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2019 Africa Cup of Nations preview, schedule, predictions

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The 2019 Africa Cup of Nations kicks off in Egypt on Friday and for the first time in its history the tournament will be played during the summer months.

It will also be the largest-ever AFCON tournament, with 24 teams competing to be crowned as Champions of Africa.

[ LIVE: Africa Cup of Nations scores

Egypt, the runners up two years ago as they lost to Cameroon in the final, are favorites and will have a huge support on home soil, while Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana and the Ivory Coast will all be favored to make deep runs.

The likes of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Riyad Mahrez will lead their respective nations, as plenty of Premier League stars will be strutting their stuff.

Below is everything you need to know ahead of the tournament kicking off on June 21 (the final is in Cairo on July 19) including the full schedule, group stage predictions and which Premier League stars you can keep an eye on in Egypt.


TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE

Group stage

June 21
Group A: Egypt v Zimbabwe – Cairo International Stadium

June 22
Group A: Democratic Republic of Congo v Uganda – Cairo Stadium
Group B: Nigeria v BurundiGuinea v Madagascar – Alexandria Stadium

June 23
Group D: Morocco v Namibia – Al Salam Stadium, Cairo
Group C: Senegal v Tanzania, Kenya v Algeria – 30 June Stadium, Cairo

June 24
Group D: South Africa v Ivory Coast – Al Salam Stadium
Group E: Tunisia v Angola, Mauritania v Mali – Suez Stadium

June 25
Group F: Cameroon v Guinea-Bissau, Ghana v Benin – Ismailia Stadium

June 26
Group B: Nigeria v Guinea – Alexandria Stadium
Group A: Uganda v Zimbabwe, Egypt v DR Congo – Cairo Stadium

June 27
Group B: Madagascar v Burundi – Alexandria Stadium
Group C: Algeria v Senegal, Kenya v Tanzania – June 30 Stadium

June 28
Group E: Tunisia v Mali – Suez Stadium
Group D: Morocco v Ivory Coast, Namibia v South Africa – Al Salam Stadium

June 29
Group E: Mauritania v Angola – Suez Stadium
Group F: Cameroon v Ghana, Benin v Guinea-Bissau – Ismailia Stadium

June 30
Group B: Madagascar v Nigeria, Alexandria Stadium
Group B: Burundi v Guinea – Al Salam Stadium
Group A: Egypt v Uganda – Cairo Stadium
Group A: Zimbabwe v DR Congo – June 30 Stadium

July 1
Group D: South Africa v Morocco – Al Salam Stadium
Group D: Namibia v Ivory Coast – June 30 Stadium
Group C: Kenya v Senegal – June 30 Stadium
Group C: Tanzania v Algeria – Al Salam Stadium

July 2
Group F: Benin v Cameroon – Ismailia Stadium
Group F: Guinea-Bissau v Ghana, Suez Stadium
Group E: Mauritania v Tunisia – Suez Stadium
Group E: Angola v Mali – Ismailia Stadium

Round of 16

July 5
Match 41: Group D winners v 3rd Group B/E/F – Al Salam Stadium
Match 38: Group A runners-up v Group C runners-up – Cairo Stadium

July 6
Match 42: Group B runners-up v Group F runners-up – Alexandria Stadium
Match 39: Group A winners v 3rd Group C/D/E – Cairo Stadium

July 7
Match 37: Group B winners v 3rd Group A/C/D – Alexandria Stadium
Match 40: Group C winners v 3rd Group A/B/F – June 30 Stadium

July 8
Match 43: Group E winners v Group D runners-up – Suez Stadium
Match 44: Group F winners v Group E runners-up – Ismailia Stadium

Quarterfinals

July 10
Match 45: Winners match 38 v Winners 41 – June 30 Stadium
Match 48: Winners 42 v Winners 39 – Cairo Stadium

July 11
Match 47: Winners 43 v Winners 40 – Suez Stadium
Match 46: Winners 37 v Winners 44 – Al Salam Stadium

Semifinals

July 14
Match 49: Winners 45 v Winners 46 – June 30 Stadium
Match 50: Winners 47 v Winners 48 – Cairo Stadium

Third-place

July 17
Match 51: Losing semifinalists – Al Salam Stadium

Final

July 19
Match 52: Winning semifinalists – Cairo Stadium


PREMIER LEAGUE STARS TO WATCH

Mohamed Salah (Egypt)

Sadio Mane (Senegal)

Wilfried Ndidi (Nigeria)

Idrissa Gueye (Senegal)

Riyad Mahrez (Algeria)

Victor Wanyama (Kenya)

Wilfried Zaha (Ivory Coast)


PREDICTIONS

Group A
1. Egypt
2. DR Congo
3. Uganda
4. Zimbabwe

Group B
1. Nigeria
2. Guinea
3. Burundi
4. Madagascar

Group C
1. Senegal
2. Algeria
3. Kenya
4. Tanzania

Group D
1. Ivory Coast
2. Morocco
3. South Coast
4. Namibia

Group E
1. Tunisia
2. Mali
3. Mauritania
4. Angola

Group F
1. Ghana
2. Cameroon
3. Benin
4. Guinea-Bissau

African Champions League Final second leg to be replayed

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Wydad Casablanca is going to get its second chance to win a second leg, while Esperance Tunis has to return its trophy and medals.

Moroccan side Wydad left the pitch in the second leg of the African Champions League final after a goal it scored was disallowed.

[ MORE: Premier League VAR details ]

That gave Esperance the title by forfeit, the leg still tied at 1 from the first leg.

Wydad scored a goal and the teams were not informed that VAR was unavailable due to a technical malfunction. Incredulous that the review was not taking place, Wydad left the field after an hour-long protest.

The first leg didn’t go well either, with a referee suspended for incorrectly judging a pair of VAR requests.

So, yes, this has all been handled very poorly.

In any event, the Club World Cup field will not be decided until the eve of the 2019-20 club season, as the second leg won’t be replayed until after the Africa Cup of Nations. That runs from June 21 until July 19.

Liverpool duo, Aubameyang are CAF Player of the Year finalists

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Mohamed Salah‘s bid to become the third player to win consecutive African Player of the Year awards faces some stiff competition.

[ MORE: Top PL storylines, Wk 21 ]

Salah (Egypt) is joined by Liverpool teammate Sadio Mane (Senegal) and Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon) as finalists for the confederation’s award, set to be handed out Jan. 8 in Senegal.

The Egyptian won in 2018 — his first year as a finalist — edging second place Mane and third place Aubameyang last year. Aubameyang won the award in 2015, and Leicester City’s Riyad Mahrez claimed the honors in 2016.

Salah will be the heavy favorite despite Aubameyang’s outstanding year, if only because he was the lone member of the three to appear in the 2018 World Cup.

Still injured from a Sergio Ramos challenge in the UEFA Champions League Final, Salah scored both of the Pharoahs goals as Egypt failed to claim a point in a group with Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Uruguay.

Salah already won the BBC’s award. Surprisingly, Aubameyang was left off the BBC’s five-man shortlist, which instead chose Kalidou Koulibaly, Mehdi Benatia, and Thomas Partey. That’s trying a bit too hard, in this man’s view. Alex Iwobi and Wilfred Ndidi were also denied by the CAF.

El Hadji Diouf, Samuel Eto'o, and Yaya Toure were the others to win back-to-back African POTY honors.

Ethiopia-Eritrea thaw continues with plans for soccer game

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ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) Ethiopia and Eritrea will meet in a football friendly next month, another move marking the swift end to their 20-year state of war.

Ethiopia’s state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate reported the game will take place in late August in the Eritrean capital Asmara.

[ MORE: Pellegrini ready for more in Rome ]

The match will be the first between the East African nations in more than two decades. It comes amid a surprising and sudden diplomatic thaw between two countries that fought a border war from 1998 to 2000 that killed tens of thousands.

The first step to ending one of Africa’s longest-running conflicts came last month when Ethiopia’s reformist new prime minister fully accepted a peace deal that ended the border conflict.

Since then, the leaders of the countries have visited the other and agreed to reopen embassies. Commercial flights between the two have restarted.

Mohamed Salah claims African Player of the Year

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Liverpool and Egypt star Mohamed Salah has been named the African Player of the Year for 2017.

The 25-year-old attacker beat out Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Borussia Dortmund/Gabon) and club teammate Sadio Mane (Senegal) for the honor.

[ MORE: Grading every PL club’s festive season ]

He’s the second-straight Premier League player to win the honor after Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City. Aubameyang won the award in 2015, breaking Yaya Toure’s four-peat.

Salah has 23 goals and eight assists in 29 matches for Liverpool since arriving from AS Roma this summer (he scored 10 goals and added nine assists between January and the end of i Lupi’s season).

He also scored the World Cup clinching goal for Egypt in World Cup qualifying.