé

V

CAMEROON

Burkina Faso come into this group stage with every possibility of outpacing slight favourites Cameroon to 2nd place, with hosts Gabon being the favourites to top the group after the three matches. However, that makes this clash the most important of the lot for both of these sides, as a defeat could potentially see them exit the competition very early on.

Burkina Faso actually managed to make it to the finals of the African Cup of Nations as recently as 2013, but the 2015 instalment saw them eliminated at the group stage. Now they look to utilise their attacking talents to make it through to the knockout stages.

Alain Traore could prove the most influential player in this respect. The Kayserispor midfielder has 19 goals in his 43 international appearances, whilst strikers Jonathan Pitroipa and Aristide Bance have 18 and 17 goals respectively in 68 and 60 appearances. Ajax forward Bertrand Traore is another threat, although he is yet to set the world alight on an international scale.

The warm up friendlies could have gone better for Burkina Faso though. They lost to both Morocco and Mali after earning 13 points in their six qualification games. This is a relatively low tally to win the group on, and they only just edged Uganda out on head to head results.

Cameroon, despite the likes of Joel Matip and Allan Nyom withdrawing due to pay disputes, are the favourites. They have managed to beat Congo and draw with Zimbabwe in their warm up friendlies and are now unbeaten in six games in all competitions. They earned 14 points from their AFCON qualifying group, remaining unbeaten and beating Mauritania to the top spot by six points in the end.

They may be missing a few very useful players, but there are plenty of them present and correct. Lyon defender Nicolas Nkoulou has racked up 71 appearances at the age of just 26, whilst Besiktas striker Vincent Aboubakar will be hoping to add to his 14 international goals. Former Spurs winger Clinton N’Jie has scored six goals in his 15 appearances for Cameroon, and 21 year old Christian Bassogog has scored one goal in two outings.

PREDICTION: CAMERRON WIN 2-1.