2019 AFCON: One unanswered question for the Nations Cup contenders
Gernot Rohr’s side have concerns at both ends of the pitch.
Offensively, they’ve not scored in their two pre-tournament friendlies, although Odion Ighalo came good during the qualifiers, and it’s realistic to expect him to fire Nigeria out of Group B.
However, at the back, there’s less reason for optmisim.
In goal, youngster Francis Uzoho appeared to have the coach’s faith, even though his short international career had been mottled by various high-profile errors, and he started 11 out of 12 consecutive matches before being injured ahead of the South Africa friendly.
However, in recent matches, Uzoho has been replaced by Daniel Akpeyi, with the former second-choice stopper starting four of the Super Eagles’ last five matches.
Has Uzoho’s error against the Seychelles ultimately cost him his starting spot in Egypt, and if not, will he suffer from not having the opportunity of the warm-up games to improve his understanding with his backline.
Is Clarence Seedorf the right man for the job?
Dutch legend Seedorf has raised eyebrows with some of his decisions since being appointed Cameroon manager.
Notably, his comments that he was happy with the side after they snatched a draw at the death against lowly Comoros didn’t go down well, nor did his hypocrisy regarding players featuring in Asian leagues.
Captain Benjamin Moukandjo retired after being dropped from the squad as Seedorf announced a decision not to consider players featuring in China, only to name Christian Bassogog of Henan Jianye in his next squad.
Bizarre decision-making like this, and his lack of prior experience of African football, have raised questions about whether Seedorf is the right man to lead the reigning champions back to the title.
The Atlas Lions were unfortunate to fall at the first hurdle of the World Cup with just one point after a series of fine displays in Russia.
On the back of that campaign, the progress made under Herve Renard, and the form of Hakim Ziyech this term, they head into the 2019 Nations Cup as one of the tournament favourites.
However, they’ve had a miserable time of it in pre-tournament matches, losing to both The Gambia and Zambia—two teams who didn’t qualify for the Afcon.
Should the Atlas Lions’ poor form not be taken seriously due to the low-key nature of the matches, or is it evidence that they’re on the decline at exactly the wrong time?
Certainly, there are concerns about the fitness of Achraf Hakimi, the readiness of an increasingly nervy defence, and the fitness of two central midfielders who—while key men in the team—are both 34.
Have Morocco peaked too soon?
There aren’t many doubts about whether Bafana Bafana will be defensively organised at the Nations Cup; they conceded just twice during the qualifiers, held their own away against Libya when they needed a result, and neutralised Ghana in a recent friendly.
However, they have been unconvincing going forward over the last 18 months, and were infamously held 0-0 away against the Seychelles.
Any hopes of giving themselves more of a lethal edge in the final third in Egypt were dented by the injury-enforced absence of Keagan Dolly, and it remains to be seen whether the likes of Lebo Mothiba and Percy Tau can fire them out of the Group of Death.
Could Orlando Pirates’ Thembinkosi Lorch help Bafana fans forget about Dolly?
Can Eric Bailly be replaced?
While the Manchester United centre-back is coming off the back of a poor season in the Premier League, he remains a rock at international level and a genuine fan favourite for the Elephants.
Not only does he have experience from winning the 2015 Nations Cup, but he’s also a key element of the Ivorians’ backline and is a goal threat, having scored two in his last three internationals.
However, with injury ruling Bailly out of the tournament, it’s left the West Africans with a giant hole in their defence.
Ismael Traore of Angers looks likely to be the most likely replacement alongside Wilfred Kanon, but can he ensure Ibrahim Kamara’s side have a solid platform upon which to launch a title challenge?
Will the Black Stars implode?
There’s form here, with the West Africans’ 2014 World Cup campaign just one of several examples of a tournament effort which has been overshadowed by events off the field.
This year, the controversy began long before the competition kick-off, when Asamoah Gyan was lured back to the squad following presidential intervention having announced his international retirement after being replaced as captain.
There’s reportedly a brooding rift between him and the Ayew brothers, whose commitment to the cause has also been questionable at times.
If Ghana don’t start well, there are plenty of fissions in Kwesi Appiah’s squad that could be blown apart.