Expect a strong 2023 AFCON—Algeria legend Rabah Madjer


* I am highly confident about the quality of the competition because the strongest teams in the continent are all present

* And by default this makes it a tough competition given the diverse pool of formidable contenders

Maravi Express

Algerian legend Rabah Madjer acknowledged the difficulty in predicting the favourites for the Africa Cup of Nations Cote d’Ivoire 2023 that kicks off on January 13, saying it is going to host the continent’s formidable teams and making it exceptionally fierce.

Advertisement

Defending champions, Senegal who clinched their first ever AFCON title in Cameroon in the 2022 finals, are drawn in Group C against Cameroon, Guinea and The Gambia in what looks a competitive pool.

There will be a West African affair in Group A as hosts Cote d’Ivoire were paired with regional rivals Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea and Guinea-Bissau.

Record winners Egypt, hunting a record-extending eighth continental crown, renew hostilities with Ghana in Group B in a repeat of the 2010 final which the Pharaohs won late. Cape Verde and Mozambique complete the group.

Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Angola add further star quality to Group D in another exciting pool while World Cup semi-finalists Morocco should navigate a comfortable Group F containing DR Congo, Zambia and Tanzania.

Defending champions Senegal

Thus Madjer’s difficulty in making a prediction stems from the fact that all the powerhouses of African football will be playing at the tournament.

He told CAFonline “I am highly confident about the quality of the competition because the strongest teams in the continent are all present and by default this makes it a tough competition.

“The participating sides will all be vying for glory, and I expect them to raise the bar to ensure that the tournament is captivating. With just a few days remaining before the kickoff, the expectation for a high level of performance is set with top players from across the globe playing in it.

Predicting standout teams is a challenging task, given the diverse pool of formidable contenders. Some teams will obviously be aiming to go far in the continental competition, while others enter the competition with the sole aim of clinching the coveted title.

“Naming a specific team as the favourite is extremely challenging, especially with giants like the host nation Cote d’Ivoire, Algeria, Morocco, Senegal, and Nigeria participating in the finals.

The legend at his prime

Asked to name the players he anticipates to emerge as discoveries in Côte d’Ivoire, Madjer also said it was difficult to pre-determining them  because this edition is different: “A player might be excelling elsewhere but when he comes to the AFCON his performance will be different because all the matches are extremely difficult.

“The tournament’s opening matches will offer a glimpse into the players’ performances, which will allow me the proper chance to assess their capabilities on the grand stage.”

Meanwhile, Algeria coach Djamel Belmadi has played down the chances of the Desert Foxes as they will be participating for the 19th time in its history — and are seeking to achieve their third continental title.

They first won it in 1990 before clinching it again 29 years later in 2019 and have earned the silver medal once (1980) while they reached the quarterfinals four times (1996, 2000, 2004 and 2015).

They were 3rd in 1984 and 1988; 4th in 1982 and bowed out in group stages eight times (1968, 1986, 1992, 1998, 2002, 2013, 2017 and 2021).

They open their campaign on January 15 against Angola before meeting Burkina Faso on January 20 and Mauritania on January 23.

Coach Belmadi will be managing the team for the third time in the AFCON finals, as he previously led the nation to their title in 2019 on Egyptian soil.

Advertisement

The 47-year-old has been at the helm for five years and will be looking to use his experience of continental football to the best of his abilities to lead the Algerian side to glory.

But the former international attempted to take the pressure off his side claiming they are not among the favourites insisting other sides stand a better chance of winning the title.

Belmadi stated that hosts Cote d’Ivoire were the team to beat at the tournament along with the likes of Egypt, Senegal, Morocco, Tunisia and Nigeria as greater contenders than defending champions, Senegal.

“We are arriving at this tournament slowly but surely, with a lot of certainty,” Belmadi said when unveiling his squad for the continent’s flagship football competition.

“But we are reminded of our elimination from the first round of the last edition, followed by our failure to qualify for the 2022 World Cup — de facto we are not favourites.”

It contrasts sharply with Belmadi’s bullish statements before Algeria’s triumphant 2019 AFCON campaign in Egypt where he had correctly predicted his side would stun the continent by bringing the trophy back to Algiers.

Advertisement

This time, he is keen to reduce expectations on a team still recovering from the pain of recent setbacks as they did not even reach the knockouts stages in Cameroon or qualified for the 2022 World Cup.

But Belmadi still backed his players to perform in Cote d’Ivoire, saying: “We will go there with the intention of obtaining an optimal result.”

Algeria are embarking on a 10-day training camp in the Togolese capital of Lome and play two friendlies before flying to Cote d’Ivoire for the finals.

Despite his caution, few would write off a talented Algeria squad containing the likes of Riyad Mahrez and Youcef Belaili and under the guidance of Belmadi, the North Africans have pedigree and quality in abundance.

Riyad Mahrez

Mohamed Amin Ammoura

Player to watch is Mohamed Amin Ammoura, who is considered one of Africa’s rising talents. The 23-year-old has become one of the most prominent African players shining in Europe during the current season. He set the Belgian football club scene alight with Saint-Geloise with 16 goals scored in the tournament. 

One of his best attributes is his ability to shoot with both legs and eliminate defenders during one-on-one situations.—Info from CAFonline

Advertisement