Nigeria and Morocco have such similar numbers that we should probably consider them co-favorites for the Africa Cup of Nations, but finalists don’t split trophies, and neither do we.
Nigeria and Morocco did not lose during the AFCON 2021 qualifiers, but they did so in different ways. Morocco only gave up one goal, whereas Nigeria gave up seven in six games against Sierra Leone, Benin, and Lesotho.
Nonetheless, the AFCON 2013 champions have a slight pre-tournament advantage as they attempt to spoil the festivities for their hosts and neighbors Cameroon. Unfortunately, our AFCON 2021 (don’t call it AFCON 2022, no matter what the calendar says) predictor’s pre-tournament rankings are as follows:
|Rank||Group||Team||% to Win AFCON|
|5||Group E||Ivory Coast||8.27%|
|11||Group A||Burkina Faso||2.45%|
|14||Group A||Cape Verde||0.36%|
|T-19||Group E||Equatorial Guinea||0.15%|
|21||Group E||Sierra Leone||0.11%|
The Super Eagles will be without Watford striker Emmanuel Dennis and Napoli’s Victor Osimhen, but there is plenty of European attacking talent in the Nigeria camp, including La Liga and Villarreal standout Samuel Chukwueze, as well as their English-based players led by Kelechi Iheanacho.
Nigeria has the fourth-best chance of winning their group, with seven-time champions Egypt and Mohamed Salah to contend with in Group D, but things improve from there with what could be a friendlier path to the trophy than other contenders. Their chances of reaching the quarter-finals are third best at 61.63 percent, while their chances of reaching the final are second best at 39.71 percent and 25.20 percent, respectively.
However, if they are unable to advance ahead of Egypt and their Liverpool star, things will not be so simple. In the round of 16, the winner of Group D is paired with the third-place team from either Group B, E, or F. The winner of Group D will face the winner of Group E, which is likely to be Algeria or Ivory Coast.
Morocco has the second-best chance of finishing first in a group and winning the tournament. They will also have a favorable Round of 16 draw if they finish ahead of Ghana, Gabon, and Comoros.
The Group C champions will face the third-place team from either Group A, B, or F. As a result, their 69.02 percent chance of reaching the quarter-finals, as well as their 25.30 percent chance of reaching the final, is the highest of the 24 teams.
The hosts have been patiently waiting for us to explain the small number next to their name in the table above. It’s not a mistake…
About The Hosts
Cameroon has a 40.59 percent chance of advancing from Group A. Burkina Faso (36.08 percent) comes in second, and the two meet to kick off the tournament on Sunday. Cameroon has (somewhat) recent history with Cape Verde, who are expected to finish third in Group A.
If you believe in AFCON qualifiers for an auto-qualified host nation, the five-time AFCON champions edged Cape Verde by a point to win Group F, but Cape Verde defeated Cameroon 3-1 on Matchday 5 after the two sides played to a scoreless draw on Matchday 2 in November 2019.
Cameroon has an 84.85 percent chance of making the last 16, but the knockout phase could be difficult for the Indomitable Lions.
The winner of Group A will face a third-place team from either C, D, or E in what should be a winnable match. It’s also worth noting that if Algeria, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Nigeria, Morocco, or Ghana finish third, they could face Algeria, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Nigeria, Morocco, or Ghana. Their quarter-final opponent would almost certainly be Mali or Guinea, but it could also be Senegal or Tunisia.
Things become especially difficult if Cameroon finishes second. They’d have to face the runners-up from Group C, which includes both Morocco and Ghana, in the last 16. If they make it that far, they’ll face the winner of Group D, which includes Egypt and Nigeria.
With all of this in mind, Cameroon has a 43.17 percent chance of reaching the quarter-finals, but only a 19.63 percent chance of reaching the semi-finals. Mali, for example, has a 20.23 percent chance of reaching the semi-finals because their quarter-final path is expected to be easier prior to the tournament. More on Mali will follow shortly.
Nobody doubts Cameroon’s track record at the tournament. They’ve won it five times, more than anyone other than Egypt. But if they do it a sixth time, it will be against all odds. After all, a host hasn’t won the tournament or even made it to the finals since Egypt in 2006. That’s seven tournaments with disgruntled local fans.
Who do you think has the best chance of winning their group?
Senegal should fare well in Group B. Premier League stars like Liverpool’s Sadio Mané up front and a Champions League-winning Chelsea goalkeeper like Edouard Mendy in the back can’t hurt, but their draw is also solid. They have the best chance of winning their group (61.57 percent) and of advancing from the group stages with all nine points (25.59 percent ).
This is due in part to the fact that the 2019 runners-up do not have as strong a contender in their group as others. Guinea (36.99 percent chance of finishing second in Group B) has the lowest chance of winning the tournament (2.28 percent), of any projected second-place group finisher.
So, where could things go wrong for Senegal? They have the best chance of making it to the knockout stages (94.56 percent ). They also have the best chance of reaching the semi-finals (39.97 percent), but Morocco, Nigeria, and Egypt are all more likely to reach the final than Senegal. This is due to the possibility of a difficult semi-final matchup against Egypt.
In terms of the team that ended Senegal’s AFCON title hopes the last time around…
The Current Title Holders
Algeria won the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, and there’s still a strong case to be made that the Desert Foxes were the best team in the tournament. In Group E, Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez and co. have a slim lead over Ivory Coast and the likes of Arsenal’s Nicolas Pepe (45.45 percent to 44.93 percent ). It’s just that that may not be a benefit at all…
What happens in groups D and F will determine whether or not winning the group means anything. Algeria is one of the model’s favorites, but as previously stated, Group D includes both Nigeria and Egypt, two of the three teams most likely to win the tournament, according to our model.
In the last 16, the winner of Group E will face the runner-up of Group D. That isn’t exactly a desirable prize. The Group E runners-up, on the other hand, will face the Group F winners. That is most likely Tunisia, but it could also be Mali – who knows?