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All but one of the 24 teams that will compete for honours next January in Cameroon will now begin to gear up for the 33rd Africa Cup of Nations.

The last team – Benin Republic or Sierra Leone – will emerge in June when the now rescheduled second leg between both countries hold in June.

Interrogating the qualifiers however, there are several highlights of Cameroon 2021, which will be staged in six venues (five host cities) of Nigeria’s eastern neighbour.

It will be the second time such a huge number of teams will feature in the finals after the experiment of Egypt 2019.

CAF Executive Committee decided on 20th July 2017 to expand the list from 16 to 24 to allow greater participation in the continent’s flagship sports tournament.


That decision enabled “small” teams like Madagascar, Burundi and Mauritania to contest for the title at Egypt 2019 for the first time.

Indeed, Madagascar, whose citizen, Ahmad was then at the helms of African football, shocked Nigeria in their last group game of Egypt 2019 winning 2-0 to top Group B.

The Malagasy went on to eliminate DR Congo via penalties in the Round of 16 before succumbing to Tunisia 3-0 in the last eight.

Neither Madagascar nor Burundi emerged from their respective qualifying group for Cameroon 2021. Both teams finished third in Groups K and E respectively.

Mauritania however return by booking their second AFCON ticket in Group E, which was won by Morocco.


While Egypt 2019 witnessed three freshers, only two, Comoros Islands and The Gambia, passed the test this time.

Gambia created history in the qualifiers as they became the only side that played from the preliminary round and fought their way to the finals.

Unlike the class of debutante in 2019, Gambia made their entry to the competition proper in style by winning Group D on superior goal difference over Gabon. They eliminated former champions DR Congo and Angola.

Comoros won the ticket with a match to spare in Group G. Apparently basking in that euphoria, they let down their guards and were brought down to earth by “mighty” Egypt 4-0 on Monday in the final group fixture, which was however a dead rubber encounter.

Cameroon 2021 will parade 10 former champions who have 27 titles between them. Egypt, with seven victories, lead that elite squad. Others include Cameroon (5 titles), Ghana (4), Nigeria (3), Algeria (2), Côte d’Ivoire (2). The one-time champions going to Cameroon 2021 are Tunisia, Morocco, Ethiopia and Sudan.


Four former champions failed to qualify for next year’s finals. DR Congo won the tournament twice, as Republic of Congo in 1968 and Zaire in 1974.

Zambia (2012), South Africa (1996), and Congo Republic (known as People’s Republic of Congo in 1972). All of them will be watching the matches on television.

In terms of appearances in the competition, Egypt again have the record of 25 (by Cameroon 2021). They are closely followed by Côte d’Ivoire (24), Ghana (23), Cameroon (20), Tunisia (20), Nigeria (19) and Algeria (19).

Others are Morocco (18), Senegal (16), Guinea (13), Burkina Faso (12), Mali (12), Ethiopia (11), Sudan (9), Gabon (8), Zimbabwe (5), Equatorial Guinea (3), Cape Verde Islands (3), Guinea-Bissau (3), Malawi (3), Mauritania (2), Comoros Islands (1), Gambia (1).

Benin Republic will be going for their fifth finals if they overcome Sierra Leone, while it will be latter’s third time should the overall result go their way.


Although they are yet to win the continental title, Senegal remain the highest-ranked African team at No 20 in the world, going by the last FIFA rankings released on 18th February 2021.

The rankings form a major plank for placing the sides in various pots in the process of the draw. If the Teranga Lions maintain consistency in the weeks leading to the draw date, they are guaranteed the top seed.

Also sure of being in Pot 1 are Cameroon, who are No 7 in the continent and 50th in the world at the moment. Host nations are given the privilege of being placed in the top seed.

Other qualifiers and their present world rankings include Tunisia (26 in the world), Algeria (31), Morocco (33), Nigeria (36), Egypt (49), Ghana (52), Mali (54), Burkina Faso (58), Côte d’Ivoire (61), Guinea (72) and Cape Verde Islands (80).

The rest are Gabon (86), Mauritania (101), Zimbabwe (112), Guinea-Bissau (119), Malawi (123), Sudan (127), Equatorial Guinea (134), Comoros Islands (130), Ethiopia (146) and Gambia (157). Either Benin (82) or Sierra Leone (116) will join the finalists later.


CAF member-associations are grouped into six zones. All five countries in the Northern zone received a bye into the group stage. One (Libya) however dropped out, while defending champions Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco pulled through.

For West A zone, there are nine member-associations. Liberia were eliminated in the preliminary round, while Guinea-Bissau failed the test at the group stage. The fate of Sierra Leone hangs in the balance.

This zone will be represented in Cameroon 2021 by Senegal, Mali, Guinea, Cape Verde Islands, Mauritania and Gambia.

West B zone had all seven member-associations in the group phase and dropped two of them – Niger Republic and Togo – when that stage was concluded. Benin Republic will have their situation determined later.

Cameroon 2021 qualifiers from this zone are Nigeria, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso.


The Central zone will have three teams in the finals – hosts Cameroon, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.

Chad Republic were disqualified in the closing stages of the group stage following political interference in their football administration, while DR Congo, Central African Republic, Congo Republic and São Tomé and Príncipe were eliminated at the final qualifying round.

From the Central-East region, there will be only Ethiopia and Sudan. Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and South Sudan were kicked out at the group stage. Djibouti had lost at the preliminary phase, while Somalia and Eritrea did not register for the competition.

The Southern zone boasts of the largest member-associations: 14. But only four will have their flags flying in Cameroon next year. These are Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique and Comoros Islands.

South Africa disappointed this zone, leading the seven others who fell at the final hurdle. These are Zambia, Angola, Madagascar, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho and Eswatini.


The qualifiers eagerly look forward to Cameroon 2021 draw at a date to be announced later.

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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