AFCON 2019: Five key nations
We’re in that abridged period when FIFA presses pause on club football to promote a larger form of tribalism. UEFA starts the Nations league to replace meaningless friendlies. Four spots in the Euros are up for grabs. Africa has serious business to conduct, as well. Tickets to its biggest competition are on offer. It’s time to fight for one.
The African Cup of Nations represents continental glory. No nation, no player wants to be left behind when AFCON kicks off. Many were happy to hear the tournament followed Europe's example by expanding from 16 to 24 countries in 2019. Liverpool fans needn't worry over losing Sadio Mane, Naby Keita, Joel Matip and Mohamed Salah in January. CAF switched the tournament to June.
After preliminary rounds pared the 51 interested member nations [of 56] down to a manageable 48, the survivors formed 12 groups of four. Host Cameroon's presence complicates the process. Distributing the other 23 positions depends on the Indomitable Lions' results. It can be done in two ways.
- If Cameroon win their group or finish runners-up, all teams who finish first or second qualify.
- If Cameroon finish third or fourth in their group, the 12 group winners qualify along with the 11 best runners-up.
Got it? Good. With the competition already underway, here are five nations to watch in this window.