ESPN'S (almost) complete guide to (most) Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers

Sadio Mane's Senegal and Riyad Mahrez's Algeria will be two of the top contenders at the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon. Ulrik Pedersen/NurPhoto via Getty Images

As Africa Cup of Nations qualification comes to a conclusion, ESPN run the rule over all 24* qualifiers for next year's continental showpiece in Cameroon.

*Note: Benin or Sierra Leone

The 24th and final qualifier is yet to be decided, with the last Group L fixture between Benin and Sierra Leone not yet taking place due to the coronavirus controversy that surrounded Monday's fixture.

Benin, who reached the quarter-finals last time around, will be confident of matching that return if they avoid defeat in the rescheduled fixture against Sierra Leone in June to qualify.

The Leone Stars, who must win to progress, would be outsiders to advance to the knockouts.

The other 23

Algeria

How did they qualify? Scored 19 goals en route to topping Group I, although they were held away in Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Previous best performance: Reigning champions, having previously won in 1990.

Star man: Riyad Mahrez

Reasons for optimism: Exceptional firepower, quality supporting cast, and the experience of winning.

Reasons for concern: Too many ageing players in key positions, and a defence that conceded three away in Zambia and two away in Zimbabwe.

Dove's prediction: Runners-up

Burkina Faso

How did they qualify? Topped Group B ahead of fancied Uganda, conceding just twice.

Previous best performance: Runners-up in 2013

Star man: Betrand Traore

Reasons for optimism: Additions of Bryan Dabo, Edmond Tapsoba and Lassina Traore give the Stallions the air of dark horses.

Reasons for concern: Local coach Kamou Malo is inexperienced at this level, and there's a lack of strength in depth.

Dove's prediction: Quarter-finals

Cameroon

How did they qualify? Hosts

Previous best performance: African royalty, having won the title on five occasions.

Star man: Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting...even if his call-up for the last international break got 'lost in the post'.

Reasons for optimism: Home comforts; Egypt, Tunisia, South Africa and Algeria have all won the title as hosts.

Reasons for concern: Head coach Toni Conceicao is yet to convince after replacing Clarence Seedorf, and there's still something of a haphazard nature around the federation's organisation.

Dove's prediction: Round of 16

Cape Verde

How did they qualify? Held their nerve in their final group game to defeat Mozambique away and qualify from Group F.

Previous best performance: Quarter-finalists in 2013

Star man: Ryan Mendes

Reasons for optimism: Defensively stout - didn't concede a single goal away in the qualifiers, while unity and morale unlikely to be beaten.

Reasons for concern: A lack of genuine star power, with no players in Europe's big five leagues.

Dove's prediction: Quarter-finals

Comoros

How did they qualify? Unbeaten at home, dogged away, they qualified from Group G ahead of Kenya and Togo.

Previous best performance: Debutants

Star man: El Fardou Ben Nabouhane

Reasons for optimism: Can enter the tournament with nothing to lose, and will punish those who underestimate them.

Reasons for concern: Conceding four goals in six qualifiers is a concern, and they'll be up against tougher defences than Kenya and Togo in Cameroon.

Dove's prediction: Group Stage

Egypt

How did they qualify? Overcame a slow start to win Group G.

Previous best performance: Seven-time winners, having last clinched the title in 2010.

Star man: Mohamed Salah

Reasons for optimism: Tight understanding among the many Al-Ahly and SC Zamalek members of the squad, while Salah is one of Africa's all-time greats.

Reasons for concern: Key players such as Abdallah El Said and Tarek Hamed aren't getting any younger, while all three centre-backs are the wrong side of 30. Do any of their centre-forwards truly convince, either?

Dove's prediction: Quarter-finals

Equatorial Guinea

How did they qualify? Home victories over Libya and Tanzania meant a second-placed Group J finish behind Tunisia.

Previous best performance: Fourth-placed in 2015.

Star man: Pedro Obiang

Reasons for optimism: Obiang's decision to represent Equatorial Guinea -- rather than Spain -- has given the Central Africans some midfield clout.

Reasons for concern: There are limited options beyond Obiang and Emilio Nsue, with a squad drawn largely from domestic football and Spain's lower leagues.

Dove's prediction: Group Stage

Ethiopia

How did they qualify? Imperious at home, they eclipsed Madagascar to finish second in Group K.

Previous best performance: Winners... albeit way back in 1962

Star man: Getaneh Kebede

Reasons for optimism: Striker Kebede has achieved precious little outside his homeland during his club career, but his awesome international goalscoring record makes him a talismanic presence.

Reasons for concern: Three defeats away from home during the group stage suggest they might be a fish out of water in Cameroon.

Dove's prediction: Group Stage

Gabon

How did they qualify? Took four critical points from the Democratic Republic of Congo to advance from Group D.

Previous best performance: Reached the Last Eight in 1996 and 2012.

Star man: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Reasons for optimism: They aren't all about Aubameyang, with Denis Bouanga and Aaron Boupendza helping to create space and opportunity for the Arsenal striker.

Reasons for concern: They can be brittle -- and lost without Auba -- with defeats away in Angola and Gambia exposing their limitations.

Dove's prediction: Round of 16

Gambia

How did they qualify? The success stories of the qualifying campaign, topping Group D ahead of Gabon and the DRC.

Previous best performance: Debutants

Star man: Omar Colley

Reasons for optimism: Coached well, unified group, afraid of no one, and they've begun to believe that anything is possible after immense progress of recent years.

Reasons for concern: Captain Pa Modou Jagne isn't the only player in the club who's currently without a club... and he's been unemployed since July 2020.

Dove's prediction: Group Stage

Ghana

How did they qualify? Winners of Group C, playing their part in South Africa's elimination.

Previous best performance: Four-time winners... but not since 1982.

Star man: Thomas Partey

Reasons for optimism: The Ayew brothers and Thomas Partey are all potential match-winners, while young Ajax midfielder Mohammed Kudus has made an encouraging start to international football.

Reasons for concern: A natural successor to Asamoah Gyan is yet to be unearthed, while questions persist about mentality and aptitude.

Dove's prediction: Round of 16

Guinea

How did they qualify? Group A runners-up

Previous best performance: Defeated finalists in 1976, during the golden era of Guinean football.

Star man: Naby Keita

Reasons for optimism: Unleashed with the Syli Nationale, Keita in full flow is a force of nature, and the kind of game-changer that Liverpool fans may not recognise.

Reasons for concern: They risk being over-reliant on Keita, particularly offensively, and his injury ahead of the 2019 tournament left Guinea exposed.

Dove's prediction: Round of 16

Guinea-Bissau

How did they qualify? Beat Congo-Brazzaville 3-0 in their final group game to pip the Red Devils to a spot in Cameroon.

Previous best performance: Eliminated in the group in their two previous outings

Star man: Hard to choose between widemen Piqueti and Jorginho

Reasons for optimism: When they turn it on going forward -- such as in the second half against Congo -- they can be a devastating prospect, but they'll be up against stronger opponents at the Afcon.

Reasons for concern: Diaspora talent has strengthened the squad, but there's still a lack of star power and they can be turned over by very mediocre opponents.

Dove's prediction: Group Stage

Ivory Coast

How did they qualify? Overcame an early defeat in Ethiopia to win Group K.

Previous best performance: Winners in 1992 and 2015

Star man: Franck Kessie

Reasons for optimism: The defence -- bolstered by Willy Boly -- contains four former AFCON winners, Kessie is one of Africa's best midfielders, and Sebastien Haller could be a magnificent addition to a fine forward line.

Reasons for concern: Head coach Patrice Beaumelle convinced influential midfielder Serey Die to come out of international retirement because he's looking for 'soldiers'. The FC Sion man will be 37 when the tournament kicks off, yet his recall hints at problems of attitude and determination elsewhere in the squad.

Dove's prediction: Semi-finalists

Malawi

How did they qualify? Beat Uganda at home on the final day to pip the Cranes to the tournament.

Previous best performance: Group-stage eliminations in 1984 and 2010.

Star man: Gabadinho Mhango

Reasons for optimism: South Africa-based trio Mhango (Orlando Pirates), and Gerald Phiri and Richard Mbulu (both Baroka) can pack a punch.

Reasons for concern: Apart from a few players in Moldova or Georgia, Malawi's entire squad are based in Southern or Central Africa...how will they cope with the continent's best based in Europe?

Dove's prediction: Group Stage

Mali

How did they qualify? Comfortable Group A winners, losing only a dead rubber against Guinea.

Previous best performance: Runners-up in 1972

Star man: Diadie Samassekou

Reasons for optimism: Midfield will run all day, ensuring Mali are competitive, while the likes of Moussa Djenepo provide menace going forward.

Reasons for concern: Moussa Marega is Mali's all-time top scorer in the Champions League, but he has ignored call-ups since the 2019 AFCON. He may turn up, but if he doesn't, where will the goals come from?

Dove's prediction: Round of 16

Mauritania

How did they qualify? Low-frills, low-drama progression from Group E, ahead of Burundi and the Central African Republic.

Previous best performance: Debutants in 2019, they fell at the first hurdle.

Star man: Ismael Diakite

Reasons for optimism: Workmanlike outfit who qualified for their maiden tournament last time around, they remain hard to beat.

Reasons for concern: Have struggled to really offer a goal threat under Corentin Martins; convincing Fulham's Aboubakar Kamara to commit represents an upgrade though, and he scored the decisive winner against the CAR.

Dove's prediction: Round of 16

Morocco

How did they qualify? Conceded just once -- the best defensive record in the campaign -- to top Group E.

Previous best performance: Winners in 1976

Star man: Achraf Hakimi

Reasons for optimism: Awesome defence, well organised, creative flair in Hakim Ziyech, goal threat in Youssef En-Nesyri... and there's a sense that this team have a few more gears yet.

Reasons for concern: Morale appears low, while coach Vahid Halilhodzic chops and changes extensively with his team selection.

Dove's prediction: Quarter-finalists

Nigeria

How did they qualify? Group L winners, qualification was secured with two games to spare.

Previous best performance: Three-time winners; the iconic sides of 1980 and 1994, as well as Stephen Keshi's 2013 champions.

Star man: Wilfred Ndidi

Reasons for optimism: Quality options across the park -- particularly in the final third -- and optimism that problem left-back and goalkeeping positions might finally be solved.

Reasons for concern: Nigeria only rarely seem to pull all of their promising elements together, with searing attacking displays contrasting starkly with listless, anonymous displays.

Dove's prediction: Semi-finalists

Senegal

How did they qualify? Advanced with ease from a straightforward Group I... the only blemish being that they required a 96th-minute equaliser from Cheikhou Kouyate to take a point from lowly Eswatini at home in their final qualifier.

Previous best performance: The biggest African nation never to clinch the title, Senegal were twice defeated finalists...including in 2019.

Star man: Sadio Mane

Reasons for optimism: There's continuity and consistency from the 2019 finalists, and with Mane in his prime, they've never been better placed to win their first African title.

Reasons for concern: A lack of midfield creativity; they scored just two goals in their last three qualifiers against fairly limited sides, and can struggle to break opponents down.

Dove's prediction: Winners

Sudan

How did they qualify? Beat South Africa in Omdurman to eliminate Bafana.

Previous best performance: Fallen giants, having won the title in 1970

Star man: Saifeldin Bakhit

Reasons for optimism: Since Hubert Velud took the reins, Sudan have been riding the crest of a wave, and having beaten both Ghana and South Africa in recent months, they will fear no one.

Reasons for concern: An almost entirely home-based squad could be out of their depth.

Dove's prediction: Group Stage

Tunisia

How did they qualify? Group J winners, taking three points in five of their six matches.

Previous best performance: Champions on home soil in 2004

Star man: Wahbi Khazri

Reasons for optimism: The likes of Khazri, Seifeddine Jaziri and Youssef Msakni have the nous, creativity, and finishing touch to hurt any African opponent. Enough key players are in their prime.

Reasons for concern: Tunisia will be competitive and tough to beat once again, but when was the last time they actually beat one of Africa's big teams in a major knockout game? (Answer: 2004)

Dove's prediction: Quarter-finalists

Zimbabwe

How did they qualify? Capitalised on Zambia's latest implosion to advance from Group H along with Algeria, and had qualification wrapped up before losing to neighbours the Chipolopolo in Gameweek 6.

Previous best performance: Four previous appearances... without ever escaping the group

Star man: Tino Kadewere has replaced Khama Billiat as the key threat

Reasons for optimism: Mobile, pacey strikers who can exploit space

Reasons for concern: Lightweight, and tendency for over-elaboration

Dove's prediction: Group Stage