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AFCON 2023: Who are the favorites?

The 2023 AFCON kicks off in Cote d’Ivoire on Saturday, January 13 and runs through February 11 with 24 countries vying for the glittering trophy and a staggering prize money of $7 million.

The likes of Egypt, Cameroon and Ghana have rich history in relations to the AFCON, ranking among the most decorated nations in the competition.

Undeniably, history that countries may have in the tournament, current form, individual exploits, weaknesses and home advantage are among key factors that could decide the champions.

Weekend Sport takes a look at five countries who are well positioned to lift the coveted trophy in Cote d’Ivoire.

Senegal

Ranking: 2nd in Africa/ 20th in the world

The Teranga Lions of Senegal head to the 2023 AFCON as the defending champions, having won the last edition in Cameroon in 2021.

Senegal have been in the finals of the past two editions of the tournament and they will fancy making it thrice in a row as they push to defend the trophy.

Key players: Coach Aliou Cisse is spoilt for choice, he has a formidable team that boasts yet a big number of players who won the 2021 edition. Talismanic Sadio Mane, skipper Khalidou Koulibally and goalkeeper Edouard Mendy who are all playing club football in Saudi Arabia as well as Everton star Idrissa Gana Gueye are in the team and they have the needed telepathy to excel once again.

Shortfalls: Senegal’s bane may be complacency. If they are able to eschew it, they can go all out and retain the title.

Morocco

Ranking: 1st in Africa/ 13th in the world

The Atlas Lions’ stellar performance at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar in which they became the first African country to reach the last four gives Moroccans high hopes of conquering Africa in Côte d’Ivoire.

Morocco has been poor as far as the AFCON is concerned, having last won the competition in Ethiopia 1976, the only trophy they have in their cabinet. But the current golden generation led by coach homegrown coach Wahid Regragui are bent on ending their 48-year trophy drought at the forthcoming 2023 tournament. .

Key players: Morocco has an array of stars and they have kept all the players from their 2022 World Cup squad.

The likes of skipper Romain Saiss who plays for Al Shabab, Paris Saint-Germain right back Achraf Hakimi, Hakim Ziyech of Galatasaray, striker Youssef En-Nesyri of LaLiga club FC Sevilla and Goalkeeper Yaccine Bounou of Saudi Arabian side Al Hilal SC are among top players whose exploits can inspire Morocco to the AFCON 2023 glory.

Shortfalls: Morocco may look formidable on paper but what may work against them is the tough nature of African football. The AFCON is very rugged and teams who have been triumphant go all out, especially in the physical aspect.

Côte d’Ivoire

Ranking: 8th in Africa/ 48th in the world

The Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire may not have the well-drilled charges they possessed when they won the competition in1992 in Senegal and 2015 in Equatorial Guinea but home advantage could work in their favor.

Cote d’Ivoire is a football nation and the atmosphere and the fans can be a deciding factor that would help the Elephants to lift the title on their home soil.

Key players: Cote d’Ivoire has always been blessed with talents and they are coming into the competition with the likes of Borussia Dortmund striker Sebastien Haller, Simon Adingra of Brighton, Karim Konate of RB Salzburg among new shining stars who are hungry for success on the international scene.

Shortfalls: If the Elephants survive a Group containing Nigeria, Guinea Bissau and Equatorial Guinea, expect them to go far in the competition. Their major problem will be experience upfront as their attackers may not have the needed expertise at this level.

Cote d’Ivoire lacks a player who knows how to win the AFCON. It is also a tricky test for French coach Jean Louis Gasset whose spell with the Elephants is his first experience leading a national team.

Egypt

Ranking: 5th in Africa/ 33rd in the world

The Pharaohs are the most decorated nation in the history of AFCON, having won it a record seven times in 1957, 1959, 1986, 1998, 2006, 2008 and 2010.

After a failed attempt to win the eighth title in Cameroon in 2021 when the final to Senegal on penalties, Egypt will be looking to break their 14-year title jinx in Côte d’Ivoire and they have a team capable of winning the competition.

Key players: Skipper Mohamed Salah, the Egyptian King,’ has been in unstoppable form with Liverpool as he now leads the English Premier League scoring charts, level with Manchester City’s Erling Haaland at 14 goals.

On any given day, Salah’s magic alone can propel Egypt to the trophy. They also boast Mohamed El Neny and Mahmoud Kahraba who have also shown their pedigree at big stages.

One essential thing which makes Egypt unique is that aside from the few foreign players, most of their players feature for Al Ahly, Pyramids and Zamalek among other local teams in the Egyptian Premier League so the telepathic understanding is already assured.

Shortfalls: Egypt’s bane may be overly relying on their star man Salah. Should opposing teams devise strict defensive strategies to keep the Liverpool star at bay, they will be found wanting.

Cameroon

Ranking: 7th in Africa/ 46th in the world

After Egypt, Cameroon is the most successful team in relation to the AFCON with five trophies. They won the competition in 1984, 1988, 2000, 2002 and 2017.

Going into a country where they tasted their first AFCON glory 40 years ago, they have the psychological advantage that they can do it again.

In addition, Cameroon FA president Samuel Eto’o and national team coach Rigobert Song have both previously won the AFCON more than once and their pep talks with the players could also be a big source of motivation.

Key players: Experienced striker Vincent Aboubakar who scored eight goals in the 2021 AFCON to win the goal King will be aiming to lead the Indomitable Lions to glory again just like he did when he scored the AFCON 2017 winner in 2-1 final victory over Egypt at Stade d’Angondjé in Gabon.

The likes of Karl Toko-Ekambi, Napoli’s Frank Anguissa and Manchester United goalkeeper Andre Onana are also key elements that could leave a mark in Côte d’Ivoire.

Shortfalls: Cameroon’s major problem may lie on coaching as Rigobert Song, an AFCON winner in 2000 and 2002 has been criticized for poor tactics and his relationship with senior players. If he can get his tactics right in Cote d’Ivoire, the Indomitable Lions could roar.