Africa Cup of Nations 2019: Expert Picks and Predictions, Schedule and Odds

African soccer's reputation took a major blow a year ago, when the continent's five representatives all failed to make it past the group stages at the World Cup.

Fast forward 12 months and African soccer has the chance to restore some pride and to put itself in the shop window when the Africa Cup of Nations kicks off on Friday, June 21.

For the first time since its inception in 1957, the tournament has been switched from January to June to bring it in line with other continental competitions.

That should ensure the tournament draws a global audience as it will be the only major competition running—the Gold Cup, the Copa America and the Women's World Cup will all be over by the time the Africa Cup of Nations reaches the quarter-final stage.

At the same time, the calendar switch also means games could be played in searing heat when the tournament is hosted by a country north of the Equator, as is the case this year in Egypt.

Weather conditions aside, the 32nd edition of the competition promises to be one of the most open in recent memory. The hosts can count on a fully fit Mohamed Salah, who is fresh from winning the Champions League with Premier League side Liverpool less than three weeks ago.

His club teammate Sadio Mane is the main reason why Senegal believes it can win the tournament for the first time and the two teams are joint-favorites at 4/1.

Ghana at 5/1 and Nigeria follow at 11/2, while Morocco is 8/1 to end a 43-year wait for a continental title and defending champions Cameroon are a 14/1 outsider.

Here's what some experts have had to say ahead of the tournament.

Mohamed Salah, Africa Cup of Nation
Mohamed Salah of Liverpool bites his winners medal during the UEFA Champions League Final between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool at Estadio Wanda Metropolitano on June 1 in Madrid, Spain. Robbie Jay Barratt/Getty

Ed Dove—ESPN

Home advantage and a fully fit Mohamed Salah should see Egypt go far in the tournament as it hopes to put last year's first-round elimination at the World Cup behind it.

"Salah and the Pharaohs also have a point to prove after their first World Cup since 1990 proved to be a miserable, point-less affair.

They haven't had the luck of the draw this time around, but an organised structure, the experience of Javier Aguirre, and Salah, who heads into a major tournament in full fitness after his injury nightmare 12 months ago, sets them among the favorites."

Roger Milla—Cameroon striker 1973-1994

Milla believes the Indomitable Lions have what it takes to defend the title but concedes pressure will be on coach Clarence Seedorf.

"He must make the right choices," he told BBC Sport.

"He has to set up a team that will suit the attributes of his players. Cameroon must defend properly but also have a good attack line that can make the difference when things get tough."

Mark Gleeson—Reuters

Gleeson believes moving the tournament to the summer as opposed to its traditional winter slot could have a major impact on players, some of whom have nine months of soccer in their legs.

"[Mohamed Salah] has been given time off to go on holiday after a long season, only joining up with his team mates last Wednesday, but there will be questions over whether mental and physical fatigue will affect his potential for another talismanic performance," he wrote.

"The same is true for club mate Sadio Mane, who leads a credible challenge from Senegal."

Steve Price—Forbes

Senegal has never won the Africa Cup of Nations but arrives into the tournament as Africa's number one team according to FIFA rankings. Price believes the Teranga Lions have what it takes to lift the trophy for the first time.

"They have Liverpool's Sadio Mane up front, but tournament success is often built on a strong defense, and there aren't many better defenders in the world than Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly, who heads up probably the best back line in the tournament."

Nick Ames—ESPN

Salah and Mane are the two brightest stars in the tournament and Ames suggests the Liverpool duo might not have a better chance to leave their mark on the tournament.

"Both players are at the peak of their careers and may have no better chance of victory. If Egypt and Senegal win their respective groups, the pair would be on course to meet in a potentially classic semifinal."

Schedule

The schedule for the first round of games is as follows (all times ET).

Friday, June 21

  • Egypt vs Zimbabwe, 4 p.m.

Saturday, June 22

  • DR Congo vs Uganda, 10:30 a.m.
  • Nigeria vs Burundi, 1 p.m.
  • Guinea vs Madagascar, 4 p.m.

Sunday, June 23

  • Morocco vs Namibia, 10:30 a.m.
  • Senegal vs Tanzania, 1 p.m.
  • Algeria vs Kenya, 4 p.m.

Monday, June 24

  • Ivory Coast vs South Africa, 10:30 a.m.
  • Tunisia vs Angola, 1 p.m.
  • Mali vs Mauritania, 4 p.m.

Tuesday, June 25

  • Cameroon vs Guinea-Bissau, 1 p.m.
  • Ghana vs Benin, 4 p.m.
Africa Cup of Nations 2019: Expert Picks and Predictions, Schedule and Odds | Sports