AFCON 2023: 24 nations begin  battle for African biggest soccer prize 

Sawane scores winner as Senegal clinch U-17 AFCON title

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The battle for the biggest soccer prize in the continent, 2023 Africa Cup of Nations kicks off today in Ivory Coast.

The competition commences with the tie between Ivory Coast and Guniea-Bissau.

The final of the 34th edition comes up on tue 11 February 2024.

The 24 teams are paired in six groups.

Group A – Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau

This group is straightforward on paper. Ivory Coast -the host nation – and Nigeria have better players than the other two nations, so, most would fancy both to easily progress to the knockout stages.

The Elephants are hosting the event for the second time and are looking for their third continental title. They last won it in 2015 at the tail end of their Golden Generation. They have a young squad led by the experienced Max Gradel, who was part of the 2015 title-winning team. The likes of Sebastien Haller, Nicolas Pepe, Ibrahim Snagare, and Franck Kessie should make qualification easy for the hosts

Meanwhile, Nigeria have been accused many times for underachieving at the tournament. They have reigning African Player of the Year Victor Osimhen in their strike force, so they are expected to get through. They are making their 20th AFCON appearance, per CAF.

Equatorial Guinea finished fourth in 2015, so they could be a problem for the two fancied nations. They have exciting players who play across Europe.

Guinea-Bissau will be playing in their fourth AFCON tournament and they will face the hosts in the opening game, which is daunting. Their clash with Equatorial Guinea will be huge if they both lose to the West African giants.

Group B – Egypt, Ghana, Cape Verde, Mozambique

No country has won more AFCON trophies (7) than Egypt. With Mohamed Salah, they always have a chance, and that was evident in the 2021 edition where they reached the final.

Pressure will be on Ghana to end their 42-year drought this year again. This time around, they have an in-form Mohammed Kudus and Atheltic Bilbao striker, Inaki Williams to rely on. Ghana and Egypt are favourites to progress from this group.

Cape Verde have reached the quarter-final before and are playing in their second straight tournament. They will look to winger, Ryan Mendes to give them inspiration.

This will be the first tournament for Mozambique since 2010 and they will be hoping for good performances in a tough AFCON group.

Group C – Senegal, Cameroon, Guinea, Gambia

This group has two giants and former winners of the tournament, Senegal and Cameroon. Senegal are the defending champion and are still one of the best teams on the continent.

Cameroon have always made their mark at AFCON and although their squad isn’t as great as it was a few years ago, they are always competitive. Therefore, Senegal and Cameroon should get through comfortably. However, Guinea might be a problem for them.

Guinea finished second in 1976 and have been a regular at the tournament. They will be looking for inspiration from one of the hottest strikers in the world – Serhou Guirassy who has scored 17 goals in 14 Bundesliga games this season.

The Gambia made their AFCON debut in 2021 and reached the quarter-finals and are certainly not pushovers.

Group E – Tunisia, South Africa, Namibia, Mali

This is a tough group where three teams, Tunisia, South Africa, and Mali all have a chance of progressing. Tunisia are one of the most consistent teams on the continent and have made it out for the group stages many times this century. They eliminated Nigeria in the last tournament.

Since winning the tournament in 1996, South Africa have failed to impress. However, they are coached by 2017 AFCON winner with Cameroon, Hugo Broos, and expectations are high.

Mali are another West African team that has always threatened. They have qualified for every AFCON tournament since 2008. They reached the last 16 in the last two tournaments.

Namibia are making their fourth appearance and are yet to win a match, so things will be tough for them, and the group will likely be fought between the three other teams.

Group F – Morocco, DR Congo, Zambia, Tanzania

Many expect Morocco to go all the way in this tournament, and they couldn’t have asked for a better group. They are the top-ranked team in Africa, and anything less than a final will be a disappointment.

DR Congo and Zambia have won the tournament before, but their squads are much different now. Zambia won it in 2012 and are in their first AFCON appearance since 2015. DR Congo’s title came in the 1970s, and they even missed out on the 2021 edition. These two sides will probably fight for the second spot.

Tanzania are playing their third AFCON tournament and would be overachiever if they make it out of the group stage.

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