African football is on the rise and there are many pointers to it, key among them being the nations traditionally considered small standing up to the bigwigs and registering shock results. Upsets are no longer rare in the African football scenes; talk of Nigeria’s 1-0 home loss to Central African Republic, or Nigeria’s bizarre 4-4 draw at home to Sierra Leone.
It is down to some of these shocks that we get to see some of the really low ranking nations in world football gracing the topmost competition on the continent at the expense of the greats. In the 2019 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) finals, we had Madagascar as the surprise package. Going by the qualifiers to the 2021 showpiece, Comoros are clearly the shock qualifiers.
The finals are set for Cameroon starting January, 9th 2022 and this time round, the perks will be bigger for the winners. Algeria bagged $4.5m for winning the tournament in 2019, this time there will be an additional $2.5m for the winning team.
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The 2021 AFCON competition will be a good mix of the big and small footballing nations. Each of the top 11 nations in Africa qualified while there are teams ranked below 100 in the world also taking part. As the tournament approaches, we examine some of the big names in the top 100 FIFA rankings that will watch the competition from home.
DR Congo: Among the top teams that failed to secure spots at the 2021 AFCON is DR Congo. Two time winners of the African gong, in 1968 as Congo-Kinshasa and 1974 as Zaire, they have participated in 19 editions of the competition, which makes them one of the biggest teams in the continent. DR Congo are ranked 64th in the world and 12th in Africa; their absence makes them the highest ranked nation to miss out.
South Africa: The decline of South African football has been evident in recent years and their failure to make it to this edition of the competition wasn’t a big surprise. Bafana Bafana have lived off the success of winning the 1996 AFCON, and while they are better organized than most African nations, they still have a lot to do to match the footballing greats. South Africa are ranked 13th in Africa and 68th in the world, which makes them the second highest ranking nation to miss out.
Uganda: The highest ranking East African nation, Uganda has recently been a regular at the AFCON finals. Not this time though and it all came crumbling after away losses to South Sudan and Malawi in a troubled campaign that saw big names turn their backs from the national team. Uganda have never won the AFCON title but are one-time finalists. Ranked 16th in Africa and 82nd in the world, they are among the top nations to miss out.
Zambia: The Southern Africa nation are two-time finalists and winners of AFCON in 2012. Ranked 18th in Africa and 88th in the world, they will join other previous winners of the competition in watching from home. In the qualifiers, they landed in a group that seemed easy, facing neighboring Botswana and Zimbabwe, but it was Zimbabwe and Algeria who qualified, with Zambia coming out third.