CAPE TOWN, April 13 – Played out in front of the spectacular Sphinx and the pyramids in Cairo, the draw for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament took the form of an extravagant visual show on Friday night.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino and Yaya Toure, a former AFCON winner with Ivory Coast, and a four-time winner of the African Player of the Year award, were amongst a host of dignitaries attending the ceremony in the Egyptian capital.
The finals will take place in Egypt between 21 June and 19 July 2019, and will mark the first time the tournament is contested by 24 teams, up from the usual 16.
It’s possibly for this reason that there has been a marked increase in the number of participants from the southern and eastern regions of the continent.
The top two sides from the six groups, along with the four best third-placed teams, will advance to the round of 16 in Egypt.
Cameroon, the defending champions, had been set to host the 2019 AFCON until the Confederation of African Football (CAF) stripped them of that right following delays in the delivery of infrastructure as well as security concerns.
The Indomitable Lions, five-time champions and currently coached by Dutch legend Clarence Seedorf, have been drawn in an all-west-African Group F, and will have their work cut out against Ghana, Benin and Guinea-Bissau
Hosts Egypt, the record seven-time AFCON winners who boast Liverpool star Mohamed Salah in their ranks, are up against Zimbabwe, Uganda and DR Congo in Group A.
West African giants Nigeria, three-time champions (most recently in 2013), have probably been handed the easiest group. Guinea, and two tournament debutants – Burundi and Madagascar – have been paired in Group B with a Super Eagles side bursting with talent including the likes of Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho, Odion Ighalo and Victor Moses.
Sadio Mane and his Senegal team are in Group C, and will likely battle it out with north African giants Algeria for top spot, with east African countries Kenya and Tanzania also in the group. Senegal’s only previous AFCON final triumph came in 2002.
Group D is arguably the ‘group of death’, with 2015 AFCON champions Ivory Coast joined by another two former tournament winners in Morocco and South Africa, as well as Namibia.
Tunisia and Mali will be favourites in Group E, which also contains Angola and the third of the competition’s debutants, Mauritania.
Group A: Egypt, Zimbabwe, Uganda, DR Congo
Group B: Nigeria, Burundi, Madagascar, Guinea
Group C: Senegal, Algeria, Kenya, Tanzania
Group D: South Africa, Ivory Coast, Namibia, Morocco
Group E: Mali, Tunisia, Angola, Mauritania
Group F: Benin, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Cameroon
– African News Agency (ANA),