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Who will win the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations?

Thursday June 27 2019

Nigeria's defender Kenneth Omeruo celebrates his goal during their 2019 Africa Cup of Nations match against Guinea at the Alexandria Stadium on June 26 , 2019. PHOTO | GIUSEPPE CACACE |

Nigeria's defender Kenneth Omeruo celebrates his goal during their 2019 Africa Cup of Nations match against Guinea at the Alexandria Stadium on June 26 , 2019. PHOTO | GIUSEPPE CACACE |  AFP

CHARLES NYENDE
By CHARLES NYENDE
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IN CAIRO

After the first round of matches at this 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, it is still pretty tricky to point out who are the title favourites on performance.

Of course on paper it must be Senegal, Africa’s first ranked team in the world and perhaps Egypt by virtue of the fact they are playing at home and, importantly, have won three of their record seven titles, when they hosted the tournament.

Senegal never really got out of gear when they swatted Tanzania 2-0 in their opening match. And they did not have English Premier League joint top scorer Sadio Mane on board for that match.

The Teranga Lions created several chances but were profligate - with Stade Rennais forward Mbaye Niang the chief culprit - just as they were at the 2018 World Cup.

It is scary to imagine an efficient Teranga Lions, but evidence suggests that if they have not solved their wastefulness in front of goal since their Russia adventure a year ago then this is a permanent problem that will cost them dearly at some point in this tournament.

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Egypt will have felt hugely relieved with their 1-0 win against the battling Warriors of Zimbabwe where they caused all sorts of problems to the host in a 1-0 loss.

Algeria are ranked 11th in Africa but the superiority they showed against a Kenyan side that beat Ghana in the qualifiers points them out as a dangerous team that may go far. Riyad Marhez pulled the strings in the left flank and red hot striker – Baghdad Bounedjah of Qatari top side Al Sadd, as expected, showed his potency.

The other big boys of Africa never really impressed, Nigeria huffing and puffing to a 1-0 victory against a fearless Burundi, who are making their debut in this tournament; Ghana fighting to salvage a 2-2 draw with Benin; while defending champions Cameroon only secured their 2-0 advantage late in the second half against a stubborn Guinea Bissau.

Still, the Indomitable Lions’ coach Clarence Seedorf’s warning “No one is going to have an easy time against us” still stands.

The opening match after a spectacularly opening ceremony, was witnessed by a sell-out 75,000 crowd at the magnificent Cairo International Stadium.

POOR ATTENDANCE

But any hopes that similar crowds would be seen in subsequent matches proved futile as television cameras showed Africa’s best footballers playing in near empty stands.

Attendance has been Africa Cup of Nations' Achilles heel despite huge sponsorship and television coverage deals and the tourney in Egypt could suffer a similar fate.

Security has been top notch, perhaps too tight with fans and even journalists caught in the crosshairs.

Egyptians though are only just warming up to the tournament. And their eyes are only for the Pharaohs.

Neutrals would also want to see the hosts go far, but other teams will want to have a say in this.

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