Nigeria could win 2022 Africa Cup of Nations, and other far-too-early predictions
Ed Dove
August 19, 2021
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fairytale.

Group D

The favourites: It's a bit of a toss up between Nigeria and Egypt, two of the most successful nations in African football history, and both will have designs on the gold. Sudan and Guinea-Bissau appear primed to compete for third.

Recent meetings: Paul Onuachu scored the only goal of the game as the Super Eagles won the last meeting between the two giants in an international friendly in Mar. 2019.

They met in the group stage at the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations, and the Pharaohs overcame Chinedu Obasi's opener to win 3-1 as they launched the third of their trio of consecutive title campaigns.

Historical edge: Egypt and Nigeria have won a combined 10 AFCON crowns between them, with the North Africans having won seven to the Eagles' three. With 15 semifinal appearances each, no country has reached the final four more often. This is the only group with three previous winners in as well, with Sudan winning their only crown in 1970.

Match of the round: Nigeria vs. Egypt in Garoua on Jan. 11 has the potential to be the standout fixture of the entire group stage.

The Box Office: While the Super Eagles have stars of their own -- not least Victor Osimhen, Kelechi Iheanacho and Wilfred Ndidi -- none comes close to matching Mohamed Salah's global profile or achievements within the game.

Prediction: Nigeria have their failings, but they're more vibrant than Egypt at the present time and have more ways of hurting their opponents. A strong performance and convincing victory for the Eagles at the Roumde Adjia Stadium could propel the West Africans to a successful campaign.

Group E

The favourites: Algeria are tournament favourites enjoying a 27-game unbeaten run. Even the presence of an ominous-looking Ivory Coast side is unlikely to faze them. Sierra Leone and Equatorial Guinea complete the group.

Recent meetings: Algeria eliminated the Elephants on penalties in the quarterfinal of the 2019 event en route to the title, with Wilfried Bony and Serey Die missing their spot-kicks for the West Africans.

Historical edge: Ghana, Egypt and Cameroon are the only sides to have retained the AFCON title. Can Algeria, who were already an aging side in 2019, repeat the trick this time around?

Match of the round: It has to be Algeria vs. Ivory Coast, and, who knows; the Fennecs met Senegal in the group stage in 2019 before the pair faced off again in the final. Could the 2019 and 2015 champions follow similar pathways this time around?

The Box Office: Riyad Mahrez won many admirers with his disciplined, selfless and tenacious performances two years ago, and his star has risen even further since. Rarely has an African star proved so decisive in such a major fixture as he did for Manchester City against Paris Saint-Germain in last year's UEFA Champions League semifinal.

Prediction: Algeria and Ivory Coast will both have qualification wrapped up before they meet in Douala in matchday three. Sierra Leone and Equatorial Guinea look particularly vulnerable -- when goal difference is taken into account -- and must find a way to neutralise the heavyweights' firepower.

Group F

The favourites: Tunisia and Mali topped their groups in qualifying, and will expect to do the same here.

Recent meetings: Tunisia, Mali and Mauritania were all in the same group at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations as well, with the Eagles winning the three-way mini league between the trio -- including a 4-1 rout of the Mourabitouns -- to top the group.

Historical edge: No team has reached as many AFCON semifinals as Mali (six) without ever winning the title. They've only once reached the final -- in 1972 -- but a blossoming generation could be tournament dark horses.

Match of the round: Gambia's strategy of holding teams at bay, preserving energy and striking late, has seen them make great strides in recent years, leading to their first AFCON appearance. They may never have a better chance of winning an AFCON game than in their tournament opener against Mauritania.

The Box Office: Limited star power, although Brighton & Hove Albion midfielder Yves Bissouma continues to be linked heavily with Arsenal.

Prediction: Tunisia, Mali and Gambia to progress, although the group winners could be at a disadvantage knowing they will have to face Algeria or Ivory Coast in the Last 16.
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