Afcon 2021: Five storylines for opening round of games

Maduka Okoye - Nigeria, Super Eagles
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GOAL pick out five fascinating narratives from the continental showpiece starting this weekend

  1. Afcon 2021
    Caf.

    Afcon 2021

    The 33rd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations begins on Sunday and it is safe to say the opening fixtures are narrative-laden.

    In this feature, GOAL highlight some interesting storylines for the first set of encounters.

  2. Cameroon look to avoid host nation curse in Burkina Faso opener
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    Cameroon look to avoid host nation curse in Burkina Faso opener

    The Indomitable Lions kick off their Afcon campaign with a clash with the Stallions on Sunday looking to avoid being the sixth host nation to lose their first fixture.

    It is a false start that Toni Conceicao and his troops will fear against a side that went through qualifying unbeaten—winning three and playing out as many stalemates.

    Cameroon are unbeaten in their two meetings with Burkina Faso at the finals, and the five-time winners will look to extend that run to three with a strong showing at the Olembe Stadium.

  3. Favourites Senegal aim to alleviate pre-Afcon nerves
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    Favourites Senegal aim to alleviate pre-Afcon nerves

    Senegal’s preparations have been far from ideal, owing to a coronavirus outbreak that delayed their Cameroon trip and forced three players and six members of staff into quarantine.

    Be that as it may, Africa’s top ranked side target three points when they play Zimbabwe on Monday.

    Sadio Mane’s recent form has raised eyebrows, while the fitness of Kalidou Koulibaly — who has not played since early December — has sparked concerns.

    Thus, only a strong showing by Aliou Cisse’s team will quieten the mild pre-tournament apprehension.

  4. Perennial underachievers Morocco do battle with Ghana
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    Perennial underachievers Morocco do battle with Ghana

    The North African nation have struggled to pull up trees at the finals, suffering a stunning round of 16 exit at the hands of unfancied Benin in Egypt 2019.

    The Atlas Lions enter almost every Afcon as one of the favourites to succeed but have never quite managed to add to their only title from 1976.

    They face-off with four-time winners Ghana in their opening clash looking to record a statement victory against a Black Stars side that will aim to do likewise.

    Despite previous success at the finals, the West African nation have had little joy since their last success in 1982.

    Without a doubt, both teams will strive to lay down a marker in Sunday’s meeting.

  5. Nigeria's ambition to thrive despite untoward preparation
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    Nigeria's ambition to thrive despite untoward preparation

    The Super Eagles’ build-up to Afcon has seen them change manager, lose their star player to coronavirus and witness a raft of forced withdrawals either through injury or technicalities.

    It remains to be seen how Augustine Eguavoen gets the most out of a jumbled group at the finals, but they cannot mope over events of the past weeks with their clash with Egypt drawing near.

    While the three-time African champions have suffered defeats against Morocco and Tunisia (2004) and Algeria (2019) at previous finals, they will look to end their North African hoodoo against the Pharaohs led by the irrepressible Mohamed Salah.

  6. Algeria & Ivory Coast's desire to punish inexperienced Sierra Leone & Equatorial Guinea
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    Algeria & Ivory Coast's desire to punish inexperienced Sierra Leone & Equatorial Guinea

    Unbeaten in over 30 games, Djamel Belmadi’s team aim to flex their collective strength against a Sierra Leone side making their first Afcon appearance since 1996.

    The North Africans are huge favourites for maximum points and the talented defending champions will look to begin the defence of their title on a positive note.

    In the other game in Group E, an Ivory Coast side possessing the attacking talent of in-form Ajax frontman Sebastien Haller, Wilfried Zaha and Nicolas Pepe will aim for a good start against Equatorial Guinea who are competing in only their third Afcon.

    This year’s edition represents the first time the Central African nation will make it to the finals outside the years they have hosted or co-hosted.

    With first spot likely to be between Algeria and the West African nation, on paper at least, neither will want to drop points in their opening game.