BY MUYIWA AKINTUNDE
Which national team will wear the African football crown on Sunday 6th February?
Seven matches, no defeat at the knockout stages will deliver the trophy to that team at the grand finale to be held at the Stade Omnisport Paul Biya (otherwise known as Olembe Stadium) in Olembe, Yaoundé, Cameroon.
As the 33rd edition of the continent’s flagship competition kicks off, pundits and fans have their favourites among whom are title holders Algeria, who have only won the tournament once when they hosted in 1990 beating Nigeria by a lone goal in the final. The Super Eagles had been humiliated by the Desert Warriors 5-1 in the opening match a fortnight earlier.
Expected to shine and perhaps break the voodoo are the Teranga Lions of Senegal. Africa’s No 1 rated team who painfully lost the final of Egypt 2019 by a lone goal, just as they did in Mali 2002 to Cameroon in the shootout.
Other contenders are Morocco, whose only hurrah in the competition was in 1976, and hosts Cameroon, who have claimed the trophy five times.
Record title holders Egypt will strive to make amends for disappointing their fans on home soil when they exited in the Round of 16 to South Africa by a lone goal.
Nigeria’s Super Eagles arrive the competition in the throes of a managerial crisis. Following the sack of Gernot Rohr, an interim manager Augustine Eguavoen is in charge with a substantive manager, Portuguese Jose Peseirowatching over the squad and assuming responsibilities after the competition.
In spite of that, and the absence of top striker Victor Osimhen, among other regulars, the Super Eagles are expected to arrive in the final for the first time since they lifted the trophy in South Africa 2013. Nigeria are aiming for their fourth title.
Tunisia can’t also be ruled out of contention as the 2004 champions hunger for another opportunity to drink from the cup.
Cameroon 2021, being played this year, begins with the hosts having Burkina Faso on the other side of the field at the Stade Omnisport Paul Biya.
Burkina Faso lost in the final to Nigeria in 2013, which is the farthest the Stallions had travelled in the tournament. Four years later in Gabon, Burkina Faso won bronze.
While the Stallions failed to qualify in 2017, Cameroon used that edition to win their No 5 African title.
Both sides had clashed five times with honours even – a win each and three draws. Interestingly, their respective victory happened away from their fans.
The Burkinabe trashed Gabon 3-0 in a friendly last Sunday.
In the other fixture of the opening day, Ethiopia will engage Cape Verde Islands.
Few football fans remember that Ethiopia had ruled the continent. That was almost six decades ago when they won the then fledgling competition in 1962 as hosts.
Tunisia, Uganda and the then United Arab Republic were the other countries in that edition, which was the third in the series.
Except for a fourth placed finish among eight teams again as hosts, Ethiopia have either being absent in the competition or exited at the group stage. They were not in the last three editions before this one.
Cape Verde debuted in South Africa 2013. And what an experience they had!
The minnows emerged from Group A behind the hosts after beating Angola and sharing honours with the Bafana Bafana and Morocco.
The Blue Sharks however lost 0-2 to Ghana at the next stage – the last eight.
A group stage exit followed in the next edition in 2015, while they missed out of 2017 and 2019.
Ethiopia and Cape Verde are meeting for the first time, whether in competitive or friendly encounter.
- Cameroon v Burkina Faso (5 pm)
- Ethiopia v Cape Verde Islands (8 pm) (both WAT)
- Senegal v Zimbabwe (2 pm)
- Guinea v Malawi (5 pm)
- Morocco v Ghana (5 pm)
- Comoros Islands v Gabon (8 pm)