The 32nd edition of one of the most wide-open continental championship tournaments, the Africa Cup of Nations, kicks off in Cairo, Egypt, on Friday. The competition that has seen 14 different African countries take home the Cup is set to be bigger and more spectacular than at any point in its history. With a field expanded to a record 24 countries, and an impressive roster of international stars on display, the AFCON offers “a huge opportunity for Africa to put on a show,” according to ESPN.
In fact, once the tournament gets to the quarterfinal stage, both the FIFA Women’s World Cup and South America’s Copa America will have wrapped up, leaving the AFCON tournament with the world stage all to itself.
Of course, Egypt star Mo Salah and Senegal talisman Sadio Mane are accustomed to the spotlight, coming off a UEFA Champions League final victory less than three weeks ago with their English Premier League club Liverpool, as The Inquisitr reported. The Liverpool strike partners were also the top two scorers in the Premier League, and now lead what are predicted to be the top two teams in the Cup of Nations tournament.
With Salah at the front, Egypt has recovered from the letdown of a group stage exit at the 2018 FIFA World Cup by winning six of their most recent eight matches, with just one loss, while firing home 20 goals in the process, according to Soccerway.
On the other hand, Mane’s Senegal side comes into the Cup of Nations on a six-game winning streak, conceding a mere one goal in that span, as Forbes reports. And if defense wins international titles, Senegal may have the edge, as Egypt has let in six in their recent eight-game stretch of success.
Some of the other top international stars on display in the 2019 AFCON include Kalidou Koulibaly of Serie A side Napoli, who will anchor Senegal’s air-tight defense, as well as Nicolas Pepe of Lille, who blasted 22 into the back of the net in Ligue 1 play last season and will now look to generate goals for the Ivory Coast squad, per the BBC. Pepe’s Ivory Coast teammate, Wilfried Zaha, is a standout for Premier League side Crystal Palace.
Egypt will host the tournament for the fifth time, but for the first time in the summer months. Previously, the AFCON competition was set in January and February, putting extra pressure on international players who were forced to either abandon their countries, or desert their wage-paying clubs for more than a month. The Pharaohs also hold the record for winning the Africa Cup of Nations, with seven trophies — but none since 2010 in the bi-annual tournament, according to Sportskeeda.