Down to the wire, we very much wanted to put out an AFCON 2015 Qualifying Preview. We have the numbers and want to release our group previews. No beating around the bush. Let’s get to it.
Two traditional African powerhouses and 2 relative unknowns in CAF. Nigeria looks to be far and away the class of Group A. While the Bafana Bafana are a solid team, they’re just not on the same level as Nigeria. That being said, if Sudan or Congo are somehow able to poach the Top 2, it would be arguably one of the biggest surprises in qualifying. We have the gap between 2nd place South Africa and 3rd place Sudan projected to be over 6 points. We don’t project a larger gap in any other group. This should end up with Nigeria atop the group, South Africa in 2nd, and Sudan and Congo in some order out of the finals.
While the gap between 2nd and 3rd in Group A was our largest of any group, the gap between 1st and 2nd isn’t any larger than in Group B. Algeria is far and away the best team in Group B. We’re projecting 15.44 points out of a possible 18, and it certainly wouldn’t be a surprise to see them run the table. 2nd place should be close, but nobody poses a serious threat to Algeria. We like Ethiopia to advance directly with Mali not too far behind. If Malawi can find a way out of 4th, it should be considered a success. As a result of the high probability of Algeria running the table, the likelihood that the best 3rd place team comes from this group is very small.
Along with Group F, this should be one of the closest battles for the top spot. Unfortunately (or fortunately for the teams involved), the top 2 qualify directly for Morocco. Those top 2 should be Burkina Faso and Angola. Upstart Lesotho should actually do reasonably well in the group stage. Gabon has just completely gone in the tank despite having one of the best young players in international football in P-E Aubameyang. Burkina is surely still not over their 2013 finals defeat, and they should be back. Good draw for Angola. Likewise, it would be surprising if the best 3rd place team came from this group.
Just like Group A, this group contains some traditional African powerhouses and some upstart teams. There’s no way that these mainstays are going to step aside to let the new blood in. Say what you will about the Ivory Coast’s performance at the finals of most tournaments, but they certainly haven’t had any difficulty actually qualifying. The same should be said here. Despite some pretty tough opponents, expect Les Elephants to finish atop the group. As woeful as Cameroon looked at the World Cup, playing Congo DR and Sierra Leone is not the same as Brazil, Mexico and Croatia. They should be fine here. Sierra Leone is arguably one of the most overrated teams in the FIFA Rankings, and while they’ve played well, expectations should not be high. It’s your usual 2 up top. But don’t be fooled. The Ivory Coast certainly isn’t playing at the level they used to. We’re only projecting 12-13 of 18 possible points.
This is the most legit group in the entire qualifying. Guinea has been rocketing up our rankings and cracked the top 40! Still, that’s not enough to get a projection atop the group. Ghana is just too good a team. And Togo is no slouch either. While they absolutely refuse to play competitive matches, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have the quality players. All of this combined is awful news for Uganda. Another team that we think is reasonably decent got an awful draw. We don’t project any team to finish with fewer points in the group stage than Uganda. The 3rd place finisher in this group should certainly be in the mix for best 3rd place team with Groups F and G. We like Ghana and Guinea to advance directly.
By far the weakest group in qualification. Out of the preliminary round, Mozambique has the best shot of any team to reach Morocco. They’re better than Niger, and Cape Verde and Zambia certainly are not insurmountable teams. We think those two finish atop the group, but don’t be surprised if Mozambique makes a run at the top 2. At worst, they should be right in the thick of it for best 3rd place team. Cape Verde and Zambia are not extremely strong teams themselves, but they should both be thankful they wound up a pair. It might end up one of those groups where neither cares who finishes first. They just want to qualify. Niger was the worst team in the draw to avoid the preliminary round. If they are not last in this group it will be a major surprise.
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The “Group of Death”. This is a bit of a misnomer given the qualifying format. Group E, in our opinion, is a far more difficult group to crack the top 2. While we project Egypt to finish atop the group, there certainly is room for any other team to sneak into 2nd. Right now, we have Tunisia and Senegal separated by less than a point. We currently also have Senegal projected as the best 3rd place team. Regardless who finishes 3rd, they’ll be in play as the last team into the finals. Even Botswana isn’t bad, but they’re probably overmatched here. Anything less than Egypt atop the group should be considered an upset.
Our projected 16 teams to reach the finals in Morocco are:
Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa, Algeria, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Angola, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Ghana, Guinea, Cape Verde Islands, Zambia, Egypt, Tunisia, and Senegal.
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