Africa Cup of Nations: the big preview

As Africa eagerly awaits the 34th Africa Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast, top teams like Egypt, Nigeria, and Senegal prepare for an intense clash. Find out more about the group dynamics, key players, and potential surprises in this highly anticipated tournament.

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People celebrate in the streets as Ivory Coast gears up to host the Africa Cup of Nations which begins on Saturday in Abidjan, Ivory Coast January 10, 2024. REUTERS/Luc Gnago

In January and February, the 34th Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) will witness a clash of Africa’s top teams. The tournament, held this year in the Ivory Coast, features formidable contenders such as Egypt, Nigeria, Algeria, Morocco, Ghana, and defending champions Senegal, all vying for the coveted trophy. The event kicked off yesterday, concluding with the final on February 11.

The long-delayed 2023 Africa Cup of Nations is finally set to unfold as the continent’s top teams compete for local supremacy. Originally scheduled for last summer, climate concerns in the Ivory Coast led to the competition’s postponement and rescheduling to January 2024.

From its humble beginnings with three teams in 1957, the tournament has evolved into its 34th edition, now featuring a substantial 24 teams battling for glory. The hosts, starting their campaign against Guinea-Bissau in Abidjan, aspire to secure their third tournament victory, although formidable challenges await despite home advantage.

Defending champions Senegal, along with World Cup semi-finalists Morocco and record winners Egypt, are strong contenders. Traditional African powerhouses Nigeria, Algeria, and Ghana also add to the competitive landscape. The tournament harbours potential surprises, as demonstrated by 2012 winners Zambia and 2013 finalists Burkina Faso, both participating this year.

With numerous teams aiming for the final on February 11 at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium, let’s examine how they are gearing up for the upcoming tournament.

In Group A, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, and Guinea-Bissau are set to compete. Ivory Coast enters the tournament as hosts, riding a wave of optimism but also facing the pressure that comes with it. While the team often refers to themselves as a ‘golden generation,’ they believe their current lineup is more than capable of clinching the trophy, last achieved in 2015. The expectation is for both Ivory Coast and Nigeria to advance from the group, though Nigeria’s recent poor form and injuries to key players raise concerns.

In Group B, Egypt, Ghana, Cape Verde, and Mozambique will vie for supremacy. Egypt, led by Mohamed Salah, seeks redemption after the heartbreak of the 2022 final loss to Senegal on penalties. Ghana, aiming to overcome their disappointing finish in the previous tournament, faces the absence of Thomas Partey due to injury but looks to Mohammed Kudus for inspiration.

In Group C, Cameroon enters the competition with respectable recent tournament performances. Despite falling short of winning AFCON on home soil in the previous edition, their third-place finish and a commendable World Cup group stage exit, including a noteworthy win over Brazil, showcased their competitive prowess. Facing Cameroon in the group is Senegal, the defending AFCON champions, and a team that reached the second round of the World Cup in 2022. Led by Sadio Mane, the core of the 2022 team remains intact, supplemented by a mix of experienced players such as Idrissa Gueye, Cheikhou Kouyate, and goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, as well as promising youth like Tottenham’s Pape Matar Sarr and Chelsea’s Nicolas Jackson.

In Group D, 2019 champions Algeria aim to rebound from a challenging 2022 tournament. Subsequent setbacks, including failure to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, were followed by a resurgence. The talented squad is poised to avoid further mishaps against Angola, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania.

Group E presents a contrast to Group D, featuring three potential dark horses in the AFCON competition. South Africa, once a dominant force in African football during the 90s, has undergone a stabilization process and, with a predominantly domestic squad, aims to make an impact under the guidance of Belgian coach Hugo Broos. Tunisia, the 2004 champions, remains consistently competitive. Mali, perennial threats, aspire to overcome their historical challenges, having narrowly missed out on World Cup qualification in 2022. Namibia, the fourth seed, faces a tough challenge and must embody their ‘Brave Warriors’ nickname to make an impact.

Morocco, DR Congo, Zambia, and Tanzania make up Group F. Morocco, Africa’s highest-ranked FIFA side, aims to build on their historic World Cup semi-final appearance in Qatar 2022. DR Congo, with a rich history as two-time champions in 1968 and 1974 as Zaire, carries the “dark horse” tag. Tanzania, FIFA’s lowest-ranked African side in the competition, enters the tournament with minimal footballing pedigree.

 

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