The draws for the TotalAFCON 2019 were completed with Nigeria in Group B, which many consider the easiest of the six groups. Both by historical perspective (see Table 1) as well as FIFA ranking average (see Table 2), it surely is the easiest group but does it really matter?
CAF claimed the 24 teams were seeded based on FIFA’s April 2019 ranking but this, surely, was not the only criterion. After all, Egypt seeded in Pot 1 was ranked 8 of all 24 teams and would not have been in Pot 1 if it was not hosting the event.
Cameroon, also in Pot 1, is the defending champion but was ranked below Ghana on the FIFA log. But the rankings and seeding were not as it important as they are usually in an AFCON based on, at least, two reasons. The first is that an expanded tournament theoretically provides an easier path for the key African gladiators of this tournament. Second, the fact that four third-placed teams will qualify from six groups makes group qualification far easier than it had ever been in an AFCON. Of course, this claim will be tested come June and July.
Nevertheless, I was not worried about these draws for Nigeria considering that a third-placed team will get out of the group stage. The worry begins when the teams get to the Round of 16 and when 90 minutes will determine who progresses and who goes home. That is really when the competition will reach a fever pitch.
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Well, I have stated this with much glee realising that Egyptians will not feel the same way. Egypt is the host and the host, historically, gets the easiest path to the knockout stages. Not so in this tournament. Someone must not have informed the gods of the draw. Egypt was definitely stiffed with the toughest group not only from a historical perspective of the strength its opponents but also borne out by the average FIFA rank for its opponents. I don’t envy Egypt.
Nigeria, the third highest ranked team among all 24 teams in the tournament at No. 42, has a much easier group. The second seeded team in its group, Guinea, is the 5th in terms of ranking among six teams seeded second. Then the third seeded team, Madagascar is also fifth among six of the third seeded teams. Then guess what? The fourth seeded team in its group is the worst ranked team among the 24 at the AFCON. What a break? Even Ifa or prayers cannot provide you with a better break.
Nevertheless, the real test will be on the field come June. Of course the must see games are at least three in the opening round when Herve Renard of Morocco encounters his former team Ivory Coast in Group D, Cameroon’s battle for supremacy in Group F against Ghana, and the East African challenge between Kenya and Tanzania in Group C.
Table 1: Ranking by Historically Perspective
Table 2: By FIFA Ranking Average
|1||A||73||#57 Egypt||#46 Congo DR||#79
|2||D||74||#45 Morocco||#65 I/Coast||#73 S/Africa||#113 Namibia|
|3||F||78||#54 Cameroon||#49 Ghana||#91 Benin Rep.||#118 G/Bissau|
|#103 Mauritania||#122 Angola|
|5||C||83||#23 Senegal||#70 Algeria||#108 Kenya||#131 Tanzania|
|6||B||88.25||#42 Nigeria||#68 Guinea||#107 Madagascar||#136 Burundi|