Five dream Africa Cup of Nations group-stage matches we'd love to see
Ahead of Friday’s Africa Cup of Nations group-stage draw, Ed Dove picks out five potential match-ups to keep an eye on. With an extended 24-team field ensuring that all of the big names have made the cut, there’s significant potential of a clash between high-profile rivals in the opening round, or of a derby or two.
Here are five potential group-stage match-ups that, if drawn, will represent the must-watch ties of the opening round.
Egypt vs. Algeria
There’s nowhere else to start beyond the prospect of a meeting between Africa’s fiercest rivals, Egypt and Algeria.
There’s no love lost between these two African heavyweights, and matches between club sides from the two countries, or between the two national sides, rarely pass without fireworks.
Almost a decade ago, the two nations contested a fierce and ill-tempered double-header—in Blida and Cairo—before Les Fennecs defeated the Pharaohs in neutral Omdurman to book their ticket to South Africa.
The controversy of those matches has not been forgotten.
Ghana vs. Uganda
These two have developed quite the rivalry over the years—and particularly in recent years—after being pitted together in qualifying campaigns and the Afcon proper.
It was, of course, Ghana who defeated Uganda 2-0 in the final of the 1978 Nations Cup final, denying the East Africans the chance of a maiden continental crown.
It would be 39 years before the Cranes returned to the tournament, and it was fate that, when they did qualify for Gabon 2017, they were pitted against the Black Stars in their opener.
Ghana won on that occasion, as Uganda fell at the first hurdle, although the East Africans did get the measure of the Stars during World Cup 2018 qualifying, holding the West Africans to damaging draws home and away.
Nigeria vs. Tanzania
It’s fate that these two are drawn together, isn’t it?
Should they meet in Egypt, it would be a rare example of a nation being pitted against one of their former greats in the Afcon, with Tanzania currently managed by Super Eagles hero Emmanuel Amuneke.
The former Barcelona wideman has long been seen as a future Nigeria coach, particularly after his fine work with the country’s youth sides, and could get the chance to show exactly what he can do against his compatriots.
Amuneke has helped Tanzania back to the Afcon after a considerable absence, and has been bullish about the prospect of a reunion with Nigeria.
Cameroon vs. Madagascar
These two are unlikely bedfellows—Cameroon are the holders, while Madagascar are debutants—yet this could be a fascinating clash.
One intriguing subplot could be the presence of Caf President Ahmad Ahmad, of Madagascar, who replaced Cameroonian Issa Hayatou at the helm of the confederation.
Ahmad duly made sweeping changes to the tournament—jeopardising Cameroon’s ability to host the tournament—and constantly demonstrated a public lack of faith in the Central African nation’s ability to successfully organise the tournament.
On the field, this would be a remarkable clash between two nations with completely different talent bases. However, Cameroon were held by tiny Comoros during qualification, while Madagascar held their own against mighty Senegal in Antananarivo, so this one wouldn’t be a given.
South Africa vs. Zimbabwe
COSAFA derbies have been few and far between in Afcon tournaments, but the region’s teams have capitalised on the expanded format.
Five of the region’s sides have qualified for the group stage, with Angola, Madagascar, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe all set to compete for the continent’s grandest prize.
Bafana and Madagascar can’t meet in the opening round, nor can Zimbabwe, Namibia or Angola, after that trio were pooled in Pot Four.
However, the prospect of a meeting between neighbours South Africa and Zimbabwe is a very real possibility.
These two have won 10 COSAFA Cups between them, and would surely relish the chance to go toe to toe at the Afcon.
There are close economic and cultural ties between the two countries, and with 14 of the most recent Zim squad plying their trade in South African football, this one will have the feel of a derby.