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African Cup of Nations 2024; Who are the Favourites?

Whilst is may have lived somewhat in the shadow of slightly more popular international tournaments in the past, Afcon is stepping into the spotlight this Winter. The 34th African Cup of Nations, held in the Ivory Coast, will put together several of football's biggest names and, for the first time, fans in the UK can watch every single minute. So who are the favourites?

Senegal are the defending champions and are rightfully considered among the favourites again this year. Since winning the 2021 tournament, the Lions have made even noise on the international stage, beating Qatar and Ecuador in the 2022 World Cup to reach the knockout stages for the first time since 2002.

Led by former Liverpool and Bayern Munich forward Sadio Mane, Senegal have been dealt an early blockbuster tie, with 2021 semi-finalists Cameroon alongside them in Group C. Counter-attacking football is king in tournaments, and Senegal even caused England a number of problems with their direct approach.

Aliou Cisse has several talented defenders to pick from too, helping to protect Edouard Mendy's goal. The likes of Ferland Mendy and Kalidou Koulibaly will help Senegal to keep those all-important clean sheets which are vital to progressing through these international tournaments. Of course there are plenty of fellow contenders, but you don't have to look any further than the defending champions to find a real favourite for Afcon 2024.

The biggest threat to Senegal's defence will likely be Morocco. Walid Regragui has taken the national team to a new level over the past couple of years, including becoming the first African country to reach the World Cup semi-finals.

They didn't just get a lucky draw either; Morocco came through a group containing Belgium and Croatia before knocking out Spain and Portugal in the knockout stages.

Strangely enough, the highest ranked side in African haven't had any luck in Afcon over the past 20-or-so years. The Atlas Lions haven't gone beyond the quarter-finals since finishing as runners-up to hosts Tunisia in 2004 and have gone out at the group stages four times in that period.

Regragui has a very strong pool of players to pick from, and whilst he has chosen to select some younger players, many of the stars from Qatar are still present. Nayef Aguerd, Achraf Hakimi, Sofyan Amrabat and Youssef En-Nesyri, all now playing for top European clubs, are all included once again.

Morocco's defending at Qatar 2022 was something of a revelation and they are more than capable of keeping out any team in the World, let alone any opponent they might come across in the Ivory Coast this month.

There have been questions of their goal-scoring ability, but with the number of quality attacking players in the squad, even if Morocco aren't firing on all cylinders, they have the firepower to force their way through any game.

Read more about Morocco's Afcon hopes from The Woodwork's Luca Salmasi here;

Morocco's most recent Afcon campaign was ended by Mo Salah and Egypt, and the Liverpool winger will be hoping to take Egypt one step further after defeat on penalties to Senegal in the 2021 final.

Salah elected to take last in that shoot-out, but Senegal secured the title before the winger could step up. This time around, Egypt are in a very similar position to where they found themselves two years ago. They aren't quite favourites, but, like Morocco were at the World Cup, they're one of those who might just have a chance with a little bit of luck.

Mozambique and Cape Verde should be straightforward enough to get past for the seven-time African champions, but Ghana will provide a very tough test. The Black Stars were bitterly unlucky not to escape their World Cup group and will certainly be expecting to get out of Group C behind an Egyptian side who have lost two of the last three Afcon finals.

It's a heavyweight fixture early in the tournament, with 11 titles and 19 final appearances between the sides.

Neither side are among the most obvious contenders, as Morocco and Senegal pretty much have that covered between them, but if the two giants were to stumble early, either Egypt or a very decisive, attacking Ghana side could snatch the title.

Perhaps the dark horses of the tournaments are, unusually, the hosts. Ivory Coast haven't hosted Afcon since 1984, and although eight countries in this year's tournament are ranked above them in the FIFA world rankings, home advantage counts for a lot. Especially when it comes to Afcon.

Thirteen hosts have reached the final, including the likes of Sudan (1970) and South Africa (1996) who wouldn't have been favourites at all. There's something of a resurgence going on for the Ivory Coast. The Elephants, as they're affectionately known, have some of Africa's most promising young talents among their ranks, including Brighton's Simon Adingra and RB Salzburg striker Karim Konate.

Jean-Louis Gasset has also picked plenty of experienced players, with seasoned Premier League defenders Serge Aurier and Willy Boly along with former Arsenal winger Nicolas Pepe. The quality might not jump out of the squad list the same way it does from Senegal or Morocco, but what the Ivory Coast have is a proper team. Not necessarily a star player, but an XI of players who genuinely know and understand how to play together. It would be unwise to overlook the hosts.

There are a few other countries who fall into the "usual suspects" category, much like France, Spain and Germany always do at the Euros. Tunisia and Algeria were both in Pot 1 for the group stage draw and whilst they'll face tough tests in Mali and Burkina Faso respectively, both countries should be comfortable in getting through to the last 16, especially with four of the six third place sides progressing.

Algeria were defending champions two years ago having beaten Senegal 1 - 0 in Egypt in 2019, but their squad has quite a different look now to the one that delivered their second Afcon title (their first outside of Algeria).

Tunisia haven't been in the final for 20 years, but have been to a World Cup since their successful home tournament in 2004. Much like Egypt and Ghana, these countries aren't quite in the favourites bracket, but if Senegal and Morocco fall early, either one of Algeria or Tunisia would be capable of fighting for the trophy.

There also has to be a mention of Nigeria. The Super Falcons have been massively disappointing at Afcon in recent years. Often considered in Europe to be Africa's best football team, Nigeria haven't actually made the final since 2013. With a vicious attack featuring Victor Osimhen, Samuel Chukwueze and Alex Iwobi, Jose Peseiro's team have a real chance of getting Nigeria back in contention at Afcon.

Cameroon also deserve a mention as the 1984 champions; this was the only previous Afcon tournament to take place in the Ivory Coast.

There are several potential contenders for Afcon 2024, which makes the tournament all the more exciting. Senegal and Morocco are undeniably the two strongest favourites, but there are several teams including Tunisia, Ghana, Nigeria and several more who will be waiting to pounce if either of the main favourites slip-up.

It all kicks off with hosts Ivory Coast playing the traditional opening night game on Saturday night. The Elephants take on Guinea-Bissau in a game that is expected to be watched in over 180 countries to kick off a festival of African football.!

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