2023 AFCON PREVIEW

The last tournament delivered all the things that make AFCON irresistible, from drama to upsets, to remarkable storylines and unforgettable moments.
Sports
January 13, 2024
Written By
Astorre Cerebróne
In this Article

The Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) is back, and the anticipation is at its peak. The last tournament delivered all the things that make AFCON irresistible, from drama to upsets, to remarkable storylines and unforgettable moments. Naturally, this edition, hosted by Côte d’Ivoire, is expected to surpass that, especially with numerous teams displaying significant improvement over the past two years. The global football community is buzzing with anticipation for what many predict to be the most captivating tournament of the 21st century. As the tournament unfolds, let's explore what each team has to offer and what thrilling experiences the competition holds for us:

GROUP A

CÔTE D’IVOIRE

The hosts are on the hunt for their first title since 2015, their 3rd ever, and there is no better time to do it. They looked impressive at the last tournament before falling to Egypt on penalties in just the second round. That team was one in construction, with a strategic focus on clinching victory in this tournament. Despite being a relatively young squad, the talent on show is undoubtedly one of the best in Africa, making them strong contenders for the title. Guided by seasoned players such as captain Serge Aurier, Max Gradel, Nicolas Pépé, and Franck Kessié, the Ivorian team should have enough depth and experience needed to navigate the pressure of playing in front of an eager home crowd. The team enters the tournament in stellar form, having won their last three games with an impressive combined scoreline of 16-1. As in the previous tournament, they look on course to deliver more exciting and entertaining games laden with goals. With Wilfried Zaha not in the squad, they will look to star man Nicolas Pépé for inspiration. Pépé, who excelled in the last edition and was their most impactful player, could once again be a key figure, driving the team offensively. As they raise the curtains on this tournament, the Ivorians appear ready to emulate the successes of their legendary teams with a potent blend of experience and emerging talent.

Star Player — Nicolas Pépé

Nicolas Pépé

Unruly Prediction — Semi-Final

Best Showing — Winners (1992, 2015)

NIGERIA

Nigeria's preparations for this tournament have encountered substantial setbacks due to a spate of injuries, particularly with the loss of Wilfred Ndidi, in a midfield that is already short on talent and numbers. That has dampened expectations. With the further loss of Victor Boniface and Umar Sadiq, as well as uncertainties surrounding the fitness of Kelechi Iheanacho, the team faces challenges in pivotal roles crucial to their preferred style of play. These challenges may prompt manager Jose Peseiro to contemplate a shift in the team's system, potentially disrupting previously established plans. That notwithstanding, the team is still replete with stars and game-changers – no country in Africa can boast the sheer volume of top stars in attack that Nigeria has. If Peseiro gets his tactics right, they have the potential to still be a strong contender for the trophy. That said, recent results have been underwhelming, complete with dire performances. The coach is under immense pressure to turn things around and deliver at this tournament. They have won only 1 of their last 5 games, even losing their pre-tournament friendly to Guinea. Concerns in the goalkeeping department are a glaring weakness, with all their goalkeepers failing to convince, and the error-prone Uzoho likely to assume the starting role. Amidst these challenges, Nigeria can draw strength from the presence of Victor Osimhen, the reigning African Footballer of the Year. Osimhen's absence due to injury in the previous tournament was keenly felt. This time around, he will be looking to fire his country to glory.

Star Player — Victor Osimhen

Victor Osimhen

Unruly Prediction — Quarter Final

Best Showing — Winners (1980, 1994, 2013)

EQUATORIAL GUINEA

Equatorial Guinea is set to participate in its fourth AFCON tournament. It is the first time they have ever qualified for two consecutive tournaments, a testament to the growth of their national team. Their impressive showing in the last tournament, reaching the quarterfinals, included a stunning victory over Algeria in the group stage and eliminating the favoured Mali in the second round through a penalty shootout. The only team to beat them in the group stage was Cote d’Ivoire, who they will be facing again this time. With their well-earned ‘giant-killer’ tag, this team seems poised to create more upsets in a tough group that includes two former champions. Unbeaten in 19 months, they appear stronger than the odds might suggest. Their defence continues to be an asset, with 5 clean sheets in their last 8 games, including one against Tunisia. It was a key factor in their last tournament run, where they kept 3 clean sheets in 4, before bowing to eventual champions Senegal, 3-1. The formidable central defensive partnership of Saul Coco from Las Palmas and Esteban Obiang from Argeș Pitești has proven challenging for opponents to overcome. In captain Emilio Nsue, they have their most experienced player, who could prove vital to their aspirations. He is their record goalscorer and the man they will look to, to get the decisive goals.

Star Player — Emilio Nsue

Emilio Nsue

Unruly Prediction — Round of 16

Best Showing — Fourth Place (2015)

GUINEA BISSAU

Guinea Bissau are at their fourth consecutive AFCON tournament, after never qualifying for the competition before that. But their record so far has been poor. They have failed to win a game in the previous three tournaments and failed to score in the last two. They will be looking to rewrite their story this time, however, even with the odds firmly stacked against them. Facing two former champions, including the hosts, is an uphill task, while Equatorial Guinea also presents a daunting challenge for them. But there is hope. They earned a famous victory away against one of their opponents in this group, Nigeria, less than a year ago, in the qualifiers. Even in losing the reverse fixture 1-0, they showed that they can compete with a top team. If they will do anything at this tournament, their attack will be key. Not scoring in the previous two tournaments hurt them. One worry they might have here is that no player in their current squad has up to 5 goals for the national team, and also the lack of experience across board. Coach Baciro Candé’s decision to exclude Piqueti and Alexandre Mendy is understandable, in the context of their national team performances. But in Zinho Gano, who made his debut in March 2022, they have someone who already has 4 goals in 5 games for the team. This certainly bodes well for their prospects. Him and Mama Baldé have a huge responsibility on their shoulders, in an attacking line-up severely lacking national team experience.

Star Player — Mama Baldé

Mama Baldé

Unruly Prediction — Group Stage

Best showing — Group Stage

GROUP B

EGYPT

7-time champions, Egypt, are once again coming to AFCON as one of the expected contenders. Having reached the finals in 2022 and 2017, they have established themselves as knockout specialists, especially after claiming huge scalps on their way to the final at the last edition. Their resilience in taking out three contenders showed the gritty side of a team more known for its flamboyance, from the three-peat years. They are on a mission again, hoping to do what Senegal did; winning the next edition after losing a final. Under Rui Victoria, they have steadily built a new identity, showing consistency and a solidity that can take them all the way in this tournament. This is a generation that looks like its time has finally come. They must first navigate a tricky group, however. As has been the case in recent years, they might be slow starters until the knockouts, but the form of star man Mohamed Salah, should be enough to carry them through to the tougher rounds. Salah is eager for an AFCON triumph, something which will catapult him to a new echelon of greats in Egypt, Africa and the world at large. Time is slowly running out, and he is looking to finally banish the demons of the two painful final losses he already suffered. Although the team might lack the star-studded individual talent seen in the great Egyptian sides of the past, they operate as a cohesive unit capable of challenging any team on the continent. The upcoming tournament provides an opportunity for this Egypt team to cement its place in history and add another chapter to the country's rich football legacy.

Star Player — Mohamed Salah

Mohamed Salah

Unruly Prediction — Semi Final

Best Showing — Winners (1957, 1959, 1986, 1998, 2006, 2008, 2010)

GHANA

It has been four decades since Ghana last won an AFCON title, enduring three final losses and reaching the semi-finals on eight occasions since then. Despite periods of underwhelming performances, Ghana consistently enters each AFCON tournament as one of the favourites, carrying the weight of an expectant nation. However, their last tournament's showing marked their worst in history, failing to secure a victory and finishing as the last-placed team in their group. Their recent form has not filled their fans with hope though, as they continue to stutter and look unprepared for the challenge. Still, they have an exciting generation of players emerging, led by West Ham’s Mohammed Kudus, whose stock continues to rise. Recent form has not inspired confidence among fans, as Ghana has struggled and appeared ill-prepared for the challenges ahead. Nonetheless, an exciting generation of players, spearheaded by West Ham's Mohammed Kudus, brings hope for a resurgence. Kudus, with his adept ball-carrying and goal-scoring abilities, stands as a crucial figure, expected to provide inspiration throughout the tournament. With only one win in their last five games and a solitary goal scored, the weight of responsibility on Kudus’ shoulders could be too much to bear. The Ayew brothers are still around, hoping to finally deliver this trophy that has eluded them so far, but public opinion about their contributions to the team has shifted negatively. They come into the tournament with a lot to prove. Athletic Club’s Iñaki Williams could bring the x-factor in attack, in front of a defence that has consistently underwhelmed.

Star Player — Mohammed Kudus

Mohammed Kudus

Unruly Prediction — Round of 16

Best Showing — Winners (1963, 1965, 1978, 1982)

CAPE VERDE

Cape Verde come into this tournament in dire form; 2 wins from their last 8, including 4 losses, is a sign that they might find it tough here. It does not help that they are in a group with heavyweights like Egypt and Ghana. What could give them hope is their performance at the last tournament, where they did well in a tough group and advanced to the second round. Despite falling to Senegal at that stage, it was still memorable and showed their capabilities. On their day, they are a team that can hold their own against most sides, but it is in consistency that they have been found wanting. Regardless, a major boost for them is the trio of Garry Rodrigues, Ryan Mendes and Bebé, who will undoubtedly give opponents sleepless nights during the tournament. Mendes, the record appearance maker and joint-top scorer in Cape Verde's history, is expected to play a pivotal role in their campaign. The leadership of captain Stopira adds another layer of significance, potentially proving vital in propelling the team forward. Despite the big challenge ahead, Cape Verde will look to build on their previous tournament's success and aim for an equal or superior showing this time around. The individual talents within the team could be the key to overcoming the odds and making a mark in the competition.

Star Player — Ryan Mendes

Ryan Mendes

Unruly Prediction — Group Stage

Best Showing — Quarterfinal (2013)

MOZAMBIQUE

Mozambique has never won a game at AFCON or advanced beyond the group stage, in four tries. Their record reads 12 games, 0 wins, 2 draws and 10 defeats. At the fifth time of asking, they are determined to make a mark and finally do things they have never been able to do at the tournament. Coach Chiquinho Conde has assembled an experienced squad for the task ahead, including 40-year-old Domingues Pelembe and 35-year-old Mexer, but there are still question marks over their leaky defence which has conceded 12 goals in their last 6 games. With the likes of Salah and Kudus in the group, they are going to need to improve a lot to deal with threats. No amount of goals in attack will be enough if they continue to average 2 goals conceded per game. An encouraging development for Mozambique is the acquisition of former Germany U-20 defensive midfielder, Alfons Amade, who has switched allegiance. Although yet to make his debut, Amade's presence could strengthen the defensive line, and he could be a valuable asset once he integrates with the team. The impact he brings may allow the team to take more calculated risks in attack, significantly improving their chances. The success of Mozambique in the tournament could depend on how effectively they address their defensive vulnerabilities and use them to boost their ability to cause opponents problems. It remains to be seen if they can.

Star Player — Domingues Pelembe

Domingues Pelembe

Unruly Prediction — Group Stage

Best Showing — Group Stage

GROUP C

SENEGAL

The defending champions remain the team to beat, having emerged undefeated in their qualifiers and maintaining a clean sheet in their last four games. With appearances in the last two finals, they aim to extend this streak and secure a second consecutive title under the guidance of coach Aliou Cisse. The team is still brimming with confidence, with the core players from their previous tournament victory still around and boasting a squad with unmatched individual talent. Many observers consider them favorites and have tipped them to emerge champions once again. However, they face a formidable challenge in a tough group that serves as the initial examination for their title defense. Despite an aging Sadio Mané expected to lead as a decisive figure, the team features game-winners across various positions. Coach Cisse has opted for a blend of experience and youth, introducing several players making their tournament debut, notably Chelsea's Nicolas Jackson. With the pressure higher and the demands on the players even greater, their fans will be confident about this group’s ability to handle things and possibly win a second consecutive title. With a mix of seasoned players and emerging talents, this group remains well-positioned to get past all the challenges before it.

Star Player — Sadio Mané

Sadio Mane

Unruly Prediction — Final

Best Showing — Winners (2021)

CAMEROON

AFCON 2021 promised so much for Cameroon, as hosts, and ended disappointingly, but the Indomitable Lions are back in the hunt, under the guidance of Rigobert Song. Their 2022 World Cup showing – especially the win over Brazil – has given them renewed vigor about what is possible in tournaments, but outside of that, their performances and results under Song have been poor. He is under pressure, and a poor showing at this tournament could be a bit too much to accept. With 2 wins in their last 9 matches, they do not look capable of mounting a strong challenge. That said, they still have Vincent Aboubakar on their team, although Eric Choupo-Moting has been left out. Song seems to be going with something different, with a few surprises including 17-year-old Nathan Doualla of local club, Victoria United. There is a lot of experience in attack but in midfield, only Zambo Anguissa has managed more than 10 caps. The defence is full of young players, with five players under 24. It is clear to see that dynamism and youthful energy are strong in Song’s mind. Many fans wonder if these players will be able to deliver the first time of asking, or if they will need a tournament or two to really gel. Song, though, does not have the luxury of that much time.

Star Player — Vincent Aboubakar

Vincent Aboubakar

Unruly Prediction — Round of 16

Best Showing — Winners (1984, 1988, 2000, 2002, 2017)

GUINEA

Guinea has quietly established itself as a regular participant in AFCON over the past two decades, only missing out on three of the last ten tournaments. During this period, they have reached the quarterfinals four times and the round of 16 twice, experiencing only one group stage exit in 2012. Once again, they emerge as potential dark horses, often underestimated in analyses. The team is rich in talent and has showcased impressive performances in the past year. This team is brimming with talent, and they have looked mighty impressive over the past year even if results haven’t always reflected it — they faced Brazil and Egypt, hardly easy games. Their recent pre-tournament friendly victory over Nigeria has fuelled enthusiasm in their country ahead of this tournament, and they could really go far if they get out of this tough group. Even though Senegal and Cameroon are favorites for the top two spots, it would not be a surprise if Guinea were to pip Cameroon, considering the forms of the two sides. In defence, they have a group of underrated players, and their attack looks really strong. In form, Serhou Guirrassy will be the one giving opponents headaches, but the others also add to a depth of options that could really hurt the opposition – Mohamed Bayo, François Kamano, José Kanté, Morgan Guilavogui, and Facinet Conte. The midfield, led by Naby Keita, will have so much to work with from deep.

Star Player —  Serhou Guirrassy

Serhou Guirrassy

Unruly Prediction — Round of 16

Best Showing — Quarter Final (2004, 2006, 2008, 2015)

GAMBIA

Gambia had never been to an AFCON tournament in their history before the 2021 tournament, but they turned up and shocked the continent, reaching the quarter-finals before getting eliminated by hosts Cameroon. They conceded only one goal in the groups, notably beating Tunisia, and didn’t concede until the quarter-final game. That showing has made the entire continent take note, with many not writing them off this time. That notwithstanding, they are in what is easily the toughest group this time around. It would take a lot for them to get out of this group, but seeing as they have already shown a propensity to beat the odds, it would be folly to count them out. They will have a lot to say here. The opener against Senegal will certainly be a particular highlight, considering the relationship between both countries. Gambia comes into the tournament having lost their last two games, but their squad looks as strong as ever. The trio of Assan Ceesay, Ablie Jallow and Musa Barrow shoulder much of the attacking responsibility, and could be key difference-makers in key moments. One thing is certain though; they all have their work cut out for them in this group.

Star Player — Musa Barrow

Musa Barrow

Unruly Prediction — Group Stage

Best Showing — Quarter Final (2021)

GROUP D

ALGERIA

The past year has been good to Algeria, they seem to have gotten their groove back. Their performances since winning AFCON in 2019 were a major source of worry, and they seemed to have lost the level that took them to that impressive triumph. Their last outing at AFCON was not only forgettable, it was quite embarrassing too, especially for the defending champions. They finished last in their group, not even winning a game. Since then, things have turned around and they have started to look dangerous again. Maybe people do not have them down as one of the favorites for this tournament, but that could work very well in their favor. Make no mistake, they are still a force to be reckoned with on the continent. Their AFCON-winning coach, Djamel Belmadi, is still running things, and has addressed previous issues, helping them regain their competitive edge. In terms of individual quality, they are still packing a lot of talent within their squad. Riyad Mahrez remains the star man and the one all eyes will be on, as they begin their quest for the glory lost. The squad is very experienced, with the likes of Slimani, Mandi, and Bounedjah still there. They will certainly be one of the teams to watch.

Star Player — Riyad Mahrez

Riyad Mahrez

Unruly Prediction — Quarter Final

Best Showing — Winners (1990, 2019)

BURKINA FASO

The Burkina Faso national team is not talked about enough. Maybe that suits them well, taking pressure off and perhaps even giving their opponents a false sense of security, but they should be more respected across football circles. In the last five AFCON tournaments, they have reached the semi finals three times, going on to the final in 2013. Despite not being widely acknowledged, they have consistently performed well in recent AFCON tournaments. In the last five editions, they reached the semi-finals three times, reaching the final in 2013. They were excellent at the 2021 tournament, where they navigated a challenging group, defeated Gabon and Tunisia, and competed fiercely against Senegal in the semi-finals, before playing out an epic third place game against hosts Cameroon. One can expect them to once again be dark horses, still boasting an array of talents that are excellent at navigating knockout tournaments. The slightly eccentric goalkeeper, Hervé Koffi, is still a firm presence at the back along with Bayer Leverkusen defender Edmond Tapsoba, while Bertrand Traoré and Dango Ouattara provide dynamic solutions in attack. With three wins in their last five games, they look on course and in the right form to start off their campaign on a high. Everyone should certainly pay more attention to this team.

Star Player — Edmond Tapsoba

Edmond Tapsoba

Unruly Prediction — Quarter Final

Best Showing — Runner-Up (2013)

MAURITANIA

In just their third AFCON tournament, Mauritania will be seeking their first-ever win in the competition after failing to do that twice. The fact that this is their 3rd consecutive qualification bodes well for them, it shows the consistency and growth of a side improving and continually showing up. They will look at this group as slightly more merciful than previous groups, but would still need a monumental effort to leave a lasting impact on the competition. With no wins in their last 4 games, there is certainly concern about the form they are coming in with. However, they did win the three games before that run so there is a chance that it is just a temporary slump that could be overcome under the atmosphere of a tournament. The experience of players like Aly Abeid, Mohamed Dellahi Yali, and Abdallahi Mahmoud could be key, it is so often a factor for underdogs. In Hemeya Tanjy and Aboubakar Kamara, they have two players who can be decisive and deliver game-changing moments. Maybe it will finally happen this time for them, even if the task ahead is daunting.

Star Player — Aboubakar Kamara

Aboubakar Kamara

Unruly Prediction — Group Stage

Best Showing — Group Stage

ANGOLA

The Palancas Negras have failed to qualify for three of the last four AFCON tournaments, with their only appearance in 2019 resulting in a group stage exit after a string of forgettable performances. They are back, hoping to make it out of the group stage for the first time since 2010 when they hosted the tournament and matched their best-ever showing – the quarter-finals. Their last three games have ended in goalless draws, resulting in divergent opinions on their form. For those choosing optimism, it is a sign of excellence defensively and how difficult they are to beat. For those choosing pessimism, their inability to score is a problem. They have failed to score in 5 of their last 7 games, so those worries are not unfounded. It is difficult to navigate a tournament like AFCON without reliable goalscorers who can take rarely occurring moments and turn them into game-winners. Gelson Dala, who has scored the most goals for them of all the players in the squad, could be the one to solve that problem. Getting out of this group will be difficult, but keeping things tight at the back as they have done recently could improve their chances, provided they can take their chances whenever they come.

Star Player — Fredy

Fredy

Unruly Prediction — Group Stage

Best Showing – Quarterfinals (2008, 2010)

GROUP E

TUNISIA

2004 Champions Tunisia may have failed to hit the same heights of that legendary team, but they have earned a reputation for being a team nobody wants to face in knockouts. Nigeria certainly learned the hard way at the last tournament. From having the best record while playing the most eye-catching brand of football, to getting outdone and eliminated by gritty and smart Tunisia performance. That game exemplified why teams are wary of this team and can never accurately profile them. They are able to adapt to opponents and deliver tactically. In 2019, they won just 1 game within 120 minutes, but still made it all the way to the semi finals. On that occasion, they drew three group stage games, before taking down Ghana on penalties and taking out Madagascar 3-0. If those two tournaments are anything to go by, they are definitely one of the dark horses this time. Their form certainly suggests it, with 5 wins and a draw in their last 8 games. They should be considered favourites to win this group and advance without much difficulty. In Msakni, they have a player who intelligently produces danger and is often reliable in tough moments. His performances could decide how well they do in this tournament.

Star Player — Youssef Msakni

Youssef Msakni

Unruly Prediction — Round of 16

Best Showing — Winners (2004)

MALI

Mali might be bringing through their most talented generation of footballers yet, but they would have to show it in Africa’s biggest showcase as proof. The team appears solid in every department, boasting a well-balanced mix of talent, depth, and experience. Having been to the semi finals 6 times, reaching the final once, it would take matching or surpassing those feats for this team to be placed in the same breath as those teams. They certainly have the potential and talent to pull it off. The key could be in how they navigate the knockouts, if they make it there – with little naivety and avoiding the trappings of expectations and their consequent pressure. In terms of form, this might be the most in-form team on the continent. They have won 6 of their last 7 games, with their 6-2 victory over Guinea-Bissau in a pre-tournament friendly sending a strong warning. They already beat Tunisia in the group stage at the last tournament and could do it again, with the form they are in and the strength of their squad. Young Kamory Doumbia’s scoring form, having scored in their last 3 games, is a source of delight, and much will be expected of him at the tournament. Furthermore, their midfield depth as a whole is the envy of many, and could be key to how steady their performances are. Even Alassane Pléa rejecting a call-up is unlikely to significantly impact the team's prospects.

Star Player — Hamari Traoré

Hamari Traoré

Unruly Prediction — Quarter Finals

Best Showing — Runner-up (1972)

SOUTH AFRICA

South Africa has been draw specialists recently, certainly a difficult team to beat over the past 2 years. Not qualifying for the 2021 AFCON tournament may have been a blessing in disguise, as the aftermath has seen them show exactly why they were once considered one of the best on the continent. While the glory days of the 90s and early 2000s may feel like a distant memory, this competition offers an opportunity for South Africa to match those achievements and re-establish itself as a football powerhouse on the continent. Perhaps it could be a launching pad for them to take the continent by storm over the rest of the 2020s. The upcoming tournament serves as a potential launching pad for South Africa to make a significant impact over the rest of the 2020s. However, they face the immediate challenge of addressing their goal-scoring struggles, especially in a tough group where they will contend with formidable opponents like Tunisia and Mali. Namibia, though considered a team they should beat, has proven to be a challenge in recent encounters. They did beat them back in 2019 when they were in the same group through a Bongani Zungu goal. Starman Percy Tau of Al Ahly is someone who will certainly bring solutions to the direct threat that he possesses. Coach Hugo Broos’ team is dominated by home-based players, with only four plying their trade outside South Africa; there were six in 2019.

Star Player — Percy Tau

Percy Tau

Unruly Prediction — Round of 16

Best Showing — Winners (1996)

NAMIBIA

Namibia came into this tournament on a poor run of form, having won only 1 of their last 8 games. Even the creditable draw against Ghana in their pre-tournament friendly has not helped to raise expectations for what they will do in this group. Neutrals have written them off, especially as they have never won at AFCON, but it is not all doom and gloom. On top of the result against Ghana, they also haven’t lost to South Africa since 2019. Holding their own against Mali and Tunisia could be asking for too much, but a win against their southern African rivals could still be enough to make it to the next round. Their hero in qualification and record goalscorer, Peter Shalulile, will need to be at his best if they are to make any impact at this tournament. Although the 30-year-old has not scored as consistently for Mamelodi Sundowns in recent times, he still carries a potent threat and is capable of being the difference-maker in key moments, as he was during qualifiers. The team’s collective experience could also add something extra that could send them over the line. Coach Collin Benjamin must also help elevate his team with an adaptable tactical plan and solid in-game management.

Star Player —  Peter Shalulile

Peter Shalulile

Unruly Prediction — Group Stage

Best Showing — Group Stage

GROUP F

MOROCCO

Morocco’s incredible and record-breaking 2022 World Cup showing has brought deserved attention to the level of talent in their ranks, but it has also come with raised expectations. Without a doubt, many are curious to see how they perform at this AFCON tournament, especially as this talented group seems too good to not win some silverware. After all, if they could go all the way to the World Cup semi-finals, then they should be able to do better than their quarter-final and second-round exits at the past two tournaments. In fact, they have not reached the semi-finals since 2004. What is quite baffling is how well they do in qualifiers, consistently topping their groups and barely dropping points. The team seems to have had a block, but many hope that the World Cup run permanently banishes it, giving them the freedom to finally make a solid impact at AFCON. The weight of expectation has gotten heavier, however, and the players would need to manage things properly. The leadership of Romain Saïss could prove vital in that regard, while he continues his irresistible partnership with the impressive Nayef Aguerd. Amrabat and Ounahi, in midfield, are expected to continue where they stopped at the World Cup, while Ziyech and Boufal bring the x-factor. This will certainly be every neutral team and the one everyone else has to be wary about.

Star Player — Hakim Ziyech

Hakim Ziyech

Unruly Prediction — Final

Best Showing — Winners (1976)

DR CONGO

DR Congo is expected to battle for second spot with Zambia, in this tricky group, but their form coming into the tournament has quieted down those conversations. They have lost their last 2 games and won only 1 of their last 6. Regardless, they topped their qualification group with relative ease and can still reproduce that level when their campaign begins. The two-time Champions are hoping to make a strong return after failing to qualify for the last tournament, with Cédric Bakambu and Yoanne Wissa shouldering the responsibility of leading from the front. Captain Chancel Mbemba will need to be the embodiment of leadership at the back, especially with so many sub-10 cap players called up. However, it is in midfield that their x-factor really is, primarily Gaël Kakuta. The likes of Samuel Moutoussamy, Théo Bongonda, Charles Pickel, and Omenuke Mfulu are solid players who will bring their own unique brand of dynamism to the team. Even if the glory days of the 60s and 70s are not back, there is still enough talent in their ranks to deliver a memorable tournament and possibly even cause upsets. A lot lies in coach Sébastien Desabre’s ability to make the right selections and deploy a tactical plan that emphasizes his players’ strengths.

Star Player — Gaël Kakuta

Gaël Kakuta

Unruly Prediction — Round of 16

Best Showing — Winners (1968, 1974)

ZAMBIA

2012 Champions, Zambia, have failed to win a game at AFCON since that incredible triumph and failed to qualify for the last three tournaments before this one. It is the kind of fall-off that may be expected after underdogs win, but not this team. They actually looked like a team that could sustain that level of performance for a few more years, especially after how they had performed in 2010 before the triumph. They are back now and eager to put things right. With four wins in their last 8 games, it would be silly to write them off because of their recent history in the competition. After all, they won their qualification group containing heavy favorites Cote d’Ivoire, even beating them 3-0. Stoppila Sunzu, the scorer of the AFCON-winning penalty, is still around while star man, Patson Daka, continues to deliver in attack. Daka has the second-best record of Zambia’s ten-best all-time scorers and remains a reliable source of goals for the team. If they will do anything in this tournament, he is the likeliest player to make it happen. Avram Grant’s impact has been clear, and his experience at AFCON could be valuable for the team, having previously taken Ghana to the final in 2015.

Star Player — Patson Daka

Patson Daka

Unruly Prediction — Round of 16

Best Showing — Winners (2012)

TANZANIA

Tanzania pipped Uganda to qualify for only their third-ever AFCON tournament. Their last appearance in 2019 ended with 3 defeats out of 3, conceding 8 goals. They will be hoping to do better and possibly get their first-ever AFCON win this time around, having also failed to win any game in their 1980 debut. While they haven’t exactly been favorites in most matches recently, they have still shown themselves to be a difficult team to beat, making their more illustrious opponents work very hard to beat them. Their defence is where their strength lies. They have conceded only 5 goals in their last 7 games, keeping four clean sheets, including away at Algeria. Simon Msuva and Ally Samatta are two experienced men up front who will be relied on to provide the goals that they have been struggling to score recently. Their squad contains five players yet to make their debuts, including 18-year-old Cyprian Kachwele of the Vancouver Whitecaps’ reserve team. That certainly means that the experience of the likes of Himid Mao Mkami and Mzamiru Yassin will become a key asset when the pressure rises. Tanzania will be up against a storm, and they look up to it.

Star Player — Ally Samatta

Ally Samatta

Unruly Prediction — Group Stage

Best Showing — Group Stage

No items found.

Comments

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

WHAT TO READ NEXT

VIEW MORE
SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
FOLLOW US