Senegalese great and two-time African Footballer of the Year El Hadji Diouf has declared that the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) will be “hard” for many top teams and tipped hosts Egypt to be “strong” contenders although he believes whoever hopes to be champions will have “to be ready mentally and physically”.
The ex-Liverpool forward who was in Nigeria for an exhibition match in honour of outgoing governor of Lagos State Akinwunmi Ambode, knows a bit about what it takes for a successful run in Africa’s premier football showpiece having been the star of the Senegal team which came within whiskers of the 2002 AFCON title in Mali only to be thwarted by Cameroon on penalties.
Diouf who missed in the shootouts in the 2002 final and was named in the team of the tournament believes the level of competition at the 2019 AFCON will be a lot tougher than in previous editions now that the tournament has been expanded to 24 teams although he predicts that Egypt’s traditional strong showing when hosting the tournament will tilt the balance in their favour.
The Egyptians, record seven times winners of the continental showpiece, have won on three of the four occasions when hosting only failing to win in 1974 when they finished in third place and Diouf who scored 21 goals in 69 appearances for Senegal believes that trend is set to continue at the 2019 edition although he hopes that it is his beloved Senegal who would provide the opposition against the hosts in the final.
“My view of the African Nations Cup is this one is going to be so hard for every team because [there are] so many teams and everybody knows when Egypt organizes most of the time, they win it because they are strong at home and they put pressure [on] all teams.
“When Egypt organize the African Nations Cup it is hard to take it from Egypt. I think Egypt will be very hard to beat at home because they put pressure and they play at home, but I believe the winners of the African Nations Cup is going to be I think so, the team to be ready mentally and physically, and I hope this one is going to be for Senegal.”
Egypt and Senegal have been seeded in Groups A and C respectively at the 2019 AFCON which kicks off on June 21. DR Congo, Uganda, and Zimbabwe make up the rest of Group A while Algeria, Kenya and Tanzania complete Group C.