Africa Cup of Nations 2019 to Feature Five Arab Nations
By: Noah Chani/Arab America Contributing Writer
From June through July, the largest Africa Cup of Nations to date will be held in Egypt. For the first time in the thirty-two year history of the Confederation of African Football, the field will feature five Arab sides. This will be the largest field in the tournament’s history, with twenty-four nations including the five from the Middle East: Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Mauritania. Of these nations, Mauritania will be competing in their first ever Cup of Nations event.
The event was originally meant to take place in Cameroon, but the honor was soon stripped from the country due to infrastructure concerns. Ultimately, this tournament is anticipated to be closer than the years before, as the gap between African perennial power of Egypt and the other twenty-three nations in the field narrows. With the more and more top league and premiership players representing their home countries, the mid-summer event is expected to draw a larger crowd than ever. Below is the preview of the highly anticipated event which marks history for the 5 Arab Nations that qualified.
The host country of the 32nd Annual Cup of Nations tournament looks to build upon their already stellar African team after only having dropped two of their last twenty-five home games against other African nations. With one of the cups’ most highly touted players representing them, Mohamed Salah, Egypt is favorited to hoist the cup in front of their home fans. Egypt has previously hosted the event four times since the tournament began, bringing home the top prize three of those four years.
With that being said, history is on Egypt’s side as they attempt to regain a title that hasn’t been theirs since 2010. Egypt’s assistant coach, Hany Ramzy, has commented on the narrowing gap between the top African teams and the rest of the field saying, “The big difference in quality between the teams is really not there anymore like it was 10 years ago in Africa. Now, every team has players who play in Europe so they have the experience to play at a high level.”
Playing in Group A in the 2019 event, Egypt will have to be among the top two teams in their group to advance. Their group also includes the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. Egypt kicks off the tournament with a match against Zimbabwe on Friday, June 21st.
These Group B winners have qualified for the seventeenth time in the tournament’s thirty-two-year history. Morocco has been playing well this year, likely inspired by a World Cup appearance last summer that saw them fall by very narrow margins to some of the world’s top teams. For the second summer in a row, the Atlas Lions have been pitted in what is considered the group of death. They’ve landed in Group D, which also features the top African sides of Ivory Coast and South Africa.
Coach Hervé Renard is looking to continue their momentum into the African cup but many are worried that the team’s high-intensity style of play could prove to hurt them during the hot Egyptian summer. The team’s play has Moroccan fans excited for what the next month might hold, setting their hopes on the country’s second Cup of Nations title. Should they bring it home, Hervé Renard will be the first coach to win the title, coaching three different nations.
Tunisia will be among the favored sides in Group E. They have had a good draw and are amongst some of the weaker African sides that have been qualified (Group E consists of Tunisia, Mali, Mauritania, and Angola). Tunisia is the second highest-ranked African team in the FIFA world rankings at twenty-eight, and are looking to prove themselves worthy of that ranking by bringing home the Cup of Nations trophy.
If Tunisia is able to advance past group stage, they will have to prove themselves in the round of 16 against the runner-ups in Group D, which is likely to be a tough Moroccan, South African, or Ivory Coast side. Tunisia kicks off their CAF play on Monday the 24th of June against Angola.
Algeria is joined in Group C by the likes of Senegal, Kenya, and Tanzania. Along with Senegal, Algeria is favored to advance beyond the group stage and compete in the round of 16. This is their eighteenth appearance in the event, and after their win in 1990, they still look to repeat that performance nearly thirty years later.
The Algeria-Senegal matchup on July 1st looks to be one of the best matches of the tournaments group stages; both sides have many great players who play in and around Europe and compete at a high level all year long. Senegal is the top-ranked side in the tournament according to the FIFA rankings, proving to be a challenge to the Algerian side. With that being said, it is vital that Algeria does not lose to weaker teams like Kenya and Tanzania if they plan to advance to the knockout stages.
Mauritania made history by qualifying for their first ever African Cup of Nations championship this year. Not only is this significant to their own football history books, but it also makes history for Africa’s Arab nations as they are the fifth Arab nation to qualify for the event. When news traveled that they had qualified, their streets were flooded with celebrating fans. It was a come-from-behind victory against Botswana, with goals by Moctar Sidi El Hacen and Ismail Diakite.
While they are happy to have qualified, they will compete with some of the finest teams in Africa, which should prove a challenge for such an inexperienced side. They will be joined by Tunisia, Mali, and Angola in group E. It is likely that they won’t qualify for the round of sixteen, but they will surely have nothing to lose in competing in their first ever AFCON championship.