The reigning African champions, Algeria, without a doubt, are the team to beat in this tournament, unbeaten in over 33 games running into the African Cup of Nations in Cameroon.
Algeria kicks things off with Sierra Leone on Tuesday at the Japoma Stadium. Kick-off 13-hour local time is a good test for a Sierra Leone side that has not been in the continental business for 26 years.
Nothing is impossible in world football, but their progress and recent statistics have been on the upwards.
During December’s Arab Cup tournament in Qatar, they defeated Sudan, Lebanon, drew with Egypt to make the quarter-finals.
Furthermore, their under-strength side went on to beat Morocco, host Qatar and Tunisia to win the tournament without some key players like Sofiane Feghouli, Islam Slimani, Riyad Mahrez, to name a few.
They were unbeaten in 2019 hosted in Egypt. Algeria defeated Senegal 1–0 in the final, winning their second title and first since 1990.
Algeria ranked as the 29th best-ranked nation in the world that is 79th place ahead of its West African counterparts (Sierra Leone).
Sierra Leone, on the other hand, to reach Cameroon, staged one of the greatest comebacks in Cup of Nations qualifying history, coming from four goals behind in Nigeria to draw 4-4.
Winger Kwame Quee, Alhaji Kamara and Mustapha Bundu were all scorers of the goals that stunned the Super Eagles in November 2020. They have all been included in the squad at the tournament, whose realistic target must be third place in Group E. A step better will be a plus for the Leone Stars.
The Sierra Leone battle is not new to their counterpart as it is worth mentioning that it was Algeria, Sierra Leone stunned at home and away to qualify for the AFCON in 1994 in Tunisia.
On August 29 1992, a resilient Sierra Leone side defeated their North African Counterparts 1-0 in Freetown from a John Sama header. The Leone Stars held Algeria to a goalless draw at the Stadium, Annaba in Algeria 9 April 1993.
Their last meeting between the two nations was a 2-0 win for Algeria during the 1996 AFCON in South Africa. Both goals were scored by Ali Meçabih 41′, 63′ at the Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein.
- Recap of Group E contenders
Nickname: Les Fennecs (Desert Foxes) – current Total Energies AFCON champions – last won it 2019 beating Senegal 1-0 in Egypt
The Desert Foxes of Algeria 19th AFCON appearances and they have won the title twice, at home in 1990 and the last edition in Egypt 2019.
Les Fennecs scored 19 goals in the qualifiers, more than any other team. Baghdad Bounedjah, the scorer of the 2019 AFCON final winner, was their top scorer with four goals.
Nickname: Leone Stars
The West African nation was the last to pick their AFCON ticket with a 1-0 win over Benin in June as they prepare to make their 3rd appearance for the first time since back-to-back participation in 1994 and 1996.
Sierra Leone finished second in Group L behind Nigeria, with Alhaji Kamra and Kwame Quee being their top scorers on two goals each.
Nickname: Nzalang Nacional (National Thunder)
This is Equatorial Guinea’s third AFCON appearance and their first from the qualifying series. They only appeared before as co-hosts with Gabon in 2012 and as hosts in 2015.
Nzalang Nacional best outing was when they finished fourth at home in 2015. Equatorial Guinea finished Group J as runner ups. Pedro Obiang was their best scorer with two goals.
Nickname: Les Elephants (The Elephants)
This is Côte d’Ivoire’s 24th AFCON appearance. Only Egypt (25) has a better record of playing in the AFCON finals. They will host the finals in 2023.
Les Elephants won the title twice, in 1992 and 2015, ironically beating Ghana on penalties on both occasions. Frank Kessie was Cote d’Ivoire’s top goal-scorer in the qualifiers, having scored three goals as Les Elephants topped Group K.
The top two teams of each group and the four highest-ranked third-placed teams will advance to the round of 16.
Winners of the round of sixteen will advance to the quarter-finals, and the quarter-final winners will advance to the semi-finals. The semi-final losers will play in a third-place match, while the semi-final winners will contest the final
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