The road to the 2023 edition of the Africa Cup of Nations, set to be held in the Ivory Coast, gets under today with the first three of 44 group stage qualifying matches set to be held in the space of 13 days.
The ‘big gun’ in action on Wednesday evening is Ghana, with the West Africans welcoming Madagascar to Cape Coast for a Group E clash.
The Black Stars are still buzzing after overcoming Nigeria to secure 2022 World Cup qualification two months ago, though their squad is missing key players in the shape of Thomas Partey (injury) and Alfred Dunan (retired from international football).
Thursday sees Egypt begin their post Carlos Queiroz era, as new coach Ehab Galal looks to lead them to a victory over Group D rivals Guinea.
“We are not here to ruin what the previous coaching staff did, we’ll try to keep the positive aspects and fix the negative ones,” said Galal. “There might be some changes to our playing style but nothing major yet.”
A busy weekend features hosts Ivory Coast in action on Friday night when they host Zambia, while Saturday’s headline fixture sees Afcon champions Senegal begin the defence of their crown by welcoming Benin to Dakar for their opening Group L clash.
Saturday also features Uganda visiting Algeria and Mali tackling Congo in Bamako. The Uganda Cranes will face a stiff test against their North African hosts, but coach Milutin Sredojevic is introducing new blood into the team, including Dulwich Hamlet forward Ibra Sekajja.
“I thank the coach for giving me this opportunity,” said Sekajja. “But I feel it has taken a long time to even be here. I feel so happy and I can’t wait to score goals to help the team win games.”
Matchday 2 fixtures begin on Sunday, while the outstanding Matchday 1 games will be caught up on Thursday, 9 June, with the key fixtures seeing Nigeria tackle Sierra Leone and South Africa face a stiff test away to Morocco in Rabat.
Bafana Bafana coach Hugo Broos has admitted that the Atlas Lions are a cut above the rest in their qualifying group – “It’s clear that Morocco is the best team in our group. They were in the Afcon in January and were eliminated by Egypt and they are a very good team” – but he is hopeful of an upset on the road.
As for the Super Eagles, new coach Jose Peseiro has already gotten off to a losing start with defeat to Mexico in a friendly this past weekend, but he has promised that Afcon glory will arrive under his guidance.
“We will work with great ambition so that in the end we can finally call Nigeria the ‘four-time African champions’,” said the Portuguese tactician, who will also guide Nigeria in a match away to Mauritius when this double block of qualifiers wraps up on Monday, 13 June.