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AFCON: Old favourites need big AFCONs

After two postponements, the Africa Cup of Nations 2021 has finally got underway in Cameroon this month and two countries many would expect to do well are Nigeria and Egypt.

The pair start their Group D campaigns on Tuesday against one another at Garoua's Roumde Adjia Stadium, with Nigeria 19/10 to win the match, Egypt 7/4 to prevail and the draw 19/10 and all the action available as part of the Sports Live Streaming.

But while they remain two of the most decorated nations in AFCON history, they are perhaps not the continental heavyweights they once were.

Pharaohs can boast the most AFCON titles

Egypt won the inaugural edition of AFCON all the way back in 1957 when only three teams participated and have gone on to win the title a total of seven times - more than any other country.

They became the only nation to win three successive crowns between 2006 and 2010. However, the Pharaohs have since failed to cause a stir on the continental stage and were thoroughly disappointing at the last World Cup, failing to record a point as they finished bottom of Group A in 2018.

Group D
Egypt
Guinea-Bissau
Sierra Leone
Sudan

As for Nigeria, their last continental title came more recently but was still nearly a decade ago in 2013 and their current crop seems a far cry from the Super Eagles side of the 1990s, who twice reached the last 16 of the World Cup and won this tournament in 1994.

Back then current coach Augustine Eguavoen played at the back while former Bolton midfielder Jay-Jay Okocha was coming through the ranks in midfield.

The country also achieved four third-placed finishes in five AFCON tournaments between 2002 and 2010 but it is hard to see the current side emulating those performances.

Managerial switch could hinder Super Eagles

For starters, there has been inconsistency in the dugout.

Manager Gernot Rohr was dismissed from his position only four weeks before this tournament, with Eguavoen replacing him solely for this AFCON. Portuguese coach Jose Peseiro is then set to take the reins afterwards.

They have been fairly steady in World Cup qualifying recently but lost to Central African Republic and drew with Cape Verde as part of that campaign. They also shipped more than a goal per game in AFCON qualifying despite only having Sierra Leone, Lesotho and Benin in their group.

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Ultimately, they do not possess the same fear factor they once did heading into their opening game of this tournament.

Striker Kelechi Iheanacho has been lacking in the final third, while winger Samuel Chukwueze has only recently come back from a lengthy spell on the sidelines.

There is also uncertainty regarding who should be their first-choice goalkeeper while captain William Troost-Ekong has been uninspiring for club side Watford. Wilfred Ndidi is at least a reliable option in midfield, though.

With all things considered, it is clear to see why Nigeria are seen as somewhat of a sleeping giant.

They are 5/4 to win the section - which also features minnows Guinea-Bissau and Sudan - with Egypt rated 8/11 but while the Pharaohs do look better prepared than Nigeria, they are also not without their faults.

Salah central to Egypt's chances

They looked a long way off the team who dominated in the late 2000s when playing at the last edition of this tournament, which they hosted.

Despite playing on home soil, they suffered a shock when knocked out by South Africa, who are not even at this tournament, in the last 16.

They at least made the semi-finals of the Arab Cup last year and will be looking to the Premier League's top scorer Mohamed Salah for moments of magic but there are a number of teams fancied to go further at this year's AFCON.

One-sided affair expected for Algeria

Also in action on Tuesday, and available on the Sports Live Streaming are reigning champions Algeria, who are 1/14 to win their opener against minnows Sierra Leone, who can be backed at 33/1 and the draw is 9/1.

They are undoubtedly one of the teams to beat, having won the Arab Cup at the end of 2021 with a weakened squad.

They are also on a 34-game unbeaten run in all competitions and possess plenty of attacking verve with Manchester City's Riyad Mahrez leading a front line which also features reliable Al Sadd striker Baghdad Bounedjah and Said Benrahma of West Ham.

Group E
Algeria

Equatorial Guinea

Ivory Coast
Sierra Leone

As for their opponents Sierra Leone, simply being at the tournament is an achievement in itself.

The nation have not been in an AFCON tournament in 26 years and have never before progressed beyond the group phase.

But with both Algeria and Ivory Coast in their section, that will once again be a tall order with veteran forward Kei Kamara and former Tottenham defender Steven Caulker, who is in line for his debut after officially switching allegiance last year, their only notable talents.

Algeria are 8/13 to win the group, with Sierra Leone 40/1 to top the section.

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