AFCON 2022: Everything you need to know about the Arab teams

Algeria captain Riyad Mahrez lifts the trophy as his team celebrate winning the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations Final between Senegal and Algeria
8 min read
08 January, 2022
With the 2022 African Cup of Nations kicking off in Cameroon this Sunday, how will the Arab teams stack up against this year's competition? Who are the star players and who are this year's dark horses? Find out in our preview below.

The African Cup of Nations kicks off on Sunday with 24 teams vying for the continent’s biggest prize. Divided into six groups of four, the top two progress to the knockout stage along with four of the best performing runners-up.

Arab nations have a fine record, winning 12 out of 32 titles and are in the running for the prize once again in Cameroon.

Morocco (World Ranking 28)

The first big clash of the tournament takes place as Morocco meets Ghana on Jan.10 with both teams having aspirations of lifting the title.

After winning in 1976, Morocco has underachieved in the tournament. The team is full of European-based stars but the build-up has been overshadowed by the Hakim Ziyech affair. 

The 28-year-old, who can play as an attacking midfielder or winger, plays for European champions Chelsea and is one of the top players in Europe. Yet, he has been left in London by coach Vahid Halilhodzic over disciplinary issues. It remains to be seen how the team manages without its star player.

Morocco's team pose for a picture before the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations group E qualifying football match between Morocco and Mauritania [Getty Images]
Morocco's team pose for a picture before the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations group E qualifying football match between Morocco and Mauritania [Getty Images]

Coach: Vahid Halilhodžić. The Bosnian has experience in Africa as he took Ivory Coast and Algeria to World Cups though has yet to make an impact at the AFCON. Will be judged on his decision to leave Ziyech out.

Star Player: Achraf Hakimi. The versatile right-back is only 23 but has already played for some of the world’s biggest teams in Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Inter Milan and, now, Paris Saint-Germain. His speed, experience and expertise in defence and attack are vital for Morocco.

Prediction: Will get out of the group and will be satisfied with reaching the last four for only the second time in over three decades. Could go further, however.

Comoros (World Ranking 132)

In the first appearance in a major tournament, anything can happen. The lack of pressure and expectation can be liberating. Comoros doesn’t have the star power of many rivals but does have excitement, togetherness and a great team spirit with many of their players based in France.

With Ghana and Morocco expected to top the group, then much depends on the opening game with Gabon and their Arsenal talisman Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. If Comoros can shock the Panthers then the route to the knockout stage opens up.

Players of Comoros pose for a team photo ahead of 2019 Africa Cup of Nations Qualification match between Morocco and Comoros in Casablanca, Morocco
Players of Comoros pose for a team photo ahead of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations Qualification match between Morocco and Comoros in Casablanca, Morocco [Getty Images]

Coach: Amir Abdou. The 49-year-old is one of the longest-serving coaches in the world and is entering his eighth year in charge of Comoros. 

Star Player: El Fardou Ben Mohamed. The veteran striker arrives from legendary European club Red Star Belgrade where he has been banging in the goals. His goal scoring record for his country is equally impressive. The 32-year-old will have to be at his best. 

Prediction: The top two places are surely out of reach but Comoros will be aiming for third.

Egypt (World Ranking 45)

The most successful team in the history of the tournament with seven titles to their name expect and demand success in Africa. It was 2010 when the last trophy was lifted however and the last tournament, on home soil, was disappointing as the Pharaohs were knocked out in the second round. 

There could be no better way to start a World Cup year than by becoming continental champions. The squad does not have the depth of some of their rivals but the organisational talents and pragmatism of new coach Carlos Queiroz will make them hard to beat.

Egyptian footballers pose for a team photo prior to the African Cup of Nations 2019 qualifier football match between Egypt and Swaziland
Egyptian footballers pose for a team photo prior to the African Cup of Nations 2019 qualifier football match between Egypt and Swaziland [Getty Images]

Coach: Carlos Queiroz. One of the most respected international coaches has qualified teams for no less than four World Cups. The former Real Madrid manager is one of the best tactical minds in football and could take Egypt all the way.

Star Player: Mohamed Salah. An easy choice as the forward is the biggest star in the entire tournament and the red-hot Liverpool legend is perhaps the best player in the world at the moment. That reputation will be cemented if he leads Egypt to another title.

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Prediction: You can never rule out Egypt but while the team can go far, rivals such as Algeria, Senegal, Cameroon and others look that little bit stronger.

Sudan (World Ranking 125)

It feels like a long time since Sudan, one of the founding members of African football, won the championship back in 1970 and this is a first appearance at the continental stage since 2012. Football in the country is going through a difficult time and it was something of a surprise that ‘Secretary Birds’ qualified at all though a win over South Africa was impressive.

The team relies heavily on local talent but preparation has also not been great. Coach Hubert Velud was fired after the disappointing performance in the Arab Cup last month and the team has not recorded a single win in the last 11 games. A good start is essential but it may be a case of getting experience for the future.

The Sudan national football team pose for a picture during the Cameroon 2021 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifying match between South Africa and Sudan
The Sudan national football team pose for a picture during a Cameroon 2021 African Cup of Nations qualifying match between South Africa and Sudan [Getty Images]

Coach: Burhan Tia. The caretaker coach has plenty of experience in Sudanese club football but will have his work cut out in Cameroon.

Star Player: Ali Abu Eshrein. The veteran goalkeeper will have to be at his very best to ensure that Sudan doesn’t concede.

Prediction: Will be fighting it out with Guinea-Bissau for that coveted third place but would also love to trouble neighbours Egypt. 

Algeria (World Ranking 29)

The defending champions are the team to beat –along with Senegal –and arrive in Cameroon on the back of an amazing 33-game unbeaten run. 

Algeria’s second-string team finished 2021 by winning the Arab Cup in an impressive fashion. The performances in Qatar demonstrated the growing strength in depth that the coach Djamel Belmadi can call upon.

Now the big boys have arrived and the Fennecs look strong, very strong indeed. There has always been talent in the country but under Belmadi, there is discipline, hard work and a winning mentality. Algeria is so strong that they are more focused on the World Cup but winning in Africa would be perfect preparation.

Algeria's starting eleven pose for a group picture during the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations group H qualifying football match between Algeria and Zambia
Algeria's starting eleven poses for a group picture during the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations Group H qualifying football match between Algeria and Zambia [Getty Images]

Coach: Djamel Belmadi: The former midfielder may not be a household name outside the country but is hugely popular in Algeria. Single-minded and professional, he seems to be the perfect leader for a talented team.

Star Player: There are a few to choose from but Riyad Mahrez is having a great season with perhaps the best club team in the world at the moment – Manchester City. He is the top scorer at the club and arrives after scoring in the last four games. After going from strength to strength under Pep Guardiola, Mahrez could take the tournament by storm.

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Prediction: Only a win will do and Algeria are more than capable of a successful defence. The danger may be the weight of expectations back home.

Tunisia (World Ranking 30)

The Carthage Eagles are a well-drilled, well-organised and hard-working dark horse. At the very least, they will be hard to beat and will never give up. The question that needs to be answered is whether they have that little bit of creativity and magic going forward that can make a difference in the tightest of situations. 

The record in the tournament is not what it should be with one title that was won back in 2004. The signs this time are encouraging as the team impressed in the recent Arab Cup, pushing Algeria all the way in the final.

The group should present a few problems and Tunisia will be tough opponents in the knockout stages but in recent years, the team have struggled to beat the very best of African football and this will be the challenge this time around too.

Tunisian players pose for a photo before the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations group J qualifying football match between Tunisia and Libya [Getty Images]
Tunisian players pose for a photo before the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations Group J qualifying football match between Tunisia and Libya [Getty Images]

Coach: Mondher Kebaier. The 51-year-old knows Tunisian football as well as anyone though there are some reservations back home as to whether he has what it takes to handle a cosmopolitan and talented squad. 

Star Player: Wahbi Khazri. The experienced striker has a solid goalscoring record in the top tier of French football and the same is true for Tunisia. 

Prediction: Tunisia is one of the contenders. The last four is a realistic target but will need a little luck to go all the way,

Mauritania (World Ranking 103)

A second appearance at the tournament and Mauritania will be hoping to go further than 2019 when they went out at the group stage. It won’t be easy.

Results of late haven’t been great but the team is unpredictable. At the Arab Cup, a 5-1 thrashing at the hands of Tunisia was followed by a 2-1 win over a decent Syria team. Draws against Burkina Faso and Gabon in the last week are also encouraging.

Mauritania's team pose for a picture before the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations group E qualifying football match between Morocco and Mauritania
Mauritania's team pose for a picture before the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations group E qualifying football match between Morocco and Mauritania [Getty Images]

Coach: Didier Gomes da Rosa. The Frenchman has a great deal of experience in Africa and taking Mauritania into the second round would be one of his greatest achievements. 

Star Player: Abdoul Ba, The giant defender is the team’s leader and the Libyan-based veteran will need all of his experience. 

Prediction: Will be fighting it out with Gambia and their meeting in the opening game will be crucial to taking third place and having a chance of getting to the last 16.

John Duerden has covered Asian sport for over 20 years for The Guardian, Associated Press, ESPN, BBC, New York Times,  as well as various Asian media. He is also the author of four books.

Follow him on Twitter: @johnnyduerden