Cup of Nations 2015: SFG writers’ predictions

To the business at hand.

Who will win AFCON 2015 and why?

Abdul Musa: Algeria. In great form, best squad on paper, route becomes easier as tournament progresses and Gourcuff knows his best XI (but may need a plan B at times). Still favourites for me.

Alex Queiros: Algeria. They had an extraordinary World Cup and have managed to keep their form.

James Bennett: Algeria. Picking the favourites may be the boring choice but it probably has something to do with the fact that they are the best team in Africa at the moment. I just can’t see anyone who can stop them.

Maher Mezahi: Cameroon or Algeria. Cameroon borders Equatorial Guinea; they’ll be familiar with the climate and may benefit from a tidal wave of support if they get out of the group. Algeria are Africa’s best unit and have the momentum needed to add a second star to the Federation’s badge.

Oluwada Lotfi: Algeria as they’re tactically and technically ahead of the rest in my humble opinion.

Salim Masoud Said: Algeria are the favourites but the favourites don’t always win these tournaments. I have reservations about them but they have the least unanswered questions out of all the contenders. Plenty of sides in the tournament that could beat them on any given day, though.

Sam Crocker: Algeria. Probably the most open tournament there has been in quite a few years. I chose Algeria because they’re the best team, so they should win it. But then again, the best teams never win AFCON.

Theo Sakyi: Tunisia. They have lots of technical quality, they’re solid at the back and are led by one of the better managers at the tournament.

Which team will flatter to deceive?

AM: Ghana. Not confident Ghana will progress under Avram Grant this time; new experience for a coach and in a very tough group.

AQ: Ghana. The whole situation post-World Cup has taken a toll on the squad and I don’t think Avram Grant is the man to fix their problems.

JB: Ghana. Their form has been mediocre and Avram Grant is now entering the job in time for Afcon after the long, drawn-out appointment process. Add in a tough draw and there is plenty to count against them.

MM: South Africa. They are a very good team with a bright future, but are not quite ready to tussle with the likes of Senegal, Ghana, and Algeria. That wouldn’t be a problem were it not for the unrealistic expectations propagated in Bafana Bafana camp.

OL: I fear that Ivory Coast will bottle it again (even though there are less expectations on them).

SMS: Ghana. They’ve plateaued since the 2010 World Cup; they’ve rarely looked convincing in the past few AFCONs. And in an urgent attempt to flatter to deceive they’ve appointed Avram Grant.

SC: Ivory Coast. I have a growing feeling they won’t make it out of the group, with Mali’s “rugged” style enough to leave Les Elephants disappointed early on.

TS: Ghana. Avram Grant has started to implement a 3-5-2 formation but switching to a back 3 from a back 4 takes time and I’m not convinced their defenders are good enough.

The surprise package?

AM: South Africa. Definitely surprised all of us throughout the qualifiers and Mashaba has certainly succeeded in forming a young talented side. All eyes on South Africa.

AQ: DR Congo. They showed quality in the qualifiers, have players with great individual skill and, although they are not contenders, they could cause an upset or two.

JB: Cape Verde. The islanders had a very strong qualification campaign, becoming the first team to confirm their place at the tournament, and I think they have what it takes to go deep into the knockout stages, especially as they are in the weaker half of the draw.

MM: Most pundits will be right to choose Gabon, but I’m going to splinter from the grain and pick Guinea. Motivation to succeed for their country will be at an all-time high, and they are major underdogs in Group D.

OL: Gabon.

SMS: Gabon. Very impressive qualifying campaign. Well balanced, athletic and some exciting talents in there.

SC: Gabon. One of the few teams to silence Burkina Faso in the last few years when they beat them in qualifying, I can see them finishing above the Stallions in Group A.

TS: Cape Verde. They’re a side with a shallow player pool. This probably helps with cohesiveness since you don’t have a million players to pick from. They always seem to be better than the sum of their parts and have a decent draw too.

Top goalscorer?

AM: Jonathan Pitroipa. Main source of goals for Burkina Faso recently who have a relatively easy group and are expected to progress. Potential semi finalists if able to avoid Tunisia in Quarters.

AQ: Vincent Aboubakar. He’s agile, strong, on top form and doesn’t need a lot of time to score. If things go his way, he can score 5 or more goals.

JB: Vincent Aboubakar – Cameroon are rejuvenated at the moment and Aboubakar is the focal point of the attack. If they go far into the tournament, expect him to bag three or four goals which will at least put him into contention for the Golden Boot.

MM: Islam Slimani. He will have been bitterly disappointed with his last appearance at the AFCON, and will look to mend his already impressive goalscoring record with the national team. We saw, at the World Cup, how he can elevate his game during big occasions.

OL: Vincent Aboubakar.

SMS: Dieumerci Mbokani. Just a feeling.

SC: Vincent Aboubakar. These things are often decided by one player scoring several in a single match. I can see Aboubakar really going to town when Cameroon play Guinea.

TS: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Three players to watch?

AM: Ferjani Sassi – best African based midfielder in 2014. Oozes class. Malick Evouna – great form and many hoping he can form a great partnership with Aubameyang up top for Gabon. Lema Mabidi – great year with AS Vita Club in DR Congo and attracting interest from all around Africa. I’m hoping he’s a regular at AFCON. Only 21.

AQ: If they get game time, Ndombe Mubele, Cezaire Gandzé and Rivaldo Coetzee. Young, exciting and still playing in their domestic leagues.

JB: Rivaldo Coetzee, Wahbi Khazri and Alain Traoré.

MM: Three entertainers. Riyad Mahrez, who was Algeria’s best player during qualifiers. Yannick Bolasie because I think it’s time he flourishes as DR Congo’s main man. Jonathan Pitroipa who led the continent in scoring during qualifying, and should make one last big splash on the continental stage.

OL: Ferjani Sassi,Vincent Aboubakar and Yacine Brahimi

SMS: Eric Bertrand Bailly, Didier Ibrahima Ndong and Ferjani Sassi. Watch out for Yassine Chikhaoui too…

SC: Clinton N’Jie, Seydouba Soumah and Baba Rahman. All young, exciting prospects, and will be interesting to see how they adapt to tournament football.

TS: Abdul Baba Rahman, Ferjani Sassi and Dame N’Doye

Which match are you most looking forward to watching?

AM: Mainly from the group of death to begin: Ghana vs Algeria. Also maybe DR Congo v Tunisia from Group B.

AQ: I’d say Algeria vs. South Africa or Ivory Coast vs. Cameroon. One is a match between two teams in great form and the other will determine which country has made the best transition from their “golden generations”.

JB: Burkina Faso vs. Gabon. Not only is it on the first day of the tournament, but these two teams played each other twice in qualifying, and Gabon surprisingly came out on top. However, qualifying and the tournament itself is a different matter. Also it will be fascinating to see two Player of the Tournament contenders going head to head in Pitroipa and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Oh and there’s added Bancé too!

MM: Cote d’Ivoire vs. Guinea should be a shoot-out. Both very good in attacking sequences, but susceptible to stupid errors in defence.

OL: The TP MaZambia derby between DR Congo and Zambia.

SMS: Ghana vs. Algeria. This game should tell us a lot about these two sides. If one of the teams wins, it could be a huge mental boost.

SC: Ivory Coast vs. Guinea. Both great going forward and terrible at the back; likely to be a goalfest.

TS: Ghana vs. Algeria.

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