It’s finally time to publish our 2015 Africa Cup of Nations preview. We are down to 16 teams in quite a roundabout way. The tournament, taking place in Equatorial Guinea, was originally slated to take place in Morocco. But with the Ebola scare in late 2014, Morocco waffled and refused to commit to tournament deadlines. When pressed, they ultimately withdrew, not willing to risk the disease coming to Morocco. There has been much talk about potential backlash and punishment for the Moroccan federation, but what ultimately will result remains to be seen.
Before getting into the details of the tournament, we just wanted to let everyone know again that we are running an AFCON Bracket Challenge. Predict how the groups will turn out as well as the knockout stage. It’s all in good fun, and everyone is welcome. Plus we’ll send a WGF t-shirt to the winner.
Equatorial Guinea stepped in to host the tournament. Their AFCON 2015 journey has been pretty remarkable. They defeated Mauritania in a preliminary round only to be stripped of the victory due to a CAF violation. They were disqualified from the tournament, only to be granted the automatic qualifying spot once they became host. CAF never ceases to amaze.
And as is customary with CAF, Equatorial Guinea is not the only team that was eliminated from qualifying to ultimately reach the finals. Congo were also defeated by Rwanda only to ultimately be reinstated following discovery of an ineligible Rwandan player. This was an extremely controversial decision considering the player in question for Rwanda had been investigated by CAF previously with no penalty. Naturally, Congo ended up reaching the finals.
Arguably the biggest team missing from the final field is Nigeria. The 2014 World Cup finalists started their campaign by losing at home to that Congo team and putting a large dent in the WGF portfolio. Despite a difficult run, they needed to defeat South Africa at home on the final match day to reach the finals. They couldn’t do it. As a result, Congo advanced and Congo DR squeaked in as the best 3rd place team.
There was also some controversy in the final match in Group D between Ivory Coast and Cameroon. The teams basically stood around the pitch for 90 minutes, kicked the ball around, and went home with each team qualified. The match drew a lot of ire throughout the world for poor sportsmanship. Naturally, they were drawn into the same finals group. That match should not result in the same lackadaisical effort.
With the final 16 determined, CAF conducted a draw at the beginning of December. The CAF Ranking was used to break the teams into pots, which isn’t the best way of doing it. Their reasoning is to reward teams that have done well in past continental competitions. We’d argue that doesn’t necessarily put the best teams at the top. Equatorial Guinea and Zambia, who we view as two of the weakest teams in the field were in Pot 1. Senegal and Guinea, who our rankings like as two of the better teams in the field, were in Pot 4.
Naturally, the draw did not even things out. It only made it worse. Groups A and B emerged as fairly reasonable to navigate. Groups C and D are ridiculous. Group C features Ghana, Algeria, Senegal and South Africa. That’s wrong for a group stage of a continental tournament. It should be interesting to see if the teams from Groups C and D are worn out by the knockout stage or perform better due to being battle-tested. Either way, there are going to be a ton of competitive fixtures.
Equatorial Guinea (host), Burkina Faso, Gabon, Congo
As indicated above, Group A emerged as one of the weaker in the tournament both current and historically. Burkina Faso is the only team to reach the semifinals of the Africa Cup of Nations in the last 40 years, and they did it as hosts in 1998 before making a run to the finals in the last edition in 2013. There is not much historical success here, but that does not mean a team cannot emerge just as Burkina Faso did two years ago. If we’re going to roll with any team to pull off a run like that again, it’s going to be that same Burkina Faso team or Gabon. The two went through qualifying in the same group in a tight battle. And while Gabon emerged atop the group by a single point, Burkina did not have much to play for on the final day.
And then again, there’s that Congo team They’ve been steadily climbing our rankings, but after their initial defeat of Nigeria, managed just 1 point from 3 matches against Nigeria and South Africa. In Group C or D we’d say they had less of a chance, but in this group they certainly have a shot. We don’t expect the host to do much here, but as host in 2012 they made it out of the group stage. This should be a competitive group top to bottom, but we like Burkina Faso and Gabon to continue their journey together and advance from this group.
Burkina Faso: 5.67
Equatorial Guinea: 3.20
Zambia, Tunisia, Cape Verde Islands, Congo DR
Here’s a fun fact: In the last 6 AFCON tournaments, there have been 4 unique champions. Two of them, Egypt and Nigeria, are not featured in this edition. The other two, Zambia and Tunisia, are in this group. This is going to be a competitive group top to bottom, and truly any team can finish at the top or bottom. Cape Verde has been knocking on the door of continental success for awhile and this could be their time to shine. Tunisia has to be viewed as the favorite in this group, however. They were able to navigate through a group with Senegal and Egypt without a single defeat. That’s impressive on its own. And then there’s that Congo DR team, who quietly advanced through qualifying as the best 3rd place team. It was through two defeats of Sierra Leone and a remarkable 4-3 road win at Ivory Coast. Their man is Crystal Palace winger Yanncik Bolasie, who scored a brace in their clinching win over Sierra Leone.
We’re going to pencil in Tunisia to advance. We’d be fairly surprised if they were unable to do so, as we give them an almost 80% chance of advancing. But that 2nd spot is certainly up for grabs. Zambia started slow in qualification, but finished strong, ripping off three straight victories to qualify.That’s something to take note of. We think the final matchday between Cape Verde and Zambia will determine who advances. We’re going to give the slight edge to Cape Verde, but we give them just over a 50% chance of advancing. It’s certainly wide open.
Cape Verde Islands: 4.13
Congo DR: 3.32
|Cape Verde Islands||24.5%||27.2%||26.1%||22.2%|
Ghana, Algeria, South Africa, Senegal
If you’re looking for a round robin featuring 4 of Africa’s best teams, this is it. Our rankings have all 4 of these teams in our top 10 in Africa. Who knows what to say here? Ghana has reached at least the semifinals in each of the last 4 editions. Algeria performed very admirably in Brazil, and is arguably the best team in Africa right now. South Africa went through qualifying undefeated. And Senegal is currently experiencing a revival of a new generation after much success early in the last decade. These are 4 outstanding teams, and it’s just not fair that they should all have to go into the same group. But that’s the result of using the CAF Ranking.
While it is difficult to say who will advance, at this point we believe that South Africa probably has the lowest chance to advance at around 37%. That’s not to say they are a poor team by any stretch of the imagination. But the competition is extremely good in this group. We like two of Ghana, Algeria and Senegal to advance. And it truly can be any of the three. We give Ghana a 58% chance of advancing, Algeria a 54% chance, and Senegal a 52% chance. Can’t get much more competitive than that. If anybody in this group gets to 6 points it will be a pretty decent surprise. Check out that spray chart!
South Africa: 3.25
Ivory Coast, Mali, Cameroon, Guinea
With apologies to Mali, their finishing bottom of this group is our most certain prediction. We give them almost an 80% chance of finishing bottom of this group. Tunisia at 52% to finish top of group B is our next highest prediction. But what do we know? Mali has reached the semifinals in each of of the last two editions of AFCON. They are the only nation alongside Ghana to accomplish that feat. As a result of that success, they found themselves in Pot 2 for the draw. Unfortunately, they pulled Cameroon and Guinea out of Pots 3 and 4, which is a massive, massive blow to their chances. Had Algeria not already been qualified on the final matchday, Mali may have missed out on the tournament. This is an interesting group for the other three sides. Cameroon and Ivory Coast were in the same qualifying group, and Cameroon undoubtedly performed better. Back in September, Cameroon pounded Ivory Coast by 4-1. That result, along with numerous others, catapulted Cameroon to our #1 ranked team in Africa. While Algeria is widely viewed as #1, we think that the Indomitable Lions are the team to beat. These two could very well meet in the quarterfinals.
Could this be yet another year where the Ivorians fall short? They’ve drawn a tough group and must be wary of a strong Guinea side. Guinea was forced to play all of their home qualifying matches on neutral soil, and they were still able to qualify ahead of strong Uganda and Togo teams. Very impressive. We see 2nd place as a virtual dead heat between Ivory Coast and Guinea. It would be rather surprising to see Cameroon fail to advance.
Ivory Coast: 4.86
If our projections come true (and they always do), we view the knockout matchups as follows:
Burkina Faso v. Cape Verde Islands
Cameroon v. Algeria
Ghana v. Ivory Coast
Tunisia v. Gabon
Match Win Probabilities
Click any column header to sort.
|Date||Location||Team 1||Team 2||Win1%||Win2%||Draw%|
|1/18/2015||Ebebiyin||Cape Verde Islands||Tunisia||21.1%||49.1%||29.8%|
|1/21/2015||Bata||Equatorial Guinea||Burkina Faso||17.5%||54.9%||27.6%|
|1/22/2015||Ebebiyin||Cape Verde Islands||Congo DR||42.1%||26.2%||31.7%|
|1/26/2015||Ebebiyin||Cape Verde Islands||Zambia||47.0%||22.6%||30.5%|