Teams: Cape Verde, Egypt, Ghana, Mozambique
Seven-time champions, Three silver medals, two of which have come in the last three tournaments. Notably, Egypt arrive with a fourth different coach in their last four AFCON appearances. Hassan Shehata may have won the seventh in 2010, but since it has been a revolving door. Hector Cuper walked in 2018 after winning silver in Gabon. Javier Aguirre wasn’t as lucky, he walked a few days after they crashed out in the Round of 16 on home soil in 2019.
Carlos Queiroz lasted a bit longer, walking after failing to lead the team to a World Cup following a silver medal at the 2021 AFCON in Cameroon. Rui Vitoria has been warned. Mohamed Salah will hope it is third time lucky for him. He contributed to 75% of the goals scored at the 2021 AFCON, 50% of the total tallied at the 2019 edition as well as 40% of the total tallied in 2017. Outside the Liverpool metronome, they have had seven different scorers across the last three editions, and have tallied a paltry, fourteen goals. It is overt reliance on one player.
The African Cup of Nations starts in just 16 days! Here at BTL, we’ve got you covered with in-depth analysis of Africa’s biggest tournament.
Introducing: The Ultimate 2023 AFCON Preview, by @Cosimo_diMedici.
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It may be surprising to have Ghana as a wildcard in a group they should be favorites in, but that is the state of the Black Stars. Despite the litany of in form players across Europe, they have just not been able to translate it to National team success. The long wait for the AFCON may yet continue. Any team with the talents of Inaki Williams, Antoine Semenyo, Abdul Fatawu Ishakku and Mohammed Kudus should possibly have a shot at the title, but Chris Hughton is answering many questions in the local media as to why he hasn’t gotten the best out of this bunch.
They struggled in qualifying, with Semenyo particularly proving the game changer in a crucial qualifier against CAR. Recent AFCON performances haven’t helped either. The team has trended negatively since finishing runners up in 2015, finishing fourth in 2017, and then crashing out in the Round of 16 on penalties in 2019, before exiting in the group stages altogether in 2022. There is much to prove because there is a 41-year drought to end.
The Blue Sharks of Cape Verde are back, and will arrive Ivory Coast as firm dark horses. It is Bubista’s second tournament as coach, the first gaffer to lead the country to multiple AFCONs. The goal will be to play an elusive fifth game, and finishing higher in their group may yet help. They have been eliminated by Ghana & Senegal in their two knockout appearances and punching above a glass ceiling that is now turning concrete is imperative.
For players like Ryan Mendes, Vozinha and Garry Rodrigues, it is a possible swansong, and one they must make great use of. If anything, they can take consolation from having drawn Nigeria and beaten Burkina Faso in recent times, but there is also the 5-1 humbling at the hands of Algeria, a stark reality that while they do boast a spark, they are still not in the class of the big boys.
The Mambas of Mozambique are back after a long wait. It’s been 13 years. As at their last AFCON appearance, Afrobeats was only beginning to gather momentum; Sadio Mane was navigating his way out of Bambali, Mohamed Salah played for Al Mokawloon, Victor Osimhen was not even a teenager, and Riyad Mahrez was fresh out of Sarcelles.
Today marks 66 years since Ghana declared independence from British colonial rule, becoming the first West African country to become a sovereign state.
To celebrate 66 years of independence, we’re taking a look at some of Ghana’s best footballing talents: pic.twitter.com/nyrnBN8fk0
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There is a lot to get familiar with. There will be help though, with Domingues & Mexer, players from that 2010 squad still present. They have never won an AFCON game, despite playing twelve games, and have only scored a paltry four goals, that’s the same number as Comoros scored at the 2021 edition on their debut. Coach Chiquinho Cande has alot to think about.
Egypt: El Shenawy; Abdelmoneim, El Fotouh, Hamdi, Hany; El Neny, Zizo, Fathi; Salah M., Trezeguet, Mostafa Mohammed.
Ghana: Ati Zigi; Opoku, Odoi, Aidoo, Djiku; Partey, Seidu, Kudus; Ayew, Williams, Semenyo
Cape Verde: Vozinha; Andrade, Semedo, Joao Paulo, Pico; Monteiro, Rocha Santos, Costa; Bebe, Garry, Mendes
Mozambique: Siluane; Mexer, Langa, Macandza, Reinildo; Dove, Guimaraes, Nangy; Domingues; Lourenco, Ratifo
Star to Watch
Is there any question? The Egyptian King is a peerless leader in search of his holy grail. Many believe Mohamed Salah was born in the wrong Egyptian generation — oh what would have been, had he been part of Egypt’s hat-trick of titles. His legacy still stands, but for a man staking a claim to be the greatest ever from the land of the Pharaohs, an AFCON title enhances that conversation, especially given the tools he has had to work with.
He has already finished second twice, and perhaps with the emergence of players like Mostafa Mohamed who has grown in leaps and bounds, and the form of Omar Marmoush, it could be just enough to get over the line. To be one of Liverpool’s greatest is one part, another shot at being Egypt’s greatest is what he takes on next.
Mohammed Kudus (Ghana and West Ham)
His celebrations are already been imitated. He scores beautiful goals. He is more than a Black Star, he is a shining one. A midfielder per excellence, Kudus straddles the lines of a hybrid forward. He is a joy to watch, and seems to have everything in his locker. He can drop in between the lines and play a pass, but he can equally run onto them too. The aggression of Antoine Semenyo, the experience of Andre Ayew and the intelligence of Thomas Partey may be very important, but Ghana only go as far as Kudus can carry them.
Ryan Mendes (Cape Verde and Fatih Karagumruk)
Mendes is Cape Verde’s all-time appearance leader and the joint top scorer. He is also vastly travelled, and has been on multiple continents, scoring goals. The Blue Sharks need him to be at his best at the AFCON, and if he is on song, it elevates other players equally.
Reinildo Mandava (Mozambique and Atletico Madrid)
Reinildo is back, and Mozambique’s biggest export has to prove himself a 100 fold. They will need his positional flexibility and dexterity alot during this tournament. Whether it is as a centre back in a back 5, or as a full back in a back 4, he is a Swiss army knife. He is also well prepared for the battle, having spent enough time under the tutelage of Diego Simeone. They will need his defending at an elite level, conjuring Simeone-type tricks, and limitless dark arts that will frustrate the opposition and give them a better chance at winning.
By: Tosin Holmes / @Cosimo_diMedici
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Visionhaus – Getty Images