Experts predict dominance and potential upsets in AFCON 2025 group stages following fixture reveal

AFCON 2023. Photo courtesy: CAF

CAF has unveiled the fixture schedule for the 2025 AFCON qualifiers. The group stage kicks off in September 2024 and wraps up in November 2024, with two match days each in September, October, and November.

By Oliver Ochieng

The draw for the TotalEnergies 2025 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifiers is out, with thrilling games expected throughout the three months of grueling football action across the African continent beginning September.

According to experts perennial powerhouses such as Egypt, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, and South Africa will breeze through the qualifiers, virtually guaranteeing their spots in the 35th edition of the tournament to be hosted by Morocco, from December 21, 2025 to January 18, 2026.  

“Tunisia and Comoros will qualify from Group A,” former Kenyan international and Mara Sugar coach Boniface Ambani told SPNA. “The North Africans will qualify because of the experience of always being there. Comoros, on the other hand, is on an upward trajectory in African football.”

Ambani recently guided his team to the National Super League (NSL) title, and getting promoted to the topflight, Football Kenya Federation (FKF) Premier League for the first time in history.

Besides, Ambani believes some of the 48 teams vying for the 24 AFCON slots could cause a surprise or two, at the expense of established teams. Apart from Comoros and Tunisia, he sees potential in Madagascar and Gambia, often considered underdogs on paper, to qualify.

During the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon, Ahmed Mogni scored a brace for Comoros in their group C’s 3–2 victory over Ghana, in what pundits described as one of the biggest shocks in Nations Cup history.

The former striker also believes hosts Morocco and Gabon will have a smooth sailing in group B, which also comprises Central Africa Republic and Lesotho, while vouching for Egypt and Mauritania in group C, at the expense of Cape Verde and Botswana.

He said the East African trio of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania can both qualify if the right measures, such as proper preparations and players being selected on merit are put in place.

“They just need to put their houses in order and do the right thing. Get the right players, get players on merit,” he emphasized.

Tanzania will play against DR Congo, Guinea and Ethiopia in group H, Kenya plays Cameroon, Namibia and Zimbabwe in group J while Uganda will face Congo Brazzaville, South Sudan and AFCON 2023 third runners up, South Africa, in group K.  

On his side, Fredrick Kulecho, a Kenyan sports journalist and soccer pundit explains that group G which comprises defending champions Côte d’Ivoire, 2012 champions Chipolopolo of Zambia, and minnows Sierra Leone and Chad is the most difficult.

“All said and done, Cote d’Ivoire and Zambia will qualify from the group,” he said. He added that the Teranga Lions of Senegal who clinched the 2021 title in Cameroon, and Burkina Faso will effortlessly qualify from group L, leaving room for Malawi and Burundi to fight another day.  

The qualifiers will start in September 2024 and end in November 2024. There will be two qualifying match days in September, two in October and the final two in November.

The first and runners-up in the eleven 11 groups that do not involve tournament hosts Morocco, will gain qualification to the competition.

2025 AFCON Qualifier groups:

Group A: Tunisia, Madagascar, Comoros, Gambia

Group B: Morocco, Gabon,Central Africa Republic, Lesotho

Group C: Egypt, Cape Verde, Mauritania, Botswana

Group D: Nigeria, Benin Libya, Rwanda

Group E: Algeria, Equatorial Guinea, Togo, Liberia

Group F: Ghana, Angola, Sudan, Niger

Group G: Côte d’Ivoire, Zambia, Sierra Leone, Chad

Group H: DR Congo, Guinea, Tanzania, Ethiopia

Group I: Mali, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau, Eswatini

Group J: Cameroon, Namibia, Kenya, Zimbabwe

Group K: South Africa, Uganda, Congo, South Sudan

Group L: Senegal, Burkina Faso, Malawi, Burundi

Emerse Fae, Cote d’Ivoire coach speaking after the draw was conducted said he expects Zambia to give his Elephants side a rough time during the qualifiers.

“I am satisfied because we are going to play against Zambia, a team that we know very well. In our last qualifying campaign, we lost against them. We know what mistakes to avoid. I am also satisfied because I did not want to have countries geographically far from Cote d’Ivoire which will lessen the travel load,” he told CAF online.

“That said, in Africa, there are no longer small teams. All the teams will want to challenge us because we are the reigning champions,” added Fae.

Chad coach Kévin Nicaise said being grouped against the defending champions means his team has to be at its best throughout the three-months qualifier period.

“We are already having the reigning African champions facing the last qualified team in the FIFA rankings. These will definitely be very difficult matches played at high intensity. We will fight to defend our nation’s pride. The group remains relatively open, and we will approach these qualifications with humility and ambition.”