Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Afcon 2023: How will Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Egypt, Ghana & Senegal fare in Groups A, B and C? – BBC


Mohamed Salah has tasted defeat in two Afcon finals – including against Sadio Mane and Senegal at the 2021 edition – while Nigeria will hope Victor Osimhen fires them to glory
The 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) kicks off in Ivory Coast in mid-January after being pushed back to avoid a clash with the rainy season in West Africa.
With Senegal looking to defend their title, the 24-team format means the top two from each group will progress to the knockout stages, with the four best third-placed sides joining them.
There were shocks at the last Nations Cup in Cameroon, with Comoros and The Gambia going through as four-time champions Ghana headed home early, but what can we expect from the 34th edition of the continental tournament?
BBC Sport Africa has spoken to players, African footballing legends and journalists to run the rule over Groups A, B and C.
Everything you need to know about Afcon 2023
The hosts were drawn with three-time winners Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea, who pulled off a couple of upsets to reach the quarter-finals last time out.
Guinea-Bissau, who are aiming to progress from the group stage for the first time, round off a line-up which former Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba expects to be "very difficult".
"There's no such thing as a generous draw because all the teams deserve to be here and they're going to fight," Drogba, who scored 65 goals for the Elephants, said.
"Nigeria, with Victor Osimhen and all the players they have, is a big team. We mustn't forget the other two teams because there are always surprises.
"I think that our main asset will be to focus on our game, our team, our strengths and try to progress. It's up to us to make the most of it, get behind our team and make sure the trophy stays at home."
Nigeria faced criticism from supporters after drawing their opening two 2026 Fifa World Cup qualifiers against Lesotho and Zimbabwe in November, but Super Eagles midfielder Frank Onyeka says it is crucial fans get behind the side.
"I know they will be frustrated but we still need their support," the 25-year-old said.
"We know what it takes to win Afcon. The draws we had in the last two games is something we need to learn from."
The West Africans exited in the last 16 in Cameroon and Onyeka is expecting a tough assignment in their Abidjan-based group.
"African teams are not easy to play against," he added. "It's something that we need to prepare ourselves [for], mentally and physically."
Group A fixtures
Saturday, 13 January: Ivory Coast v Guinea-Bissau
Sunday, 14 January: Nigeria v Equatorial Guinea
Thursday, 18 January: Ivory Coast v Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea v Guinea-Bissau
Monday, 22 January: Equatorial Guinea v Ivory Coast, Guinea-Bissau v Nigeria
Mohammed Kudus scored twice for Ghana at the World Cup in Qatar and has impressed for West Ham after moving to the Premier League this season
Egypt expect to travel far in West Africa after losing two of the past three Afcon finals – against Cameroon (2017) and Senegal (2021) – after what were "distinguished technical performances" according to Egyptian journalist Inas Mazhar.
"Mozambique should provide a straightforward start given the difference in experience and history between the two teams, but the second game against Ghana will be the toughest and most crucial, where Egypt will fight to secure top spot," she added.
"With Cape Verde to follow, the Pharaohs' chances of topping the group are strong and progress is almost certain – yet if they make it to the quarter-finals, the North Africans would clash with stronger teams.
"Head coach Rui Vitoria has not faced such a test since he assumed the post in July 2022, which could be the biggest challenge for Egypt.
"The Portuguese will face an examination by fans and Egyptian football pundits, who will not accept anything less than making an appearance in the final."
Big expectations are also an issue for Ghana, with BBC Sport presenter and reporter George Addo Jr saying fans are "concerned" at the form of the Black Stars, who have not reached the last eight of a Nations Cup since 2017.
"Ghana were eliminated in the last 16 in 2019 and were winless and failed to advance from the group stage in Cameroon," he added.
"The challenges the team faced were evident in qualifying. The side lacked cohesion, the technical team looked unsettled with changes in selection, and fan apathy was telling after repeated poor performances.
"The Black Stars have struggled in the first half of all games managed by Chris Hughton so far – with just one of their nine goals scored under him coming in the first 45 minutes."
After needing a last-minute winner to beat Madagascar in World Cup qualifying and then falling to a defeat in Comoros, Addo Jr thinks "nothing is guaranteed" for Ghana.
"Matches against Cape Verde and Mozambique have become a worry based on the performances against minnows lately," he said.
"Qualifying for the quarter-finals would be a major success. While that may seem achievable, Hughton and his team must find a consistent starting XI.
"Additionally, the Black Stars will need to keep key players fit to stand a chance."
Group B fixtures
Sunday, 14 January: Egypt v Mozambique, Ghana v Cape Verde
Thursday, 18 January: Egypt v Ghana
Friday, 19 January: Cape Verde v Mozambique
Monday, 22 January: Mozambique v Ghana, Cape Verde v Egypt
Senegal talisman Sadio Mane pipped then Liverpool team-mate Mohamed Salah to the Nations Cup trophy in February 2022, but the 31-year-old now plays in Saudi Arabia
Continental heavyweights Cameroon have five Nations Cup titles to their name but had to settle for third place on home soil last time out.
Despite being drawn with holders Senegal, anything short of success might not go down well with Indomitable Lions supporters.
"We expect them to bring home the trophy, especially because we won our first Afcon in Abidjan in 1984," Cameroonian football analyst Lawrence Nkede said.
Yet performances during the 2021 finals elicited mixed reactions. While there was praise for the team's resilience, the disappointment was pervasive after a semi-final defeat by Egypt on penalties.
Now observers worry over coach Rigobert Song's lack of a settled starting XI.
"In the past ten games we've had ten different line-ups. It's very difficult to read the team and its true capacity," Nkede added.
With goalkeeper Andre Onana enduring dips in form at Manchester United and doubts over the fitness of forward Bryan Mbeumo, the Lions may already be wounded ahead of their opener against Guinea.
The Syli Nationale have reached the knockout stages on their past three appearances while The Gambia return after a surprise run to the quarter-finals on their Afcon debut.
"The Scorpions will have to be at their very best to progress following poor performances and two defeats in World Cup qualifiers," journalist Momoudou Bah said.
"Coach Tom Saintfiet's team will be pumped up to face Senegal in a derby in the opening fixture, as it will be the first time in over 15 years the two countries have faced each other at senior level."
Gambian football is progressing, with the country featuring at the Under-20 World Cup this year for the first time in 16 years, but Saintfiet has faced criticism over his playing philosophy.
"The pragmatic approach, which is based on sitting deep to soak up pressure before hitting opponents on the break, has been one of the team's strengths since the Belgian took over in 2018," Bah added.
"But he has had to deal with a backlash from expectant supporters who want a more expansive approach. Saintfiet has also faced challenges in the build-up as some key players struggle in front of goal."
Group C fixtures
Monday, 15 January: Senegal v The Gambia, Cameroon v Guinea
Friday, 19 January: Senegal v Cameroon, Guinea v The Gambia
Tuesday, 23 January: Guinea v Senegal, The Gambia v Cameroon
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