Some of football’s biggest stars will showcase their skills when the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) gets under way in Ivory Coast on January 13.
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Record AFCON winners Egypt, led by their talismanic captain Mohamed Salah, will look for their eighth title. Morocco will hope their superb display at the last World Cup will translate into continental success, while Victor Osimhen will aim to replicate his club form for Nigeria.
Here’s a look at Al Jazeera’s favourites to win the tournament:
Morocco are the red-hot favourites after their historic run at the Qatar World Cup 2022.
The North African nation became the first-ever team from the continent to qualify for the semifinals in Qatar, where they were beaten by France.
By defeating Spain and Portugal in the knockout stages, the Atlas Lions had already made their own history in reaching the quarterfinal stage.
Morocco’s manager Walid Regragui has been quite clear that his team’s task now is to prove that Qatar was no fluke by winning the AFCON title.
Paris St Germain defender Achraf Hakimi and Chelsea winger, on loan at Galatasaray, Hakim Ziyech remain the star attractions. Sofyan Amrabat’s efforts in Qatar did not go unnoticed either, with Manchester United agreeing a season-long loan from Fiorentina with a view to sign a permanent deal.
Bayern Munich’s Noussair Mazraoui and Romain Saiss of Al Shabab along with Hakimi form the tournament’s best defence.
Youssef En-Nesyri carries some pressure on his shoulders after the Seville striker had to be defended by his manager in Qatar following criticism for his profligacy in front of goal.
Morocco were beaten in the quarterfinals by defeated finalists Egypt at the last AFCON. In fact, since winning the 1976 edition, the Atlas Lions have only reached the final once, in 2004, when they were beaten by North African rivals Tunisia.
Defending champions Senegal start the tournament on the heels of favourites Morocco.
Their sole AFCON triumph in 2022, was closely run with penalties required to overcome Egypt following a goalless draw in the final.
The Lions of Teranga were the favourites from Africa to push for the latter stages of the World Cup in Qatar but the loss of Sadio Mane to injury dealt them a crushing blow.
Following a 2-0 defeat by Netherlands in their opening match, they overcame Qatar and Ecuador only to lose 3-0 to England in the first knock-out round.
The emergence of Chelsea’s striker, Nicolas Jackson, signed in the summer from Villareal, is a huge boost to an already impressive ensemble. The 22-year-old has scored seven times in his first 19 appearances for the Blues.
Pape Matar Sarr is expected to be the main man in midfield and, while Edouard Mendy offers great assurance in goal, the formidable presence of Kalidou Koulibaly is the rock on which the strength of the Senegalese spine is built.
“I want to win the competition” was the clear message from Mohamed Salah about his ambitions at AFCON as he departed Premier League leaders Liverpool.
Egpyt’s place among the favourites rests solely on the shoulders of Africa’s best – and arguably greatest ever – footballing talent.
Salah helped the Reds end a 30-year wait for a league title as well as helping them to a seventh Champions League trophy.
Despite his overwhelming club success, the forward’s commitment to his country is unwavering but he will need to inspire all the support he can get – from a team that is far from star-studded – if the king is to achieve the crowning glory of an AFCON title.
Mohamed Elneny a bit-part midfielder at Arsenal and Al Ittihad’s Ahmed Hegazy is the other name of note.
Egypt can, however, point to their appearance in the final of the last tournament – and their route to reach the showpiece game after overcoming Ivory Coast, Morocco and Cameroon.
A glittering past for Egypt, a glittering present for Salah but can the two combine to fulfil the dreams of the Pharoah’s greatest footballer?
Denied a shot at the World Cup but a play-off eliminator and denied twice in the 2017 and 2022 AFCON finals, the clock is ticking for the 31-year-old and his place in his country’s history books.
Just imagine this team 🤩
— CAF (@CAF_Online) December 11, 2023
The Super Eagles have had their wings clipped of late – eliminated in a play-off for a place at the Qatar World Cup by rivals Ghana and falling at the first knockout hurdle at the 2022 AFCON.
Nigeria had won all three of their group games, including a win over Salah’s Egypt, but Alex Iwobi’s sending-off against Tunisia in the round of 16 was costly, as the side slipped to a 1-0 defeat.
Nigeria’s squad arguably boasts the most depth of all the teams at the tournament and only three AFCON titles will pain Africa’s largest nation, despite the presence of an Olympic gold medal in their trophy cabinet.
Iwobi, formerly of Arsenal and Everton, will be joined in the squad by Fulham teammate, Calvin Bassey – the full-back was named player of the match in the Premier League win against Arsenal on December 31.
The loss to injury of Wilfred Ndidi from the midfielder cannot be overstated. The fact they can turn to yet another European top-flight club to call up a replacement in Royal Antwerp’s Alhassan Yusuf could soften the blow.
It’s in attack where Nigeria will be expected to light up the tournament with Victor Osimhen in particular.
The striker was Serie A’s leading scorer last season as he led Napoli to their first league title since Diego Maradona became the darling of Naples in 1990.
The recently crowned African Footballer of the Year will be joined up front by anyone of of Leicester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho, AC Milan’s Samuel Chukwueze, Atalanta’s Ademola Lookman and Bayer Leverkusen’s Victor Boniface. The latter is fourth on the list of leading scorers in the Bundesliga helping his team to the top of the table.
Every 🇳🇬Nigerian is Victor Osimhen!
Behold, your African Footballer of the Year!🤴
Congratulations @victorosimhen9 🦅
We are super proud of you💪 pic.twitter.com/RjIE4rR8Em
— The NFF 🇳🇬 (@thenff) December 11, 2023
The hosts cannot be ruled out as contenders but the decision not to select Galatasaray’s Wilfred Zaha in attack will hang heavily over the team if results go against the team. Brave or foolish – it is headline news.
Nicolas Pepe, a club record signing for Arsenal in 2019, will shoulder the weight of expectation.
After only 16 goals in 80 appearances for the Gunners, the forward switched to the Turkish league and Trabzonspor via a loan spell in France with Nice.
Meanwhile, Sebastion Haller has yet to find the net in 15 matches this season for Borussia Dortmund who have slipped to fifth in the league.
The team is short of the superstar status it had in the days of Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure.
Perhaps this is the moment for the next generation, on home soil, to step forward but a dark-horse tag feels closer to the truth than that of one of the favourites.
Two names cannot go unmentioned among the other contenders in Ghana and Cameroon.
Both were World Cup qualifiers for Qatar 2022 but both underwhelmed in the group stage. The former only won their final match against an already qualified Brazil and the latter defeated in all three of their games.
Andre Onana’s return in goal, after he was sent home from the World Cup, will boost the Indomitable Lions immeasurably.
AFCON champions in 2019, Algeria, have the mercurial Riyad Mahrez in attack but their slide ever since that win has been made all the more painful by the rise of their north Africa rivals and neighbours, Morocco.