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Africa Cup of Nations qualifying: Who's heading to Cameroon?

Nigeria defender Kenneth Omeruo.
Nigeria defender Kenneth Omeruo.

The dust has barely settled on the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, and the continent's top sides are already embroiled in a fascinating race to reach the World Cup in Russia next year.

However, the next cycle of Africa's continental showpiece is already upon us, with qualifiers set to begin in earnest for the 2019 event this weekend.

In this feature, KweséESPN's Ed Dove presents his group-by-group rundown of the Afcon qualifiers, and predicts which of the continent's sides are heading to Cameroon.

Group A: It's hard to look too far beyond Senegal following their encouraging showing at the Nations Cup, where they romped through the group stage before falling in the quarterfinals.

Equatorial Guinea haven't built on their run to the semis on home soil in 2015, and while Sudan are an ominous threat at home, expect Madagascar just to make up the numbers.

Group B: Hosts Cameroon are competing in Group B, but are already secured a spot on home soil and their results won't be counted. Herve Renard's Morocco are the overwhelming favourites, and Malawi and Comoros are unlikely to have the quality to oust them into the top two spots.

Group C: One of the more fascinating groups in qualifying, where both Mali and Gabon will be desperate to bounce back from disappointing Nations Cup campaigns.

The Panthers were dumped out in the first round on home soil, but in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, boast arguably Africa's top player in the world today. Les Aigles kept faith with Alain Giresse after a disappointing Afcon, but is he the right man to integrate their talented young generation?

Burundi and South Sudan complete the group.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang couldn't muster a winner against Burkina Faso.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang couldn't muster a winner against Burkina Faso.

Group D: Algeria have the quality to take top spot in Group D, but just how quickly can Lucas Alcaraz pick the Fennecs up after a miserable Nations Cup?

The North African giants' hopes of ending a period of instability will be tested by Togo -- who can still call upon Emmanuel Adebayor -- and Benin, one of Africa's most improved sides. The Gambia are the group's 'minnows'.

Group E: Nigeria and South Africa will each have been concerned when the groups were drawn.

Bafana Bafana were complicit in the Super Eagles' failure to reach the 2015 showpiece, although new South Africa coach Stuart Baxter will be desperately seeking solutions to shackle the West Africans' exceptional firepower.

Libya might be hoping they can capitalise if the two big boys take points from each other, although don't back the Seychelles to take any points.

Group F: Ghana are one of Africa's giants who appear vulnerable ahead of the qualification campaign. They've been pooled alongside Kenya -- perennial underachievers who are riding a wave of optimism in recent months -- and Ethiopia, who demonstrated their own attacking quality against Algeria in Afcon 2017 qualification.

Sierra Leone aren't going to be walkovers either, and have learned how to trouble bigger sides in recent years.

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Group G: Zimbabwe and the Republic of Congo were two of the surprise packages of the 2017 and 2015 Nations Cups respectively, and will be desperate to return to the continental high table.

They both represent hard opponents for group favourites Democratic Republic of Congo, although the Leopards are a settled ship under Florent Ibenge, and should have enough to advance.

Liberia are the fourth team in the group.

Group H: Continental heavyweights Ivory Coast enter the qualifying campaign as a wounded beast after a miserable title defence in Gabon and a thoroughly humiliating friendly demolition at the hands of the Netherlands.

Nonetheless, they should have enough quality to take the group, as while Guinea, Rwanda and the Central African Republic can take points off each other, it's hard to envisage any finding the consistency to unsettle the Elephants.

Group I: Burkina Faso are the outstanding team in the group, and will be expected to reach Cameroon at the expense of Angola, Botswana and Mauritania.

Os Palancas Negras' stock has fallen in recent years since they reached the World Cup and posted back-to-back Afcon quarterfinal finishes, while the Stallions demonstrated in Gabon that they have the youngsters coming through to replace their golden generation.

Essam El Hadary of Egypt
Essam El Hadary of Egypt

Group J: Egypt returned to the continental high table in style this year -- finishing runners-up -- but their momentum will be severely tested after being drawn alongside Tunisia.

The North African giants kick off their group campaign with a derby this weekend, which could set the tone for the campaign. Niger and Swaziland look unlikely to unsettle the big two.

Group K: It will be fascinating to see whether Guinea-Bissau can sustain their recent climb up the continental rankings. They fell at the first hurdle in their maiden Nations Cup, but gave a good account of themselves.

Zambia are perhaps a safer bet to win the group, although neither Mozambique nor Namibia will be easy foe.

Group L: Group seeds Cape Verde might have been encouraged when the groups were drawn and they were pitted against Uganda -- on paper, the second weakest of the second seeds.

However, the Cranes' reputation has been bolstered after impressing in patches at the Afcon, and the nous of Milutin Sredojevic could see them edge past the islanders.

Underachievers Tanzania were eased out of the way by Nigeria and Egypt during qualification for the 2015 Nations Cup, while tiny Lesotho may have beaten Seychelles in March 2016, but won't cause an upset here.

Best-placed runners-up: Three teams will also join the 12 group winners and hosts Cameroon at the finals in early 2019, with sides likely to require at least three wins to progress.

Whichever side fail to top Group J -- out of Egypt and Tunisia -- will fancy their chances, while Angola could join them in the tournament if they fall short in the tangle with Burkina Faso.

Similarly, while Gabon and Mali will be desperate to top Group C, either could console themselves with the presence of minnows Burundi and South Sudan -- and the opportunity to take maximum points from those four fixtures.

Ed Dove is the Soccer Editor for KweséESPN. Follow him on Twitter @EddyDove.


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