Group D, the “Group of Death” - Namibia, South Africa, Ivory Coast, Morocco
Dubbed “the group of death,” group D of AFCON 2019 is arguably the toughest one of the eight determined by CAF in April. Three teams, Morocco, South Africa and Ivory Coast, have the potential to make it to the round of 16. Namibia also makes their appearance in the group of death after qualifying for the showpiece, for the first time since 2008. South Africa make an AFCON comeback after failing to book a spot in the 2017 edition and also making his anticipated entry in group D is Africa’s favourite Frenchman, Morocco’s current coach Herve Renard. The gaffer has coached 5 African national teams, leading two of them to AFCON titles including including Ivory Coast who will go head to head against Morocco.
The Elephants of Ivory Coast
Anchored by the talent pool of local based players, two-time AFCON champions Ivory Coast have more than fair odds of progressing to the knock out stage. Ivory Coast is synonymous for grooming world class players; this year is no different with a roster of experienced and highly skilled players. The forward trio of Cornet, Zaha and Nicolas Pepe make up a must see combination that will likely give defenders a run for their money. The Elephants’ young talent represented by Pepe, Ibrahim Sangaré and ASEC defender Wonlo Coulibaly is exciting to watch and will usher in the new generation of household names to continue the legacy of the Ivorian greats. Ivory Coast generally has an advantage when it comes to the attacking part of play.
Eric Bailly's injury is a bit of a knock for the Elephants on the backline but despite this setback; the Elephants still have Wonlo Coulibaly and Tottenham defender, Serge Aurier.
South Africa’s Bafana Bafana
Bafana is hoping to make a strong come back to Africa’s biggest tournament after missing out in 2017. After qualifying alongside Nigeria in Group E, unbeaten if I may add, the Southern African giants are in form. Stuart Baxter has named a provisional 30-man squad where he chose to take the mostly young talent from the local ABSA Premier League to Egypt. Percy Tau is one of the biggest names on the team and Bafana’s star player. Missing from the squad is veteran goalkeeper Itumeleng Kune due to an injury, making the first choice for the goalkeeper a toss-up between Wits United goalie Darren Keet, Ronwen Williams of SuperSport and Kaizer Chiefs’ Bruce Bvuma.
The Atlas Lions from Morocco
After making their world cup campaign where they exited in the group stages, Morocco will attempt glory at the continental stage which they last tested in 1976. The Atlas Lions are a firm favourite to progress to the knock out round of the showpiece after qualifying with ease. As would be expected, Herve Renard stuck to his world cup squad in the provisional 27-man roster with the same players that held Spain to a 2-2 draw in Russia 2018. The North African team is not short of powerhouse names — some of those featured are Saudi League top scorer Abderazzak Hamdallah, former Juventus defender Mehdi Benatia and the subject of major transfer speculation in Europe’s top leagues, Ajax midfielder Hakim Ziyech.
Namibia and their Brave Warriors
Namibia is the lowest ranked team in the group D line-up. The Brave Warriors qualified in the most dramatic fashion as a fortuitous fateful turn of events saw them added to the 24 team roster despite losing to Zambia 1- 4 on final match-day. Unfortunately for Namibia, they will come into AFCON after being knocked out in the first stage of COSAFA Cup, not the preferred momentum. They will begin their AFCON campaign against Morocco.
Fixtures not to miss
Morocco vs Ivory Coast
Morocco and Ivory Coast are both former winners. The last time that the Elephants won, they were under the coaching of Herve Renard, Morocco's current coach. Ibrahim Kamara's men have the biggest challenge of the group against the Atlas Lions. Nicolas Pepe’s 22 league goals and 11 assists which helped Ligue 1 side, Lille OSC finish second and secure a Champions League qualification making him a star to watch. He has solidified himself as a critical player in the Ivorian squad. Morocco will likely win their match-ups against Namibia and South Africa, while the Ivory Coast - South Africa game is still a coin toss. This match is the toughest one to predict because Morocco and Ivory Coast are on equal footing in most regards. It is a must watch of the group stage to see how Herve Renard will fare against his former employers.
South Africa vs Namibia
Bafana Bafana will have better odds against Namibia. However, the Namibians will have to win this match to stand a chance of reaching the knockout stages. Overall, South Africa are the stronger side, Namibia will have to break through Stuart Baxter's defensive formation, which will not be an easy task for the Brave Warriors. A win for Bafana will rattle the qualifying race against Ivory Coast.