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AFCON 2021: Profiles Of All 24 Teams – Star Players, Coaches, Tournament Feats

AFCON 2021: Profiles Of All 24 Teams – Star Players, Coaches, Tournament Feats

Ahead of the kick off of the 33rd Africa Cup of Nations, AFCON 2021 in Cameroon, on Sunday January 9, 2022, this piece profiles the 24 teams who are contesting for the ultimate prize – their respective coaches, star players, and each nation’s previous appearances and achievements in the tournament.

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Paul Biya Stadium Yaounde

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GROUP A

CAMEROON

AFCON 2022 Zabira

Qualification: Hosts/Group F winners ahead of Cape Verde, Rwanda and Mozambique

Appearances: 20th (Last appearance: 2019)

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Record: Five time winners (1984, 1988, 2000, 2002, 2017)

Coach: Antonio Conceicao has been in charge since September 2019. His preferred formation is a 4-3-3. The Portuguese tactician has overseen 16 matches, winning 9, losing twice (to Ivory Coast and Cape Verde) and drawing 5 matches. He has quietly and unobtrusively rebuilt Cameroon back into the solid, powerful outfit of old. Not flashy. But efficient. As AFCON 2021/hosts, there is enormous pressure on Conceicao to lead the Indomitable Lions to a sixth African title and failure might cost him his job.

Also Read: Super Eagles Hold First Training Session In Garoua

Key Players: Andre Onana is undisputed number one. Experienced central defender Michael Ngadeu-Ngadjui, who was one of the key pillars on which the 2017 tournament was won. Andre-Frank Zambo-Anguissa has set Serie A alight and is one of the best players in the squad. He will be instrumental to anything Cameroon acheive. Upfront, there are so many talents to choose from like Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting, Karl Toko Ekambi, Jean Bassagog and the man for the big occasion, Vincent Abubakar.

BURKINA FASO

Qualification: Group B winners (ahead of Uganda, Malawi and South Sudan)

Appearances: 12th (Last appearance: 2017)

Record: Runners-up (2013)

Coach: Kamou Malo, appointed in July 2019 and has been in charge for 21 matches, winning 10, losing three and drawing eight. His preferred formation is a 4-2-3-1. His side pushed Algeria hard for a playoff ticket for the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup. In two meetings, they held the African champions to a 1-1 in Ouagadougou and a 2-2 draw in Blida with captain Issoufou Dayo scoring an 83rd minute penalty.

Key Players: No more Aristide Bance but there some experienced and exciting young talents coming through. Goalkeeper Herve Koffi is a dependable shot stopper. Central defender and captain Issoufou Dayo is as solid as they come, a source of goals and is vastly experienced playing in the African continent. He scored the winning goal for his club RS Berkane of Morocco in the 1–0 victory over Egyptian club Pyramids FC in the 2020 CAF Confederation Cup Final. But the biggest star in the team in undoubtedly Aston Villa forward Bertrand Traore. A talented striker capable of playing multiple positions and an excellent finisher.

CAPE VERDE

Qualfication: Runners-up in Group F (1 point behind Cameroon and ahead of Madagascar)

Appearances: 3rd (Last appearance: 2015)

Record: Quarter finals (2013)

Coach: Bubista, appointed in January 2020 and has been in charge for 13 matches winning six, losing three and drawing four. Some of those results have been particularly good, including a 1-0 win away in Mozambique, thrashing Cameroon 3-1 at home and putting Nigeria through the wringer in a 1-1 draw away in Lagos in a Qatar 2022 qualifier. His team is very tactically flexible, depending on the opposition, with 5-4-1 and 3-5-2 against stronger teams, but he usually favours a 4-3-3. Ever since the country started looking at players born abroad over a decade ago, the pool of players eligible for the team as well as quality has improved. Cape Verde have never lost a group stage game at the AFCON (W1 D5), their only win was against Angola in 2013. With Bubista as their coach Cape Verde have lost just one of their 10 official matches, a 2-1 home loss to Nigeria in 2022 FIFAWC Qualifying (W5 D4).

Key Players: 35 year old goalkeeper Vozinha brings bags of experience, the arrival of Irish-born Roberto Lopes has improved defensive solidity and experience while captain and attacking midfielder Ryan Mendes is an experienced campaigner. He is also their top scorer with 12 goals.

ETHIOPIA

Qualfication: Runners-up in Group K (4 points behind Ivory Coast)

Appearances: 11th (Last appearance: 2013)

Record: Winners (1962)

Coach: On 25 September 2020, Wubetu Abate was confirmed as Ethiopia’s manager, signing a two-year contract. In 14 matches he has won six, lost five and drawn three. He swears by the 4-3-3 and his AFCON 2021 squad is dominated by locally based players featuring in the Ethiopian Premier League with only two internationally based players in midfielder Shemeles Bekele (El Gouna, Egypt) and forward Mujib Kassim (JS Kabilye, Algeria).

Key Players: Captain Getaneh Kabede carries a lot of weight on his shoulders. With 32 goals in 61 appearances, his goal per game ratio is one of the best anywhere and he will be instrumental in their offense. Shemeles Bekele is also a vastly experienced midfield operator and the most capped player in the team. Alongside Kabede and goalkeeper Jemal Tasew, the trio are the only players who were part of Ethiopia’s team in their last appearance at the 2013 AFCON held in South Africa. But watch out for Abubaker Nasser. The 22-year old, who can play as a center forward and out wide, has been in blistering form for Ethiopia Coffee, scoring a total of 29 goals in 23 matches last season and already has four goals in eight matches this term.

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Kouekong Stadium, Bafoussam

GROUP B

SENEGAL

Qualification: Group I winners (ahead of Guinea Bissau, Congo and Eswatini)

Appearances: 16th (Last appearance: 2019)

Record: Runners up (2002, 2019)

Coach: Aliou Cissé has been the head coach of Senegal since 2015, having briefly taken charge of them following Amara Traoré’s sacking, in a caretaker role in 2012. One of the longest serving manager’s in Africa, he qualified the Teranga Lions for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, took them to the final of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations and made them Africa’s number one ranked team on the FIFA rankings. He prefers a 4-2-3-1, reminiscent of the late Bruno Metsu who was his coach when Senegal reached the quarter finals of the 2002 FIFA World Cup. He’s been in charge for 63 matches with an impressive 40 wins, nine losses and 14 draws.

Key Players: A team oozing with quality, in goal they have arguably the best goalkeeper in the world in Edouard Mendy, captain Kalidou Coulibaly in central defence is a rock, Idrissa Gueye and Cheikhou Kouyate‘s midfield partnership is impressive while all eyes will be on reigning African footballer of the year Sadio Mane upfront. His pace, dribbling and finishing ability are crucial to success. If Ismailla Sarr can overcome recent fitness problems, he will he a key asset too.

ZIMBABWE

Qualification: Group H runners-up (behind Algeria and ahead of Zambia)

Appearances: 5th (Last appearance: 2019)

Record: Group stage (2004, 2006, 2017, 2019)

Coach: Norman Mapeza was appointed on 15th September 2021 in a caretaker capacity after Zradvko Logarusic was fired during the Qatar 2022 qualifiers. He oscillates between a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-4-2 as he tries to find the best combination from his team. After losing his first three matches, he has followed it up with two draws using the latter formation.

Key Players: Aston Villa defensive midfielder Marvelous Nakamba is injured and will be a big miss at AFCON 2021. As will Kaizer Chiefs attacking midfielder Khama Biliat who retired from international football in November. But they still have topscorer Knowledge Musona who has 23 goals in 47 appearances and Olympique Lyon striker Tino Kadewere who scored 10 Ligue 1 goals last season.

GUINEA

Qualification: Group A runners-up (behind Mali)

Appearances: 13th (Last appearance: 2019)

Record: Runners-up (1976)

Coach: Former striker Kaba Diawara was appointed head coach one month to the start of the AFCON 2021 tournament following the departure of Frenchman Didier Six. Six was relieved off his duties after an abysmal showing in the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifications where they didn’t win a single game. It is the first coaching job for the French-born former striker, who had been serving as Six’s assistant. It remains to be seen if Diawara will stick with or discard his predecessor’s 4-3-3.

Also Read: Revealed: Why Ighalo Won’t Be Part Of Eagles At AFCON 2021 –NFF

Key Players: An embarrassment of riches exists in the midfield. How the coach gets the best out of Amadou Diawara of AS Roma, highly rated Ilaix Moriba, Olympiakos’ Aguibou Camara and Liverpool’s Naby Keita will be crucial. Incredibly talented and capable of dictating the tempo of a game Keita is undoubtedly the team’s talisman. But his horrendous injury record will have fans in Guinea and Liverpool perspiring. Striker Mohamed Bayo has caught the eye with some excellent goals for club and country. He will also be one to look out for.

MALAWI

Qualification: Group B runners-up (behind Burkina Faso)

Appearances: 3rd (Last appearance: 2010)

Record: Group stage (1984, 2010)

Coach: Romanian coach Mario Marinica was appointed to take charge just last month, naming 23 players for the AFCON 2021 tournament in Cameroon in spite of the fact that competing countries are allowed to take 28 players because of Covid-19 concerns. 10 of the players are foreign-based players – five from South African clubs and one each from clubs in Ethiopia, Georgia, Moldova, Mozambique and Tanzania. He went with a 4-1-3-2 in his first match in charge; a 2-1 win in a friendly with Comoros.

Key Players: Center-back and captain Limbikani Mzava‘s presence and cool head will be very important in defence. Striker Gabadinho Mhango will also be a handful for opposing defenders. He needs to get his scoring boots on though. Hasn’t scored for his country since November 2019.

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Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo, Yaoundé

GROUP C

MOROCCO

Qualification: Group E winners (ahead of Mauritania, Central Africa Republic and Burundi)

Appearances: 18th (Last appearance: 2019)

Record: Winners (1976)

Coach: Vastly experienced Vahid Halilhodžić was appointed as manager of perennial underachievers Morocco in 2019 and are unbeaten in 16 straight games in over two years. In 20 matches, his team have won 14, drawn five and lost only one. He favours the 4-2-3-1 which seeks to dominate and attack. Blessed with a particularly talented generation of players, he will be under pressure to deliver a first title in 46 years, especially with his controversial decision to leave out Chelsea’s Hakim Ziyech. Federation president Faouzi Lekjaa has declared that Halilhodžić’s contract will be automatically terminated if he fails to reach the AFCON 2021 semi finals at least.

Key Players: From front to back, Morocco can call on incredible talents. Goalkeeper Yassin Bounou is one of the best in Europe, wing-back Achraf Hakimi and central defender Romain Saiss are superb operators, German-born Aymen Barkok has a lot of work to fill the boots of Ziyech while upront, the lethal duo of Youssef En-Nesyri and Ayoub El Kaabi will scare anyone. Both men are superb finishers.

GHANA

Qualification: Group C winners (ahead of South Africa, Sudan and Sao Tome and Principe)

Appearances: 23rd (Last appearance: 2019)

Record: Winners (1963, 1965, 1978, 1982)

Coach: Milovan Rajevac returned to manage the Ghana national team for a second time after being appointed in September 2021. He is greatly respected in the West African nation after narrowly missing out on a FIFA World Cup semi final in 2010/ He was named CAF Coach of The Year for his team’s exploits in South Africa. With Qatar 2022 qualification looking shaky after a 1-0 loss away in South Africa, Rajevac turned things around with four win and a draw. And he still favours the 4-2-3-1 that proved so successful many years ago.

Key Players: Daniel Amartey has become the undisputed leader of the defence with his tough tackling and detailed passing. The powerful Thomas Partey and his midfield partner Baba Iddrisu are key components of the side. Questions remain over the talented but injury prone attacking midfielder Mohammed Kuddus of Ajax. The Ayew brothers, Andre and Jordan will be the main strikers. Watch out for the brilliant young winger Kamaldeen Sulemana. His dribbling ability and pace are electrifying.

GABON

Qualification: Group D runners-up (behind The Gambia)

Appearances: 8th (Last appearance: 2017 as hosts)

Record: Quarter finals (1996, 2012)

Coach: Frenchman Patrice Neveu has extensive working experience on the African continent and was appointed in May 2019. He has won seven of his 16 matches in charge, losing seven and drawing just two. He also likes to line up with a 4-2-3-1.

Key Players: Central defender Bruno Ecuele-Manga has loads of experience and physicality while Mario Lemina‘s tigerish performance in midfield is invaluable in a team short of star names. That’s because they only have ONE star name, captain and top scorer Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang. Haven fallen out of favour at Arsenal, a good showing in Cameroon for one of the best strikers in the game may help his employers have a rethink or put him in a major shop window to get a move to another big club.

COMOROS

Qualification: Group G runners-up (behind Egypt, ahead of Kenya and Togo)

Appearances: 1st (Last Appearance: None)

Record: None

Coach: The Comoros Football Federation’s (FFC) decision to appoint as Abdou national team coach back in January 2014 came as a surprise to everyone. Entrusting a struggling team to a 42-year-old coach with no real experience was regarded as a brave move by many. The FFC approached Abdou while he was in charge at Entente Golfech-Saint-Paul d’Espis, a team in France’s sixth tier. Born in Marseille in 1972 and of Comorian ancestry, Abdou was initially offered a position as assistant coach to Henri Stambouli. But when Stambouli turned the job down, the FFC made Abdou their head coach, a decision they did not regret. He prefers to play a 4-4-2 with a double pivot (i.e. two defensive midfielders). His record stands at 10 wins, 14 losses and 15 draws.

Key Players: There are no star names in this national team, with most of its members playing in lower divisions in Europe’s top leagues. However defenders Kassim Aballah and Nadjim Abdou (Martigues), midfielder Fouad Bachirou and forward Youssouf M’Changama are regarded by coach Abdou as the spine of the team.

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Roumde Adjia Stadium, Garoua

GROUP D

EGYPT

Qualification: Group E winners (ahead of Kenya, Togo and Comoros)

Appearances: 25th (Last appearance: 2019)

Record: Winners (1957, 1959, 1986, 1998, 2006, 2008, 2010) – 7 times

Coach: An experienced manager who has coached big teams on four continents, the Egyptian Football Association surprisingly announced the signing of Carlos Queiroz to replace Hossam El Badry in September 2021. The Africa Cup of Nations holds sentimental value for Queiroz who was born in Mozambique 68years ago. In charge for just 11 matches which included Qatar 2022 qualifying matches and the FIFA Arab Cup, he has won seven, lost two and drawn one. Another disciple of the 4-2-3-1.

Key Players: Goalkeeper Mohammed El Shenawy is solid and dependable. A good shot stopper and distributor. The defence is built around central defender Ahmed Hegazi. Defensive midfielder Mohammed ElNeny is also important. But there is no bigger player in Egyptian, African and even world football at the moment than Mohammed Salah. His record-breaking season with Liverpool might be the precursor of glory in Cameroon.

NIGERIA

Qualification: Group L winners (ahead of Benin, Sierra Leone and Lesotho)

Appearances: 19th (Last appearance: 2019)

Record: Winners (1980. 1994, 2013) – 3 times

Coach: Longstanding coach, Gernot Rohr, was fired just weeks before the AFCON 2021tournament and replaced with Austin Eguavoen in an interim capacity. Eguavoen led the team to a third place finish in 2006 as coach after winning the tournament as a player in 1994. He leads a team devoid of confidence, character and big names to Africa’s number one sporting tournament with less than 10 full training sessions and no tune up game. With a seemingly top-heavy squad with more forwards than midfielders, expect to see a 4-2-3-1 from Eguavoen.

Key Players: Top striker and Africa’s most expensive footballer of all time Victor Osimhen misses out due to injury while in form Emmanuel Dennis seemed disinterested. Defensive midfielder Wildred Ndidi is now the most important player in the team. Top scorer at the last Africa Cup of Nations, Odion Ighalo’s chances of joining the squad in Garoua was slim at the time of this report as his club remonstrated about a late notification for the striker’s AFCON 2021 assignment. Ahmed Musa brings loads of experience, pace and goals. Watch out for fast and skillful winger Chidera Ejuke as well as Union Berlin striker Taiwo Awoniyi.

SUDAN

Qualification: Group C runners-up (behind Ghana and ahead of South Africa)

Appearances: 9th (Last appearance: 2012)

Record: Winners (1970)

Coach: Veteran Burhan Tia was appointed after Frenchman Herbert Velus was fired following a poor showing by the Falcons of Jediane at the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup, losing all three of their group games while failing to score a single goal and conceding 10. Drawn in Group C, Sudan first suffered a heavy 4-0 defeat to Algeria, before being thumped 5-0 by neighbours Egypt and then surprisingly falling to Lebanon 1-0. Not only this, but they also finished bottom of their World Cup qualifying group with just three points from six games, also failing to win any game in the group that lined up them with Morocco, Guinea-Bissau, and Guinea. They are 11 games without a win. He has deployed a 4-3-3 double pivot in his two games in charge, a 3-2 loss to Zimbabwe and a goalless draw with Zimbabwe. Both were friendly matches.

Key Players: The team is incredibly light on quality and experience. All but two players play outside the country. Goalkeeper Ali Abu Eshrein has the most caps with 21 and is one of their best players. Striker Mohammed Abdel Rahman has 13 goals in 23 appearances. In November 2020, Abdelrahman made history by signing from Algerian side CA Bordj Bou Arréridj to Sudanese side Al-Hilal Omdurman for a Sudanese-record $USD 1 million.

GUINEA-BISSAU

Qualification: Group runners-up (behind Senegal and ahead of Congo)

Appearances: 3rd (Last appearance: 2019)

Record: Group stage (2017, 2019)

Coach: Reappointed in 2017, Baciro Cande is in his second stint as coach of the Wild Dogs after previously handling the team from 2003 to 2010. In 29 matches, he’s just won nine matches, lost 12 and drawn eight, preferring to play a 4-2-3-1. Guinea-Bissau failed to score a goal in their final four World Cup qualifiers, with critics saying it is unacceptable for a team to go so long without finding the net.Critics claim coach Baciro Cando lacks a game plan. His system is not inspired by lively offensive play because he is more concerned with defending.

Key Players: Most of the squad play in the second division in Portugal and France, but midfielders Moreto Cassama, Alfa Semedo who play in the Ligue 1 and the Portuguese top flight respectively, as well as forward Piqueti, who scored one the best goals of the 2017 Nations Cup against Cameroon and plays in Saudi Arabia, are among their main stars.

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Japoma Stadium, Douala

GROUP E

ALGERIA

Qualification: Group H winners (ahead of Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana)

Appearances: 19th (Last appearance: 2019)

Record: Winners (1990, 2019)

Coach: There are many in Algeria who believe Djamel Belmadi is more popular than the president. Known as a player with a nuclear warhead temper, he has since reinvented himself as a tactically astute and authoritative coach. He has enjoyed tremendous success since he became Algeria manager in 2018, lifting the Africa Cup of Nations trophy in 2019 as part of a magnificent run of 34 consecutive matches unbeaten. His team plays an expansive, high octane 4-3-3 but he has occasionally deployed a 4-4-2. A 3-0 destruction of Ghana in a pre-AFCON friendly has raised expectations of back-to-back success in Cameroon.

Key Players: Fourteen of the victorious team of 2019 return with some exciting newcomers added. Experienced goalkeeper Rais M’Mbolhi is solid if unspectacular. Aissa Mandi is a solid presence at the back and full-back Ramy Bensebaini is a lethal mix of workrate, delivery and goalscoring, 2019 AFCON MVP Ismael Bennacer remains one of the best midfielders on the continent. If he is expectedly partnered by 2021 Arab Cup revelation Sofiane Bendebka, there will be trouble. Upront Belmadi is severely spoilt for choice as he can call on the talents of Said Benrahma, Youcef Belaili, Baghdad Bounedjah, Yacine Brahimi and Islam Slimani. But captain Riyad Mahrez is the standout player, capable of match winning magic.

IVORY COAST

Qualification: Group K winners (ahead of Ethiopia, Niger and Madagascar)

Appearances: 24th (Last appearance: 2019)

Record: Winners (1992, 2015)

Coach: Long known as assistant to Herve Renard, Patrice Beaumelle was appointed as manager of the Elephants in March 2021. With the quality of players at his disposal he prefers to employ a 4-3-3. He has been in charge for 14 matches, winning eight, losing just twice and drawing four times. One of those losses was particularly damaging, going down 1-0 to Cameroon in the final group game in the race to Qatar 2022. With no World Cup participation, Beaumelle is under pressure to deliver the Africa Cup of Nations in order to save his job.

Key Players: The defence is led by the tough tackling Eric Bailly and captain Serge Aurier. In midfielder Franck Kessie, they have a powerful, dominant figure. While upfront the exciting talents of Wilfred Zaha, Maxwell Cornet and Nicholas Pepe will cause opposing defenders problems. But if Sebastien Haller can reproduce his awesome goalscoring form with Ajax in Cameroon, then the Elephants could be a force to reckon with.

SIERRA LEONE

Qualification: Group L runners-up (behind Nigeria and ahead of Benin)

Appearances: 3rd (Last appearance: 1996)

Record: Group stage (1994, 1996)

Coach: Just before announcing his squad for the tournament, John Keister revealed that he had received death threats regarding the inclusion of certain players. That is how strongly fans in Freetown feel about the team, adding greater pressure on him and his team who return to the continental showpiece for the first time in almost three decades. He is in his second spell with the team and is tactically flexible using everything from a 4-3-3 in the decisive 1-0 win over Benin which secured qualification, to a 5-3-2 in an enthralling 4-4 draw away to Nigeria where his team dug themselves out of a 4 goal hole.

Key Players: It’s hard to look beyond veteran striker Kei Kamara. He is the fifth all-time leading goal scorer in Major League Soccer and it was his penalty against Benin which sealed qualification. But at 37 it might be asking too much from him. The arrival of former England international Steven Caulker has raised hopes that the team won’t be drowned in goals. The 30 year old recently switched allegiance and brings a physical presence, experience and organizational skills. Also look for 25 year old forward Issa Kallon who has also made the switch from the Netherlands.

EQUATORIAL GUINEA

Qualification: Group J runners-up (behind Tunisia and ahead of Tanzania)

Appearances: 3rd (Last appearance: 2015)

Record: Fourth place (2015)

Coach: On 23 March 2021, Juan Micha signed a one-year contract to take charge of Equatorial Guinea. Two days later, his team defeated Tanzania and qualified to the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations. He has since racked up a decent record, racking up six wins, two losses and two draws. His 4-2-3-1 has troubled many opponents, claiming two major scalp last year beating Zambia 2-0 and Tunisia 1-0 in Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. While the attack has plenty of pace and movement there are plenty of questions around Micha’s defence.

Key Players: Inspirational captain Emliano Nsue is capable of getting his team to raise their game. However he has been clubless for a year so his match fitness will be under question. Experienced goalkeeper Jesus Owono will be key as well as hardworking midfielder Jose Machin.

limbe-stadium-limbe-afcon-2021-africa-cup-of-nations

Limbe Stadium, Limbe

GROUP F

TUNISIA

Qualification: Group J winners (ahead of Equatorial Guinea, Tanzania and Libya)

Appearances: 20th (Last appearance: 2019)

Record: Winners (2004)

Coach: Appointed in August 2019, UEFA Pro License holder Mondher Kebaier has quitely gone about building a hardworking, competitive team. His record stands at 19 wins, five losses and four draws. However he has been criticised for failing to get satisfactory results, after being pushed hard by Equatorial Guinea in the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. His choice of players and defensive tactics have also been repeatedly questioned by fans. But a good run in the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup where they went all the way to the final has silenced them somewhat. He favours a 4-3-3 approach but has been known to deploy a three man defence or five man midfield when facing stronger opposition.

Key Players: Kebaier surprisingly dropped Zamalek midfielder Ferjani Sassi and Pyramids forward Fakhreddine Ben Youssef. But captain Youssef Msakni is set to take part in what will be his seventh successive Africa Cup of Nations and his experience will be key. Fellow forward Wahbi Khazri is a talented and hard working performer but watch out for 18 year old Hannibal Mejbri. He was one of keys to Tunisia’s second-place finish at the FIFA Arab Cup. He played in every match and lit up the midfield with his boundless energy.

MALI

Qualification: Group A winners (ahead of Guinea, Namibia and Chad)

Appearances: 12th (Last appearance: 2019)

Record: Runners-up (1972)

Coach: Veteran coach Mohammed Magassouba has been in charge since September 2017 after leaving his post as technical director of the Mali Football Federation to replace Alain Giresse. He plays a 4-2-3-1 designed to bring the best out of a squad short on star names but high on experience and youth. Nearly all of the young players are accomplished youth internationals, comprising of African champions at Under-17 level, silver medallists at the U17 World Cup or Under-20 World Cup bronze medallists between 2015 and 2017.

Key Players: The return of Yves Bissouma after a self imposed three year exile is a massive boost for the team. The midfielder’s power, positioning and boundless energy is a welcome addition. Alongside highly rated Amadou Haidara, they could form an impregnable partnership. But it is the arrival of a consistent goalscorer in the form of Ibrahima Kone that has gotten long suffering Malian fans believing. The Norway based striker scored five goals in the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers.

GAMBIA

Qualification: Group D winners (ahead of Gabon, DR Congo and Angola)

Appearances: Debutants (Last appearance: 2019)

Record: None

Coach: Tom Saintfiet has won 10 of his 23 matches in charge, losing eight and drawing five. But the record does not speak highly enough about how he plotted a successful qualifying campaign ahead of bigger and more established teams like Gabon, the DR Congo and Angola. However fans continue to be unconvinced and unappeased by Saintfiet, constantly criticising his team selection and style of play. He favours a 4-2-3-1 but also employs a 4-3-3 occassionally.

Key Players: Central defender Omar Colley will bring all his experience playing in the Serie A with Sampdoria to bear. He is the rock on which the defence is built. Upfront, forward Assan Ceesay has been an excellent goalscorer while the talented and lethal Musa Barrow will be hoping to bring his fine Serie A form to the team.

MAURITANIA

Qualification: Group E runners-up (behind Morocco and ahead of Burundi)

Appearances: 2nd (Last appearance: 2019)

Record: Group stage (2019)

Coach: The team is led by Didier Gomes Da Rosa who has almost 10 years of experience coaching on the African continent. Appointed in November 2021, he led the team to a somewhat decent showing athe the FIFA Arab Cup. It might be a bit too early to judge him after only five matches in charge but he has ditched his ambitious attacking 4-3-3 for a more pragmatic defensive 4-3-3 with two holding midfielders which has yielded two creditable draws in friendly matches against Gabon and Burkina Faso.

Key Players: Young striker Hemeya Tanjy will be looked up to for goals after the non inclusion of the ageing Bessam. Experienced defender Moustapha Diaw will also be heavily relied on. The inclusion of 16-year old Beyatt Lekweiry in the final list means that all eyes will be on him. The midfielder turns out for Senegalese top flight outfit AS Douanes.

By Babatunde Koiki (Twitter: @BabatundeKoiki)

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COMMENTS

WORDPRESS: 1
  • pompei 2 weeks ago

    The Nigeria synopsis is sobering, to say the least.
    “a team devoid of confidence, character and big names to Africa’s number one sporting tournament with less than 10 full training sessions and no tune up game”.
    We are indeed up against it. But we continue to believe. We may have no big stars, but with synergy brought about by togetherness and team work, a pleasant surprise may be in the offing.
    Cote D’Ivoire look dangerous. Kessie in the midfield, and 4 fantastic forwards in Zaha, Cornet, Haller and Pepe. That attack can win them the tournament. Will it?
    Morocco is a well-oiled machine. They have crushed every opposition in their path so far, with ruthless efficiency. Can their good run continue in the Afcon? Can they add to the only title they won in 1976?
    The rampaging Algeria have what it takes to retain the title. And the FIFA Arab Cup success has added a boost to already sky high confidence levels. They will be tough to stop.
    The Pharoahs want to reclaim the throne again, after a record 7 previous successes. They have arguably the best player in the world on their roster, MOHAMMED SALAH. He will be leading the Egyptians out into battle for the trophy.
    Cameroon, have not been so indomitable in the post Afcon 2017 years. But they have experienced an upturn in performances of recent, and now confidence levels are high once again. As hosts, they believe they already have one hand on the trophy. Can they win their 6th title?
    And then we have Senegal. Silver medalists in the last edition. A team loaded to the hilt with talent, led by their talisman, Sadio Mane. They are extremely hungry for the title, as they have never won it before.
    The winner of the competition will likely be one of these teams. A surprise is possible, of course. This is football.