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Africa Cup of Nations Preview AFCON 2024 Predictions & Picks

Updated:2024-04-27 01:56    Views:148

Every two years one of the most enthralling international tournaments on the planet takes place on the continent of Africa, where there have been countless Cinderella runs, making the Africa Cup of Nations truly one of the best spectacles on footballing calendar.

Senegal took home the title as the tournament favorites in 2022, but could we see another run like Zambia winning in 2012 at 40/1 or Burkina Faso making it to the final in 2013 at 50/1?

There are plenty of stars throughout the African continent that will be featured in this tournament like Mohamed Salah (Egypt), Victor Osimhen (Nigeria), Achraf Hakimi (Morocco), Mohammed Kudus (Ghana) and so many more.

For those wondering where you can watch the Africa Cup of Nations in the United States, it will be aired on beIN Sports and beIN Sports Connect.

I you'd like to see my individual projections for every single match throughout the Africa Cup of Nations, you can find them here.

Utilize our latest bet365 promo code before making your AFCON wagers.

AFCON 2024 OddsTEAMODDSMorocco+500Senegal+600Algeria+700Ivory Coast+700Egypt+900Cameroon+1000Nigeria+1000Tunisia+1200Ghana+1400Mali+2000DR Congo+3300South Africa+4000Burkina Faso+5000Guinea+6600Zambia+10000Equatorial Guinea+10000Cape Verde+10000Guinea-Bissau+15000Gambia+15000Mauritania+15000Angola+15000Mauritania+15000Namibia+20000Mozambique+25000

odds via bet365

AFCON 2024 DatesGroup Stage: Jan. 13-24Round of 16: Jan. 27-30Quarterfinals: Feb. 2-3Semifinals: Feb. 7thFinal: Feb. 11thAFCON 2024 GroupsGroup A

Group B

Group C

Group D

Group E

Group F

It's also worth noting the number of countries expanded from 16 to 24 in 2019, which has changed the format of the competition.

AFCON 2024 Format

The top two teams from each group advance to the knockout stage, along with the four best third-place teams. For example, this is how the third-place teams finished in 2022.

Since each team only plays three matches in the group stage, ties should be expected. However, it's important to note we have two different sets of tiebreakers, including one for the individual group finishing positions and another set for the ranking of third-place teams.

Tiebreakers For Group Finishing Positions (via cafonline.com)

1. Points in head-to-head matches among tied teams.

2. Goal difference in head-to-head matches among tied teams.

3. Goals scored in head-to-head matches among tied teams.

4. If more than two teams are tied, and after applying all head-to-head criteria above, a subset of teams is still tied, all head-to-head criteria above are applied exclusively to this subset of teams.

5. Goal difference in all group matches.

6. Goals scored in all group matches.

7. Drawing of lots.

Tiebreakers For Third-Place Finishing Teams

1. Points

2. Goal Difference

3. Goals Scored

4. Disciplinary points

5. Drawing of Lots

Knockout Stage

After group play has decided all of the finishing positions, the knockout stage is a single-elimination tournament to determine the winner. Below is the knockout-stage bracket and path for every team to the final, which will be held in the city of Abidjan in the Ivory Coast.

Group by GroupGroup AExpected Points

Ivory Coast

The host nation for this Africa Cup of Nations comes in with some questions marks. Even though they didn't need to, they still went through the qualification process and were actually quite poor. They beat Comoros in both meetings, were held to a draw in one match by Lesotho, and split with Zambia. Given the group they are in they really should be dominating them if they want to be considered one of the tournament favorites.

Jean-Louis Gasset has been at the helm since May of 2022 and will typically set up in a 4-3-3. In terms of talent in the midfield they have just as much talent as anyone in this tournament. Seko Fofana (Al Nassar) and Franck Kessie (Al Ahli) are playing in the Saudi Pro League, but they are still playing at a high level, while Ibrahim Sangare is starting to become a mainstay in the Nottingham Forest starting XI. Those are three fantastic ball winners, so teams playing in transition are going to have a very difficult time against them.

The center back pairing of Odilon Kossounou (Leverkusen) and Ousmane Diomande (Sporting CP) is incredibly good with Diomande on the radar of a lot of top clubs in Europe. Those two plus Evan Ndicka (Roma) is the main reason why they only allowed 1.01 xG per 90 minutes during AFCON Qualifying.

The problem is with those three midfielders there is no natural attacking midfielder to consistently supply the attack, which is a question mark compared to some of the other top teams. S茅bastien Haller is going to be the main striker, but he is struggling at Dortmund this season, as he hasn't found the back of the net yet in 11 Bundesliga appearances. Simon Adingra is having a breakout season at Brighton, but he is currently injured and it's up in the air whether he will play during the group stage or not. The other wingers the Ivory Coast have like J茅r茅mie Boga (Nice), Nicolas Pepe (Trabzonspor) and Christian Kouam茅 (Fiorentina) are great ball carriers and creators, but no consistent goal scoring threats. So, with Haller coming in out of form, there are questions surrounding the Ivory Coast attack.

Nigeria

This is the most talented team in the Africa Cup of Nations field with the attack being an absolute nightmare for opposing defenses. CAF Player of the Year Victor Osimhen (Napoli) headlines the attack

They have the likes of Ademola Lookman (Atalanta), Samuel Chukwueze (AC Milan), Umar Sadiq (Real Sociedad) and Kelechi Ihanacho (Leicester City) who they can also turn to.

Nigeria did lose one of their main midfielders Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City), but they have Premier League experience with Alex Iwobi (Fulham), Joe Aribo (Southampton) and Frank Onyeka (Brentford).

Defense is a big question mark from a talent perspective comparatively to the top teams in this competition, but throughout the last two years in Africa Nigeria are only allowing 0.67 xG per 90 minutes, which is the best mark on the continent.

Equatorial Guinea聽

Equatorial Guinea could cause some problems in this group. They made it all the way to the quarterfinals of AFCON 2022 after pulling off a historical 1-0 over Algeria as 14/1 underdogs in the group stage and beat Mali in the Round of 16.

Equatorial Guinea (+1400) just upset Algeria in the African Cup of Nations 馃くpic.twitter.com/bpKzURK9Dp

鈥?Action Network Soccer (@ActionNetSoccer) January 16, 2022

They then were placed in a AFCON qualifying group with Tunisia and pulled off another upset beating them 1-0 to secure their place in this tournament.

While those results are impressive, Equatorial Guinea has a -0.20 xGD per 90 minutes over the last two years in Africa and the talent level of this team is not even in the same stratosphere as Nigeria and the Ivory Coast. Per transfermarkt.com, Equatorial Guinea's total squad value is $9.95 million while Nigeria and the Ivory Coast are both above $300 million.

Juan Micha has been in charge since 2020, so the tactical plan is still the same. They will set up to play very direct against both the Ivory Coast and Nigeria, but they will try to control the match against Guinea-Bissau.

Phone With the Action App OpenThe must-have app for soccer bettorsThe best soccer betting scoreboardFree picks from proven prosLive win probabilities for your betsDOWNLOAD NOWGuinea-Bissau

Guinea-Bissau has been in the last three Africa Cup of Nations, but they are yet to make it out of the group stage. They did pull off a massive upset during qualifying against Nigeria beating them 1-0 in Nigeria.

They are set up to be a very direct team valuing defensive solidity in their 4-1-4-1, but the problem is they don't have much in attack. They failed to score in any of their three matches during AFCON 2021, but they created 2.76 xG with most of that coming against Sudan. They are a very organized team defensively and have the benefit of being under the same manager Baciro Cand茅 since 2017, so they know what the tactical plan is.

Mama Balde will be the player to watch for them. He scored in the 1-0 win against Nigeria and is currently playing for Lyon. He scored 12 goals for Troyes last season in Ligue 1 and is one of the better forwards out of possession in terms of his defensive work rate.

Over the last two years Guinea-Bissau has played Nigeria three times as well as Egypt and Burkina Faso. They held Egypt to 0.82 xG at the last Africa Cup of Nations and drew recently with Burkina Faso in a World Cup Qualifier in November. The reality is everything for them is going to come down to their match with Equatorial Guinea.

Group A Pick

Even though the Ivory Coast is the host nation, there are too many question marks with their attack right now to justify them being favorites over Nigeria. Not only does Nigeria have the most talented attack in this tournament, but their +1.18 xGD per 90 minutes over the last two years is the second best mark on the continent behind only Morocco.

They maybe haven't gotten the results they deserve recently, but the underlying process numbers in Jos茅 Peseiro's 4-4-2 are really encouraging and they are set up to play to the strengths of the personnel they have available.

I have Nigeria projected as the clear favorite in this group, so I like the value on them to win the group at +145.

Pick: Nigeria to win Group A (+145 via FanDuel)

Group BExpected Points

Egypt

Egypt are always one of the favorites to win the Africa Cup of Nations and they even made it all the way to the final in 2022. That run though was maybe one of the luckiest runs in international tournament history because they made it to the final losing the expected goals battle in five of their seven matches (two wins came against Guinea-Bissau & Sudan) and failed to create over one expected goal in any of their knockout round matches.

They have this guy named Salah who is one of the best players in the world. He's already scored 14 goals and provided eight assists while putting up a 0.93 npxG + xA per 90 minute rate, which is his best mark since his first season at Liverpool. He has some the best players in the world around him at Liverpool t0 put up those kinds of numbers. He doesn't have that with the Egyptian National Team.

Omar Marmoush (Frankfurt) is having a nice season in the Bundesliga, putting up 2.9 shots per 90 minutes with a 0.44 xG per 90 minute scoring rate, which gives Egypt another goal scoring option other than Salah.

The midfield and defense is a big question mark. Mohamed Elneny is the only player playing in one of Europe's top five leagues and he's barely played for Arsenal this season. So, when they have to face the top tier attacks in Africa, they are likely going to struggled, just like they did at the last Africa Cup of Nations.

Rui Vit贸ria took over after the 2-0 loss to Ethiopia during qualifying and is currently on a nine match winning streak heading into the Africa Cup of Nations. He's playing more possession based football with the national team with a lot of counter pressing, but more than anything he wants defensive solidity. Because of this, Egypt have been lining up in a 4-1-4-1 to help with that defensive solidity and it has helped them improve because in his six matches in charge during both AFCON and World Cup Qualification Egypt only allowed one goal.

They are in a pretty easy group and should breeze to the round of 16, but considering where the market has them, we'll see if Rui Vit贸ria has turned them around or if they will once again be a fade team throughout this tournament.

Ghana

Ghana are going through a bit of a transition period as Otto Addo resigned after the World Cup. They brought in former Brighton manager Chris Hughton, who was not successful at the club.

His first few matches with Ghana was less than encouraging. They drew with Madagascar 0-0, lost to the Central Africa Republic 2-1 and lost to Comoros 2-1 in World Cup Qualification. The Ghanaian National Team's underlying metrics over the past two years haven't been impressive either. This is now their third manager since the Africa Cup of Nations in 2021 and they literally have an even expected goal differential in 14 matches. That's bad when you consider they have the fourth highest total squad transfer value in Africa, per transfermarket.com.

There are also questions surrounding what the tactical plan for Ghana is right now. Their goalkeeper and defenders are not good enough build out of the back against good pressing teams, so they often have to send the ball long and play very direct. They have tended to be a passive team out of possession and that is going to be a problem against some of the better offenses because they aren't very talented in defense and their best midfielder Thomas Partey (Arsenal) is going to miss the Africa Cup of Nations due to injury.

Ghana has plenty of talent in attack with the likes of their star Kudus, who has taken the Premier League by storm since moving from Ajax, scoring six goals in just 10.7 90s.

Mohammed Kudus 鈥?23/24 so far

馃帴 @whugdz

pic.twitter.com/VJr2h2iiCt

鈥?Owuraku Ampofo (@_owurakuampofo) January 2, 2024

Ghana have plenty of other great ball carriers and creative players like Antoine Semenyo (Bournemouth), Jordan Ayew (Crystal Palace) and I帽aki Williams (Athletic Bilbao) to potentially carry them in this tournament, but the defense and midfield without Partey remains a big question mark.

Cape Verde

Cape Verde had a historic performance in the last Africa Cup of Nations, drawing with the host nation Cameroon and beating them pretty handily on xG. However, the form recently has been steadily declining. In their last three AFCON qualifiers they conceded over 2 xG each to Eswatini, Burkina Faso and Togo. They also drew 0-0 with Angola in a World Cup Qualifier in November, so the performances from Cape Verde coming into this competition are less than encouraging.

They have been experimenting with some different formations, specifically in friendlies against Morocco and Algeria, but they historically have played out of a 3-4-3, trying to utilize their wing backs getting forward to create overloads in wide areas to eventually send in a cross. I found it interesting that they played a 4-2-2-2 formation against Algeria, which is usually only a formation reserved for a team like RB Leipzig and is used to attack transitionally through the center of the pitch.

In this group they are going to have to play very direct, as they likely aren't going to have a large percentage of the ball. They only have one player playing in one of Europe's top five leagues in center back Logan Costa (Toulouse), so there really isn't much talent on this team.

Everything for Cape Verde is going to come down to their match with Mozambique. If they can win that one and keep the goal differential low against both Egypt and Ghana, they will most likely make it to the round of 16.

Mozambique

Mozambique got to the Africa Cup of Nations through a weaker group where they just had to beat out Rwanda and Benin for second place. They did so by over performing ending the group stage with a -1 goal differential and a -3.1 expected goal differential.

Defense is a big problem for them, conceding close to 10 expected goals over their six AFCON Qualifying matches. They have had a few of their key defenders hurt during the final few qualifying matches like Reinildo Mandava who plays for Atletico Madrid in La Liga, along with Edmilson Dove (Kaizer Chiefs), so the defense could improve from what we saw during qualifying.

They were demolished 6-1 over two legs against Senegal in AFCON Qualifying and lost 2-0 to Algeria in November in World Cup Qualifying. So, being paired with two of the top teams in Africa doesn't give Mozambique much hope of getting through unless they pull off an upset against Cape Verde.

Group B Pick

I really wanted to fade both Egypt and Ghana in this group and was hoping they would get paired with a team like Guinea, but that did not happen, so instead we are left with Cape Verde. Given what the performances they have put in recently, it doesn't give me much encouragement that they are going to easily run through a team like Mozambique.

I have nothing in this group, so I am going to pass.

Pick: Pass

Group C聽Expected Points

Senegal

The defending champions are in a much different place coming into this tournament than they were in 2022. In the beginning of 2022, Sadio Mane was at his peak at Liverpool and was the African player of the year. Now he is playing at Al Nassar in the Saudi Pro League after a pretty bad spell at Bayern Munich. He's putting up decent numbers at 0.55 xG + xA per 90 minutes, but it's now in a significantly less difficult league at the age of 31.

The rest of the stars from the 2022 AFCON team has aged past their prime and now there are question marks as to whether they still should be considered as one of the favorites to win this tournament.

Aliou Ciss茅 has been at the helm of Senegal since 2015, so we have a pretty good idea of how they like to play. Senegal can really play a blend of two different styles. When they were at the 2022 World Cup they generally were set up to play more passive in a low block and look to counter off it. They had a 20.2 PPDA and 5.2 high turnovers per 90 minutes in their four matches in Qatar, but at the last Africa Cup of Nations they had a PPDA of 9.8 and forced 7.3 high turnovers per 90 minutes, per the Analyst. That is because in Africa Senegal will set up in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 and play more possession-dominant football, looking to press opponents high to try and dominate matches.

The attack does have some question marks with Sadio Mane not being at the heights he was in 2022. Ismaila Sarr and Iliman Ndiaye are both above a 0.40 xG + xA per 90 minutes at Marseille, which is incredibly encouraging, but Nicolas Jackson is going to be tasked with being the main striker, and he has been going through a poor finishing run so far at Chelsea.

What you cannot question is how good they are defensively. Senegal allowed 1.45 xG to Rwanda in a September AFCON qualifying match that meant absolutely nothing. Outside of that match and their round of 16 World Cup match with England, nobody has created over one expected goal against them in a match, which is incredibly impressive.

They are only allowing 0.72 xG per 90 minutes over the last two years, which is second-best in Africa to only Nigeria, so they should be and are the favorites to win this group because of that rock solid defense.

Cameroon

Cameroon played a couple crazy matches at the World Cup, drawing 3-3 with Serbia and beating Brazil on the final day of the group stage. However, coming into this Africa Cup of Nations, there are some question marks. Per transfermarkt.com, Cameroon's total squad value is just $137 million, which puts them well behind teams like Nigeria, Senegal, and the Ivory Coast.

Rigobert Song was hired after the last Africa Cup of Nations. He had managed the Cameroon U23 teams for four years before taking over as manager and has been in the Cameroon National team coaching ranks in some fashion since 2012. He switched them to playing a 4-4-2 for the World Cup and all of AFCON Qualifying, turning them into a more direct team, as opposed to the possession-dominant build up team we saw at the previous Africa Cup of Nations when they held over 50% possession in every single match.

There are some question marks with the Cameroon attack. They are incredibly reliant on their 31-year old Vincent Aboubakar (Besiktas) and their other best attacker Bryan Mbuemo (Brentford) is out for AFCON injured. They do have Napoli's Frank Anguissa in their midfield, but outside of him there isn't much else. The defense has a lot of inexperience and question marks as well, so for Cameroon, I am not sure they should be considered one of the favorites.

Guinea

Guinea have established themselves as a top 15 footballing nation in Africa and their performance in the Africa Cup of Nations was incredibly impressive. They won the xG battle in all four of their matches, including a 0-0 draw with the eventual champions Senegal in the group stage. They have a lot talent on this squad with most notably the hottest striker on the planet: Serhou Guirassy.

The Vfb Stuttgart striker already has 17 goals in just a little over 11 matches played with only Harry Kane scoring more goals. His 0.99 xG per minute scoring rate is one of the best among Europe's top five leagues.

Under manager Kaba Diawara, Guinea play out of a 4-4-2, looking to press the opponent relentlessly when they lose the ball. In the last Africa Cup of Nations, Guinea had the fourth-best PPDA at 8.4 and forced 9.8 high turnovers per match, which led to numerous transition opportunities. Their best midfielder Naby Keita (Werder Bremen) has been out of action for pretty much the entire Bundesliga season, but he is finally healthy and available for the Africa Cup Nations, which is a big boost to this Guinea side given his pressing ability to aid what is already a really good high press.

Over the past two years, Guinea have put up a +0.44 xGD per 90 minutes in Africa, which is top 10 on the continent. So, with the world's hottest striker on their squad, they should not be taken lightly.

Gambia

If you haven't been paying attention, then you have no idea the type of run Gambia have been on over the past two years.

Just take a look at their expected goals results going back to the start of AFCON two years ago and through AFCON Qualifying.

Their last two matches against South Sudan and Congo represent the initial times in two years that they won the expected goals battle in an individual match. One of the reasons they over-performed so drastically is because they are primarily a direct transition team, relying on being efficient with those transitions.

Tom Saintfiet has been at the helm of Gambia since 2018 and he recognized that their best path to success is being a passive low block team, often defending in a 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 and letting the opponent have the ball and try to hit them on the counter. During the Africa Cup of Nations, they had just two build up attacks, which was the lowest mark in the entire tournament. So, it's safe to say they ae at their best when they are conceding possession and allowing their best player, Musa Barrow, to produce some magic in transitional moments.

That low block defense allows a ton of chances and he has been over-performing for two years outside of their last two matches, where the negative regression they've been due for started to hit. In the 11 matches shown above, they have allowed 10 goals off of 18.01 xG, so this tactical set up defensively is not sustainable. Especially in a group like this facing attacks like Guinea and Senegal.

Group C Pick

You really only need to win one match and keep the goal differential low to qualify for the round of 16 by finishing third in your group. For a team like Guinea who has a couple of really talented players and has putting up great underlying numbers, it isn't out of the realm of possibility that they finish second in this group over Cameroon.

This is also a good fade of Gambia, who is due for a lot of negative regression and should be a pretty significant underdog when they play Guinea.

I have Guinea projected pretty close to Cameroon and projected for the most points of any third place team, so I love the value on them to advance at -163.

Pick: Guinea to Advance (-163 via bet365)

Group DExpected Points

Algeria

Algeria were the 2019 AFCON champions, but have since been going through a bit of a rough patch. They are one of the most talented teams in Africa, but they failed to make it out of their group in the last Africa Cup of Nations and failed to qualify for the 2022 World Cup.

There is a ton of talent all over the field for the North African nation. It starts up top with Riyad Mahrez, who did make a move to the Saudi Pro League, but has continued to put up good numbers having a 0.49 xG + xA per 90 minutes. They also have a forward in Mohamed Amoura who is having an unreal season at Union St. Gilloise in the Belgian Pro League, scoring 13 goals in 9.5 90s. They have plenty of other talent throughout this squad with the midfield being anchored by Isma毛l Bennacer (AC Milan) and Ramiz Zerrouki (Feyenoord), who are crucial to what manager Djamel Belmadi wants his team to do tactically.

Belmadi has been head of the Algerian National Team since 2018, so we have a pretty clear picture of what he tries to do tactically, which is be adaptive to the circumstances. Algeria can be a build out of the back, possession-dominant team, but for Algeria it's all about finding space and quickly moving the ball forward with a lot of vertical passes.

A lot of teams in Africa man-mark out of possession, so Algeria really try to use their forwards to pull defenders out of position to create space for other attackers. Good ball carriers can rip apart a man marking system, so having so many in the side really makes Algeria dangerous when they are facing low blocks.

Algeria were in a very easy AFCON Qualifying group with Uganda, Tanzania and Niger, but they did put up a +4.4 xGD in their six matches and in the last Africa Cup of Nations they won the xG battle in all three of their matches, so they were incredibly unlucky to finish bottom of their group.

This time around, they have a very easy group and rightfully are the overwhelming favorites to win Group D.

Burkina Faso聽

Burkina Faso have the benefit of being put in one of the easier groups and are one of the most underrated teams in this tournament because of the amount of talent they have.

Edmond Tapsoba (Bayer Leverkusen) is a full blown star at center back for Xavi Alonso's side that hasn't lost a single match this campaign. He's helped Leverkusen only concede to 0.97 xG per 90 minutes in the highest scoring league among Europe's top five leagues. Not only is he fantastic defender, but he's one of the best ball carrying and progressive passing center backs in Europe's top five leagues right now.

Tapsoba is crucial to Burkina Faso's tactical plan, which is to be a team that builds the ball out of the back, utilizing passing triangles in small spaces to progress the ball up the field.

When they are out of possession, Burkina Faso are an aggressive high pressing team that can cause a lot of problems for the opposition. That has changed from their last AFCON appearance when they were a pretty passive team out of possession, but manager Hubert Velud wanted to install a more modern tactical system.

The underlying numbers though for Burkina Faso are average considering they were in a pretty easy qualifying group with Togo, Cape Verde and Eswatini and only put up a +0.32 xGD per 90 minutes.

Their attack can be pretty frightening with Dango Ouattara (Bournemouth) and Bertrand Traore (Aston Villa) up top, but the biggest problem for Burkina Faso is they are going to get run over in the midfield when they have to face some of the better teams in this tournament.

Angola

Angola finished second in their AFCON Qualifying group with a +0.85 xGD, and they won the xG battle in five of their six matches with the one loss coming on the road to Ghana. Pedro Gon莽alves has them playing out of a 4-2-3-1 and playing a good blend of possession and direct football. In their two matches against Ghana they did a fantastic job limiting central progression and forcing them to beat them in wide areas. In the road match they ended up conceding over 2 xG, but 1.5 of those came at the end of a pinball scenario in stoppage time.

This Angolan side isn't completely void of talent. Ivan Cavaleiro, who has spent a number of years in England playing with Wolves and Fulham is regularly playing for Ligue 1 side Lille this season. Zito Luvumbo is a 21-year old striker playing for Cagliari in Serie A and has already scored three of their 16 goals this season.

Being placed in this group gives them a pretty good shot at reaching the round of 16. They will be favored in their match against Mauritania and even shouldn't be that big of an underdog against Burkina Faso. If previous AFCON tournaments have taught us anything, three points and decent goal differential will get you to the round of 16.

Mauritania

This will be just the third AFCON appearance for Mauritania after qualifying for their first one in 2019 and second in 2021. They finished second in their qualifying group over Gabon, which is a pretty big accomplishment considering Gabon is a much more talented team. They're underlying numbers during qualifying were pretty impressive, putting up a +1.5 xGD in their six matches with one of them being an incredibly dominant performance over the group winners DR Congo, beating them 2.46 to 0.82 on expected goals.

In terms of talent, there isn't much on this squad outside of Aboubakary Koita at left wing, who is having a breakout season in the Belgian Pro League for Sint-Truiden, scoring 11 goals and putting up a 0.55 xG + xA per 90 minute rate.

Tactically speaking, when they play against bigger sides, Mauritania are a low block counterattacking style team. They recently lost 2-0 to DR Congo in a World Cup Qualifying match and were set up in a pretty standard 4-4-2. They have played some different formations like a 4-3-3 and 5-3-2, but in general they are not going to hold much possession in this group and will be looking to stay solidified in their defensive block while looking to send Koita out of the counter.

Group D Pick

For some reason, Mauritania are favored over Angola at some books to finish in third in this group, which I think is downright wrong. Angola winning xG battle in five out of their six matches during qualifying is incredibly impressive and given their tactical set up under Gon莽alves they are able to be flexible tactically given the opponent they are facing.

When Angola play Mauritania I will have them projected at about a 45% favorite and they will be able to give Burkina Faso a lot of problems as well. So, I love the value on Angola to advance at +100.

Pick: Angola to Advance (+100 via bet365)

Group EExpected Points

Tunisia

Tunisia had a pretty good showing at the 2022 World Cup, getting a result against Denmark and beating France on the final day of the group stage, but unfortunately it wasn't enough to get them to the round of 16.

They cruised through their AFCON Qualifying group only conceding one goal, but they were pretty fortunate to do so, as they allowed 5.5 expected goals over the course of their six matches against Botswana, Equatorial Guinea and Libya. While Tunisia lack the talent comparatively to a lot of the other top nations across Africa with only four players playing one of Europe's top five leagues, they are a very good team out of possession being able to be adaptive to their opponent.

Tunisia mainly set up in a 4-3-3 throughout the last Africa Cup of Nations with Ellyes Skhiri (Frankfurt) as the holding midfielder. They were very possession-dominant in matches against Gambia and Mauritania, but against Mali and Nigeria Tunisia tended to sit a little deeper, looking to make quick transition passes to get the ball forward on the counterattack.

Tunisia were also one of the most successful pressing teams at the last Africa Cup of Nations, having a PPDA of 7.8, 70 pressed sequences and 30 high turnovers in their five matches. Their PPDA was third to only Algeria and Morocco, so we will likely see them press Namibia and South Africa relentlessly.

The problem for Tunisia is their attack. While they put up good numbers against lesser competition, the attack they chose for this Africa Cup Nations does not have much talent and even at the World Cup they failed to create over one expected goal in any of their three matches. Additionally, they created next to nothing in the two qualifying matches with Mali.

Mali

Mali may be one of the dark horses to win the Africa Cup of Nations and they certainly shouldn't be this big of an underdog to Tunisia to win this group.

Mali won five of their six AFCON qualifying matches, while putting up a +5.9 xGD. In fact over the past two years in Africa they have a +0.76 xGD per 90 minutes, which is third-best on the continent behind only Nigeria and Morocco. The reason they are so good is because they might have the best midfield in this tournament.

It starts with their most important player, Yves Bissouma (Tottenham). It cannot be understated what he means to their squad. Bissouma is an unbelievable pressing midfielder and has found key role in Ange Postecoglu's Tottenham side because of it. He is also a really good progressor, which works well in Mali's tactical system that is all about quick transitions after they win the ball.

Along with Bissouma in the midfield is Amadou Haidara (RB Leipzig) and Mohamed Camara (Monaco), who actually played together at Red Bull Salzburg before making big moves to a couple top clubs in Europe. Those three are pressing monsters and great ball winners, which can allow Mali to overrun just about any team in this tournament in the midfield.

The attack is young with great potential and they have two center backs playing in one of Europe's top five leagues, but with the midfield three that Mali have and the underlying numbers they have been putting up, they should not be slept on during this tournament.

South Africa

I'll be honest, the prices on South Africa are a bit puzzling to me. They are sitting at 40/1 to win this tournament at bet365, but they failed to even qualify for the previous Africa Cup of Nations or the 2022 World Cup. They were in one of the two groups of only three countries because of Kenya and Zimbabwe being exiled. So, they just need to overcome Liberia to get to AFCON. Their qualifying group did feature the tournament favorites Morocco, but they were pretty poor allowing the North African nation to accumulate 4.9 expected goals over their two meetings.

South Africa did have a couple good showings in World Cup Qualifying in November, beating Benin 2-1 and Rwanda 2-0, so they are starting to build something under Hugo Broos.

They don't have a single player playing in one of Europe's top five leagues, but a lot of their players play for South Africa's most dominant club Mamelodi Sundowns, who made it to the CAF Champions League semifinals this past season. Mamelodi Sundowns are one of the most interesting tactical teams in the world given their positional play and fluidity in their team. The South African National Team adopts a few of those principles under Broos, but the reality is they are nowhere near as talented as Tunisia or Mali, so their most likely path is to get through in third place, but they will need a result against Namibia.

Namibia

Namibia are a relatively new country being apart of South Africa up until 1990, so they have only qualified for AFCON three times, most recently in 2019.

They were fortunate enough to be placed into one of the two AFCON Qualifying groups of just three countries, but they performed very admirably, especially against Cameroon beating them 2-1 in one of the two meetings with the xG battle being pretty even. They secured a point against Burundi in one of their other two matches, which was just enough to get them to their fourth ever Africa Cup of Nations.

They are a low block counterattacking team, usually setting up in a 4-4-1-1 or 4-4-2 valuing defensive solidity over anything. In their four AFCON Qualifying matches they allowed a total of 7.22 expected goals, so the defense is going to struggle in this group and it's going to come down to how effective they can be on the counter.

In terms of talent, their best player is Ryan Nyambe, who is right back for Derby County in League One. Outside of that, there isn't much else in this squad, so it's going to be an uphill climb for them to even finish in third place in this group.

Group E Pick

Tunisia are once again paired in an Africa Cup of Nations group with Mali. The last time these two faced off against each other it was the famous match where the referee tried to stop the match in the 85th minute and then ended it without awarding any extra time.

Last 5 min of Tunisia v Mali in #AFCON2021 :

鈥?Ref blows the whistle for full time on 85 min.鈥?Restarts the play.鈥?Sends off a Mali player in 87th min.鈥?VAR tells the ref it's not a red.鈥?Ref rejects the VAR decision.鈥?Ref blows again for full time on 89.40min pic.twitter.com/ilSnxlawuk

鈥?Football Talk (@FootballTalkHQ) January 12, 2022

Then Tunisia and Mali played a two leg playoff to qualify for the World Cup where Tunisia ended up prevailing, but there was only one goal scored over those two matches and Mali won the xG battle 1.09 to 0.76.

Per transfermarkt.com, Mali's total squad value is $140.3 million, while Tunisia is at $63.2 million. So there is a pretty big talent gap between the two. Additionally, over the past two years, Mali have a better expected goal differential than Tunisia.

So, I don't really see a reason why Tunisia should be favored over Mali to win this group. I love the value on Mali at +175 to win Group E.

Pick: Mali to Win Group E (+175 via FanDuel)

Group FExpected Points

Morocco

Morocco comes into AFCON as the tournament favorites and deservingly so after their performance at the 2022 World Cup, being the first African nation to make the semifinals.

What makes this Morocco team so good is their tactical flexibility. At the World Cup they were exceptional playing in a low block that limited teams from playing through the middle and then were deadly when they got on the counter. In Africa they are tasked with controlling matches and breaking down low blocks themselves, which they've done with great success. Over the last two years in Africa, Morocco have a +1.41 xGD per 90 minutes, which is by far the best on the continent.

Morocco set up in 4-1-4-1 formation during the previous Africa Cup of Nations and the World Cup. They love to push their two wingbacks Achraf Hakimi (PSG) and Noussair Mazraoui (Bayern Munich) high up the pitch to cause a lot of problems down the flanks. They do prefer to build out from the back having good ball controlling center backs with Sofyan Amrabat (Manchester United) dropping deep to almost serve as a third center back in build up plays, which allows the two wing backs to be very wide and push up the pitch.

Morocco also love to play a high defensive line, which they do have the personnel and athletes to do so and it鈥檚 worked over the past two years, as they鈥檙e only allowing 0.73 xG per 90 minutes. They also are capable of sitting in a low defensive block if necessary, as shown at the World Cup, but they really shouldn't need to in this tournament.

When they are in possession, they love to try and get the ball out wide to the full backs to swing in crosses to the box to En-Neysri, who is very good in the air after playing under a cross heavy attacking system with Sevilla.

They should cruise through this group and anything short of making the final would be a disappointment.

DR Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo is a puzzling team to figure out. There is no doubt that there is talent on this squad because per transfermarkt.com their total squad value is $110 million with the likes of Chancel Mbema (Marseille), Yoane Wissa (Brentford, and Simon Banza (Braga). With that being said, over the last two years in Africa they have a -2.42 expected goal differential, which is really concerning. What is even more concerning is with all of their talent, they failed to qualify for the last Africa Cup of Nations.

The reason for that has been because of their offense, which has done very little, averaging 1.05 xG per 90 minutes and failing to create over one expected goal in three of their six qualifying matches against Sudan, Mauritania and Gabon.

DR Congo used to be a 4-4-2 low block counterattacking style team, but manager S茅bastien Desabre towards the end of AFCON qualifying switched them to a 4-2-3-1, trying to play more possession dominant football with more modern tactics. The results have been mixed as it did win them their qualifying group, but in November they lost 1-0 to Sudan in a World Cup Qualifier.

DR Congo are being priced in the range just outside some of the favorites, which if we were going strictly on talent makes sense. However, given how bad their underlying metrics have been against some pretty weak competition, they are going to be overvalued in this tournament.

Zambia聽

Zambia impressively won their AFCON Qualifying group, beating out host nation Ivory Coast, mainly because of a 3-0 win over them at home. The thing is this Zambia team talent wise is pretty far behind a lot of top nations, but their results and underlying numbers have been impressive.

Over AFCON Qualifying Zambia won five of their six matches and had a +2.1 expected goal differential. What was most impressive about Zambia during qualifying is the way they way they were able to play a couple of different tactical styles. They are a really good pressing team and showed that against the Ivory Coast, as one of their three goals came off a high turnover. They were deadly in transition in both meetings with the Ivory Coast as well, scoring two goals off direct counterattacks.

However, against Lesotho and Comoros, they were able to dominate possession and tilt the field on them, while successfully breaking down their low blocks. That is going to bode well in this group because to get through to the round of 16, it's likely going to come down to getting three points against Tanzania.

Zambia do have some talent in their attack, led by Patson Daka (Leicester City), who hasn't really featured for this club team and is likely to make a move elsewhere in January, but for the national team he is thriving, scoring five of their 11 goals throughout qualifying. Zambia also have Lameck Banda (Lecce), who is having a great season in Serie A putting up a 0.37 xG + xA per 90 minute rate as a left winger and is in the 85th percentile or above in progressive carries, shots, and successful take ons is Europe's top five leagues for wingers.

The market doesn't really believe in this Zambian side, but I really think they should be favored over DR Congo to finish second in this group.

Tanzania

There really isn't much hope for Tanzania in this group. They did get two wins over Niger and Uganda during qualifying to get them to their third Africa Cup of Nations, but in the easy qualifying group they has a -2.1 xGD.

They will set up in a 4-3-3 and basically will concede a lot possession against bigger teams, but against nations closer to their level they have been able to control matches. In terms of talent, there isn't much on this squad. Per transfermarkt.com, Tanzania's total squad value is just $7.05 million and the notable player they have is striker Ally Samatta, who has played for Aston Villa, Fenerbahce and Genk in his career and is currently playing in Greece with PAOK.

It's going to be an uphill climb in this group, as their talent level is way far behind the other three teams in this group.

Group F Pick

This should be a breeze for Morocco. They haven't lost the expected goals battle in any match over the last two years in Africa, are miles more talented and are better set up tactically than the other three teams in this group. The market is pricing in DR Congo's talent, but Morocco already played them over two legs in a World Cup Qualifying playoff in 2022, beating them on aggregate 5-2 and on xG 3.7 to 1.4.

Zambia have had some impressive results, but their talent is nowhere near Morocco, so I don't see a scenario where Morocco don't win this group unless they get caught on the wrong side of variance. They are the tournament favorites and they are in an easy group, so they should never be below -200.

Pick: Morocco to win Group F (-195 via FanDuel)

OutrightsNigeria (+1100 via FanDuel)

Given how talented this squad is, having the best player in Africa and the best attack, a price of 11/1 is a bit crazy. They should be one of the tournament favorites alongside Morocco and Senegal, not priced below Egypt and Cameroon.

The reason they are this number is because of bad results. In November, they drew back to back World Cup Qualifying matches to Lesotho and Zimbabwe despite dominating both matches. This is on the back of a 1-0 loss to Guinea-Bissau in AFCON Qualifying, which has a lot of people questioning the the Super Eagles.

Here is the reality. They have the second-best expected goal differential over the past two years in Africa behind only the tournament favorites Morocco. Their defense, even though it isn't as talented as some in this tournament, is only allowing 0.66 xG per 90 minutes. They play a simplistic defensive block and nobody has been able to consistently break it down.

I also love what Jos茅 Peseiro has done switching Nigeria to a 4-2-2-2. That is the same formation that RB Leipzig has made famous allowing them to vertically attack teams transitionally through the center of the pitch, which is where the goals are. That formation with the attacking personnel of Osimhen, Iheanacho, Lookman and co. is going to allow Nigeria to get the best out of their personnel, while also overloading the middle of the pitch.

In my opinion, there are two teams you want to avoid in this tournament: Morocco and Senegal, everyone else has some type of flaw and is beatable. If Nigeria can win Group A and Senegal and Morocco win their groups, they would avoid being on the same side of the bracket as Morocco and wouldn't have to face Senegal until the semifinals.

Mali (+2500 via BetMGM)

Mali are the last team that can be considered in the top tier before the odds drop off into the longer shots. The odds at different books are varying, as they are as low as 16/1 at some books.

When betting teams in this range, they have to have some type of strength over other teams in this tournament that carry them through the knockout stage.

Mali's midfield of Bissouma, Camara, and Haidara is about as good as it gets in Africa from a pressing, ball progression and ball stopping combination. It's allowed Mali to put up the third-best expected goal differential over the past two years in Africa and has helped them be solid defensively, allowing only 0.77 xG per 90 minutes.

If you are like me and believe Mali should be the favorite to win Group E then they would get to face second place in a weak Group D in the round of 16 and then the path gets pretty tough, likely having to most likely face Senegal in quarters and Nigeria in the semifinals, but at 25/1 that price is too good to pass up for a midfield that talented with the third-best underlying numbers in Africa.

Golden BootMohammed Kudus (Ghana) (+4000 via BetRivers)

This is a pretty crazy price.Kudus should be priced below 20/1 in this market.

He has over-performed his expected goals at West Ham, scoring six goals off of a little over two expected, but you have to remember he's playing in a primarily defensive, transitional system with David Moyes. With Ghana they are going to control a lot more of the ball and he's going to have a lot more chances.

Playing with a possession-dominant team like Ajax, he dominated in the Eredivisie, putting up a 0.58 xG per 90 minute scoring rate while averaging 3.5 shots per 90 minutes.

At the 2022 World Cup, he was Ghana's entire attack. He averaged 2.9 shots per 90 minutes, scoring two of their five goals and no other player that saw a decent amount of minutes averaged even one shot per 90 minutes. Quite simply he is everything to their attack.

Even though Ghana have been struggling, they are in a relatively easy group, getting two favorable matches against Cape Verde and a very bad Mozambique defense, so Kudus could really pad his stats in those two matches.

You also always want the guy who is going to be taking penalties when you are betting gold boot. Ghana hasn't been awarded a penalty in almost three years now in a non-friendly competition, but I am going to guess that Kudus is going to take them.

Serhou Guirassy (Guinea) (+4000 via BetRivers)

The hottest striker on the planet probably shouldn't be sitting at 40/1.

The fact that Guirassy is averaging close to an expected goal per 90 minutes is nothing short of incredible, but the reason he is able to produce those types of numbers is he the main man for Stuttgart, just like he is with Guinea.

What makes him so good is he is the complete striker. He's physical, has pace, is a threat aerially to win crosses and he has the technical ability to finish from anywhere on the pitch. That comes in handy when Guinea are going to be forced to either play direct against Senegal and Cameroon or be forced to swing in a bunch of crosses against Gambia.

At Stuttgart, Guirassy is averaging close to four shots per 90 minutes. He is not going to get that in this group, but he does have a couple good matchups. Cameroon has weak transition defense that can be exposed and Gambia's low block has been proven to be ineffective.





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