Holders the team to beat
The CAF African Nations Cup starts this coming weekend, and a first glance at the betting suggests the competition’s wide open.
The top seven teams on the exchange in the outright betting market are separated by very small margins, from favourites Senegal at 5.04/1 down to seventh favourites Nigeria at 12.011/1.
We correctly predicted Algeria would win the tournament three years ago, and Djamel Belmadi’s defending champions are the only place to start this time around.
On a 34-match unbeaten run stretching back to September 2017, this Algeria are one of the greatest teams Africa has ever produced.
Disrupted preparations for the competition owing to covid outbreaks and the late arrival of players will affect Algeria less than their rivals as the team’s so well-drilled and the winning mentality so deeply embedded in the side.
Riyad Mahrez has been outstanding over the past two seasons, while Islam Slimani was the recent seven-goal top scorer in the African group phase of qualifying for the next World Cup.
Algeria’s hunger for a second consecutive triumph is obvious and it would be no surprise to see them go all the way.
Senegal are many people’s picks and there’s no question Aliou Cisse’ side boasts a stunning array of talent.
Edouard Mendy, Kalidou Koulibaly, Idrissa Gueye and Sadio Mane (pictured below) are certain starters in a side that appears equally well-equipped in defence and attack.
The question mark against Senegal – beaten finalists last time around – would be whether their team’s too old: a lack of youth is notable, and you wonder whether there may be too many mentally jaded players as this generation looks to finally secure an international trophy.
It would be no surprise if they go all the way, but at current odds of 5.04/1 they’re a little short for us.
Hosts are worth backing
The best of the rest are Cameroon, who appear underrated as 10.09/1 fifth favourites on the exchange.
The hosts go into the tournament in good form, with a W6-D1-L1 record from their last eight fixtures.
Crucially, The Indomitable Lions have been generally outstanding at home against all opposition and in all competitionsover the past two decades, meaning the home advantage they enjoy hands them a considerable edge.
Cameroon’s line-up has a lovely balance about it, too, with Verona’s Martin Hongla and Napoli’s Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa providing solid midfield foundations, and Al-Nassr’s Vincent Aboubakar and Lyon’s Karl Toko Ekambi the threat up front. At good odds, they are be our second selection in the Winner market.
Morocco are dark horses
On the Sportsbook there are many other outright markets available on the tournament, and a few selections worth considering.
We like Morocco in the Group C Winner market as the Atlas Lions look very well-prepared for the finals and are potential dark horses to go all the way.
Veteran manager Vahid Halilhodzic is in charge of Morocco and the 69-year-old has maintained his drive for achievements.
Morocco are one of the tournament’s most defensively-secure teams, having kept clean sheets in nine of their 10 internationals in 2021.
Built on the excellent central defensive partnership of Wolves’ Romain Saiss and Rennes’ Nayer Aguerd, Morocco look a better bet than in this market than group rivals Ghana (7/5): the Black Stars have had less impressive preparations on and off the pitch ahead of the tournament.
The balance and quality in Morocco’s side – look out for PSG’s marauding right-back Achraf Hakimi steaming down the flank – also makes them a decent selection in the To Reach The Final market at 4/1.
Back Bayo and Khazri in scoring stakes
Finally, the Top Goalscorer market will attract plenty of attention, and a host of big names are jostling at the top of the pack.
Mohamed Salah (4/1), Mahrez (15/2), Ivory Coast’s Sebastien Haller (17/2), Mane (17/2), Aboubakar (11/1), Slimani (11/1), Nigeria’s Kelechi Ineanacho (14/1) and Gabon’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (20/1) lead the way, with all eight players understandably set to appeal to backers.
There are players available at much bigger odds that are worth considering, however.
Wahbi Khazri will be a talisman for Tunisia and has been a key figure for St Etienne in Ligue 1 over the past 18 months.
Tunisia will look to Khazri more than anyone else for goals, making him good value at 50/1. Tunisia are favourites to win Group F, so Khazri ought to play a decent number of games.
Guinea’s Mohamed Bayo has been in even better form than Khazri in France over the same period: he was 22-top scorer as Clermont won promotion from Ligue 2 into the top flight last season, and has netted nine times in 16 starts at a rate of a goal every 159 minutes in Ligue 1 this season.
Bayo will be confident of getting on the scoresheet against weak Zimbabwe and Malawi sides in the group phase and, like Khazri, he should enjoy a decent number of appearances, as Guinea are expected to qualify from Group B behind Senegal. The 50/1 on Bayo is hard to ignore.
Ryan Mmae looks set to lead the line for Morocco and you should get a good run for your money on the 24-year-old striker at 60/1 if Morocco go deep in the tournament.
The Belgium-born player made an excellent start since declaring for Morocco: he’s scored four times in his first seven internationals.
In a team with few scorers, Morocco will look to Mmae for goals, and he’s hit the ground running in the international game.