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Seven bold predictions for African football in 2020

This week's Confederation of African Football Awards in Egypt brought the curtain down on another 12-month cycle in the African game, with Sadio Mane, Asisat Oshoala and Achraf Hakimi foremost among those honoured.

While the ceremony represents an opportunity for African football to look back over the previous 12 months and take stock, it's also an ideal occasion to look forward and predict how the next year will look. Here are seven predictions for the next 12 months of African football.

Naby Keita and Nicolas Pepe to come good

As Riyad Mahrez, Mohamed Salah and Mane contested the African Footballer of the Year award following superb calendar years in 2019, Keita and Pepe are coming off the back of difficult spells.

Keita took time to adapt to life at Liverpool after arriving from RB Leipzig, and had just begun to find his place at Anfield when injury struck during their UEFA Champions League run.

Pepe has done little -- bar glimpses of his excellence -- to justify his £72 million price tag since arriving at Arsenal from LOSC Lille, where he had a role in 33 goals last season to secure Champions League qualification.

However, the new year should bring improved fortunes for these two, who certainly have the quality to bounce back from their hardships.

Pepe will hope that a change of regime at the Emirates will prompt an upturn in fortune for everyone at the club, which, as he adapts to life in England, should help him find his feet. He was superb in the 2-0 New Year's Day victory over Manchester United -- scoring in that triumph -- and he can be a key figure in Mikel Arteta's Arsenal revolution.

"Pepe is a great player with big resources, and is a goalscorer," Leeds United coach Marcelo Bielsa said in his press conference before his side's FA Cup meeting with the Gunners.

"[He's] a player who is able to unbalance a match, [with] obvious skills. When you have all of these skills in one player, the value is £70 milliion. It was just a matter of time before he showed those skills."

Keita is currently sidelined again, but if Liverpool do round off their title triumph before the season's end, then he should have ample opportunity to forge a long-awaited midfield partnership with Fabinho and reveal the attributes that make him such an intoxicating blend of creativity and destruction.

Cameroon to reach the Women's Olympics

The African women's football calendar for 2020 begins with one of the biggest double-headers of the year, as Cameroon and Zambia compete for a place at the Japan Olympics.

Zambia smashed Zimbabwe, breezed past Botswana and edged out Kenya in qualifying matches, with the likes of Racheal Kundananji and Grace Chanda in imperious form, and they have the firepower to trouble Cameroon, who have been much less convincing against Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ivory Coast.

- Udoh: Oshoala's record win scant consolation for Nigeria at CAF awards

However, the Indomitable Lionesses, who were named the 2019 African Women's Team of the Year after their exploits at the Women's World Cup in France, have the experience and the nous of navigating such fixtures.

They're expected to squeeze out Zambia to progress to the Olympics, where they'll be confident of a much more accomplished showing than their early exit in 2012.

It won't all be over for Shepolopolo, however, as the losers face a two-legged playoff against Chile for a ticket to Tokyo.

The continued demise of Kenyan football

Kenyan football is in a bad place, and things may only get worse in 2020.

The withdrawal of primary sponsor SportPesa has had a dramatic financial impact on the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) and various domestic heavyweights, several of whom relied on the company to stay afloat.

Former champions Sony Sugar have been relegated due to missing matches amid chronic financial troubles, while other clubs find themselves in harm's way. The knock-on effects are proving devastating for clubs, with players resigning or going AWOL to seek new employers with wages not being paid.

Those in charge of running the nation's football -- both the Kenyan football federation (FKF) and the KPL -- appear to be out of ideas in terms of how to compensate for the fiscal shortfall, and, with no solutions on the horizon, things appear set to get a lot worse before they get better.

Morocco to retain the African Nations Championship

The 2020 African Nations Championship (Chan) in Cameroon in April represents an opportunity for the continent's home-based stars to take centre stage, and make the most of a platform that can have a transformative impact on a player's career.

There are several teams to watch, including Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Tunisia, but for we can look no further than Morocco as prospective winners.

The Atlas Lions, who won on home soil in 2018, cruised past neighbours Algeria in qualification, despite being without some of their top stars, and they have strength in depth that no other nation can match.

The impressive form of Botola teams in CAF competitions is testament to the wealth of quality on home soil, and the likes of Ayoub El Kaabi, Soufiane Rahimi and Mohamed Nahiri should have too much for the rest of Africa.

Kaizer Chiefs to follow in Liverpool's footsteps

The biggest headline that world football is anticipating in 2020 is Liverpool finally getting their hands on the Premier League title, their first English championship since 1990.

However, the Reds aren't the only domestic giants hoping to end a long wait for a league title over the coming 12 months, with South Africa's Kaizer Chiefs also praying that 2020 is the year they finally win the Premier Soccer League again.

Amakhosi haven't gone title-less as long as the Reds-- last winning the South African league in 2015 -- but the five-year wait has been excruciating, with Chiefs embarrassingly finishing ninth last term, 20 points off champions Mamelodi Sundowns.

This season, however, they're a galvanised force under the guidance of German coach Ernest Middendorp, and they are six points clear of Downs at the top of the table with 16 matches played.

There's still a long way to go, but with a few key January signings -- Anthony Akumu has already arrived from ZESCO United -- and with no continental distractions, Chiefs have the quality and momentum to mark their golden jubilee with silverware.

Gambia to reach their first Africa Cup of Nations

The Scorpions have improved immensely under the tutelage of Tom Saintfiet, who remained at the helm following an encouraging 2019 Nations Cup qualifying campaign.

On that occasion, the West African minnows fell short despite holding eventual champions Algeria home and away.

Already, in the 2021 qualifying campaign, they've taken four points from two games, including a 3-1 victory in Angola in November that set the tone for the challenges to come. For context, that was Gambia's first ever away win in a qualifying tie for either Afcon or the World Cup, although such is their improvement under the Belgian coach that it wasn't an immense surprise.

A double-header against Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's Gabon in late August and early September will be decisive, but if the West Africans -- ranked No. 159 in the world -- can maintain their core, and recruit a few new faces, then a first Afcon qualification may be theirs by the year's end.

Hakimi to establish himself at Real Madrid

Hakimi can look back over an excellent year, in which he established himself as one of the finest young full-backs in Europe on loan at Borussia Dortmund, helping to transform them into viable title contenders again last term.

Things could have ended differently had injury not curtailed his contribution, but his four goals in six Champions League group stage games in the latter part of 2019 demonstrates just how far he's progressed.

Dortmund have already expressed a desire to retain Hakimi when his two-year loan deal comes to an end, while Marca has reported that Bayern Munich have asked Los Merengues about the wideman's availability.

However, while Hakimi left Real as a prospect after the 2018 Champions League final, he will return as a magnificent, versatile asset, ready to compete for a full-back berth and become a rare African superstar at the Bernabeu.

This could make him one of the most popular players of all time in Real Madrid-mad Morocco!

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