Group B is the home of three giants and a rank outsider making it a treacherously unpredictable union of heavyweights and a hopeful underestimated proverbial “David”. In spite of their strengths, the three big teams: Senegal, Algeria and Tunisia only have two tournaments among them. One was won in 2004 and another in 1990. These are impressive teams which have almost always been traditionally strong but have underachieved on the continental stage. They will be looking to make 2017 their year but they have to mow through each other and a Zimbabwe with nothing much to lose and everything to gain. This might just be the group of death in the tournament. Nothing is guaranteed in Group B.
The Desert foxes go into the Gabonese hunting grounds as part of a very elite list of teams tipped to take the continental crown home. It will only be the second time this happens with their only other win dating back to 1990. In 1990, Algeria had hosted the tournament but since then, they have not gone beyond the quarter-final stage. The team’s charges will be led by the dangerously effective duo of Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani who both play for Leicester City in the English Premier League. Leicester was the breakout club of the 2015-2016 season. Milovan Rajevac will go into the tournament as the manager after replacing Nabil Neghuz. Rajevac is known for his exploits with Ghana which came second in the 2010 AFCON tournament in Angola when he was manager. He was also the manager when the Ghanaian team cruised to a quarter final finish in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The team is strong, the manager has enough experience but the group will be tricky. Will this team bring an end to a 27 year trophy drought?
Senegal’s chances are really high going into this tournament. There are high expectations for the Lions of Teranga to do well but this is one of the continent’s biggest underachievers. The team only came close to continental victory in 2002 when it came second to Cameroon on a penalty shootout. That 2002, Senegal also progressed to the quarter finals of the World Cup after running right through defending champions, France. This year, Senegal’s Liverpool player, Sadio Mane will be the team’s man to watch. He has scored 9 goals for his club in the Premier Leaguer ad looks poised to wreak havoc. Equally lethal players are Cheihou Kouyate, Mame Biram Diouf, Idrissa Gueye and Diafra Sakho. The team is formidable and might just put an end to the country’s 52 year wait for the AFCON trophy.
In 2004, Tunisia lifted the continental cup but since then, they have failed to go beyond the quarter finals. The Eagles of Carthage will be hoping 2017 is their year with the likes of Valencia player Aymen Abdennour securing the team’s backline. Sunderland player, Wahbi Khazri, an attacking midfielder will also be dangerous going forward. Polish Henryk Wojciech will be team manager. He brings 37 years of experience to a national team which has qualified for 16 tournaments so far. This is a traditionally strong and imposing team, will all these attributes count in its favor?
Zimbabwe’s Warriors will appear for only the third time in the AFCON tournament and are probably the ultimate rank outsiders in the whole tournament. Statistically speaking, their chances are only better than those of Guinea Bissau but the game of football is unpredictable and anything might happen. In their two appearances, they failed to progress beyond the group stage and with a tough group to navigate, this curse might be difficult to shake off in 2017. However, with the dangerous Khama Billiat who plays for African Club champions, Mamelodi Sundowns at the frontline, the Warriors are potentially going to spring a few surprises. Veteran defender Costa Nhamoinesu will hold the backline together and hope to resist attacks from the likes of Sadio Mane and Mahrez. Zimbabwe had an impressive defensive record and emerged top of its group. Lately, the team had financial problems and these may affect its performance as the Zimbabwean newspaper, Daily News said, “…the Warriors have wound up with either zero chance or only a slight chance of emerging victorious with disgruntled players”. Will the warriors mow down the Lions of Teranga, the Desert Foxes and shoot down the Eagles of Carthage?