Africa Cup of Nations 2021: Preview, stars to watch, schedule and more

Africa's continental football showpiece is about to kick off and global stars like Mo Salah, Sadio Mane, and Riyad Mahrez are ready to light it up. Here's what you need to know.

By Ken Browne

It's all eyes on African football as some of the biggest names in the game get set for the Africa Cup of Nations 2021.

The 33rd edition of AFCON is hosted by Cameroon across five cities in a 24-team tournament that will play out over four weeks in January and February 2022.

And with the rise of African talent worldwide and the likes of Egypt's red-hot Mohamed Salah, Senegal's hitman Sadio Mane, and reigning champions Algeria boasting the talents of Riyad Mahrez and Said Benrahma, this could be the best Africa Cup of Nations yet.

Here's a guide to the tournament including a preview, schedule, stars to watch and more.

When is the African Cup of Nations 2021?

AFCON 2021 runs from Sunday 9 January to Sunday 6 February 2022.

Originally scheduled for June and July 2021 the tournament was rescheduled twice due to 'unfavourable climatic conditions' and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Who are the stars to watch at the African Cup of Nations 2021?

A star-studded tournament awaits at AFCON 2021.

The Cote D'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) reached the quarter-finals at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, led by Manchester United player Eric Bailly in the heart of defence.

Bailly will be directing affairs from the back once more in Cameroon, ably aided by former Spurs, Paris Saint-Germain and current Villareal defender Serge Aurier. 'The Elephants' will also be boosted by the arrival of twin-threat Wilfried Zaha and Arsenal’s Nicolas Pepe up front.

Egypt made it to the last eight in Tokyo and they were knocked out by eventual champion Brazil. Their star man Mo Salah was named in the Olympic squad but eventually dropped due to his club Liverpool's decision not to allow him to travel to Japan.

'The Pharoahs' will have a huge boost with Salah ready to star in Cameroon: Egyptian fans will be hoping that the current Premier league top scorer can help fire them to a record eight African title.

Coach Carlos Queiroz has bolstered the Egyptian squad with the call-up of Salah, Arsenal's Mohamed Elneny, Al Ahly keeper Mohamed El-Shennawy, and Aston Villa winger Mahmoud 'Trezeguet' Hassan.

Senegal are stacked with star names too like Salah's Liverpool strike partner Sadio Mane, world-class centre-back and captain Kalidou Koulibaly, who plays in Italy for Napoli, and the Premier League duo of Edouard Mendy and Chiekhou Kouyate joining PSG's Idrissa Gana Gueye.

Then there's Algeria who have an attacking line-up that'll give defenders waking nightmares, led by Mahrez and West Ham winger Benrahma with Adam Ounas (Napoli, Italy) and Islam Slimani (Lyon, France) ones to watch too.

At the back the experienced Issa Mandy, who plays in Spain's La Liga with Villarreal, is rocklike.

Then there's Morocco's Sevilla trio of goalkeeper Yassine Bono, and attacking double threat Munir El Haddadi, and Youssef En-Nesyri.

But they won't have Barcelona's exciting 20-year-old wide man Ez Abde as Xavi has convinced him that Barca need him and he has an important role to play over the next few weeks.

And we still haven't talked about a certain Pierre Emerick Aubameyang who'll lead the Gabon line.

You could go on.

Like Nigeria's rising Premier League star Emmanuel Dennis, Leicester City’s holding midfielder Wilfred Ndidi and his Foxes teammate Kelechi Iheanacho.

And on.

African Cup of Nations 2021: Who are the favourites?

So who will go all the way to the final and lift the ACON trophy at the newly built 60,000 seater Olembe Stadium in Yaounde on 6 February?

For many the reigning champs are top of the pile: Algeria have arguably the most complete team and lifted silverware in December at the FIFA Arab Cup in Qatar.

While a vastly changed side will take to the field in West Africa, the Fennec Foxes are on a roll and have gotten into that healthy habit of winning.

But in 2019 Algeria defeated Senegal by a single goal in the final, and now Koulibaly, Mane and co. are more motivated than ever to take that final step up to a first ever AFCON title.

Senegal have a stability brought by coach Aliou Cisse who's been with The Lions since 2015, and during his tenure they have qualified for the 2018 World Cup in Russia and made that AFCON final a couple of years ago.

Contrast Senegal's managerial continuity with Nigerian instability as manager Augustine Eguavoen has been in the job less than a month after Gernot Rohr was shown the door, and the Super Eagles will have to find some unity fast if they are to add to their three CAN titles.

They have plenty of talent, but can they get it together on and off the pitch fast enough to mount a challenge?

Egypt are contenders too with Salah spearheading a seriously talented side, and the Cote D'Ivoire will also believe they can do some damage with Zaha and Pepe on board.

You can never write off the hosts and Cameroon will be quietly confident coming into this tournament, a lack of flashy names at big European clubs could work in their favour as they have had more time to play together and build up some team spirit.

Look out for Morocco too, a young hungry side aiming for a first podium since 2004 when they were runners-up to Tunisia.

African Cup of Nations: Schedule

Here's a basic schedule of the action in Cameroon, you can find the official schedule on the tournament site here.

Group Stage Games

9-20 January

Round of 16

23-26 January

Quarter finals

29-30 January

Semi-finals

2-3 February

Final

6 February

Samuel Eto'o in action during the  the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations in Angola.
Picture by 2010 Getty Images

African Cup of Nations: Records and Stats

Most titles

Egypt: 7

Successive title wins

Egypt: 2006, 2008, 2010

Overall top goalscorer

Samuel Eto'o (CMR): 18

Highest goalscorer in a single tournament

Ndaye Mulamba (Zaire): 9 (1974)

Most tournament appearances

Rigobert Song (CMR), Ahmed Hassan (EGY): 8

Watch African Cup of Nations live

Where can I watch African Cup of Nations?

Here's how and where to watch AFCON on TV and live streaming around the world:

Algeria EPTV
Asia-Pacific beIN Sports
Australia beIN Sports
Bangladesh Sony SIX, SONY ESPN
Benin ORTB
Bhutan SONY SIX, SONY ESPN
Brazil SporTV
Cape Verde RTC
Caribbean Flow Sports,
Central America ESPN
Colombia Caracol TV, RCN television
DR Congo CTNC
Egypt Time Sports, Arena Sport
Equatorial Guinea RTVGE
France beIN Sports
Gabon GTV
India SONY SIX, SONY ESPN
Ireland RTE, Eurosport Ireland
Israel Sport 5
Italy FOX Sports Italia
Cameroon CRTV
Japan NHK
Maldives SONY SIX, SONY ESPN
Mali ORTM
MENA beIN Sports
Mexico Televisa, ESPN
Morocco Sky Net
Mauritania TV de Mauritanie
Nepal FOX Sports Netherlands
New Zealand Sky Sports
Pacific Islands Sky Sports
Pakistan SONY SIX, SONY ESPN
Portugal Eurosport Portugal
San Marino FOX Sports Italia
Senegal RTS
South Africa SABC
South Korea JTBC3 Fox Sport
Spain Eurosport Spain
Sub-saharan Africa SuperSport, CANAL+Afrique, TV5 Monde Afrique
Sri Lanka SONY SIX, SONY ESPN
Sweden C More
Togo TVT International
Tunisia ERTT
Turkey Tivibu Sport
United Kingdom (UK) BBC, Sky Sports
United States (US, USA) beIN Sports, Univision
Vatican City FOX Sports Italia

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