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PAF’s evaluation and progress report for African national teams following the international break

The opening matches of World Cup qualifying for African national teams were postponed as CAF figures out a more efficient Covid-19 testing protocol, but many teams were in action to experiment and explore answers to pressing questions for when the important games start up in September. Check out Pan-Africa Football’s evaluations and progress reports for the African senior national teams who were active during the international break below:

5 Stars

Algeria

Results: 4-1 Win v. Mauritania, 1-0 Win v. Mali, 2-0 Win v. Tunisia, v. Burundi on 16 June

With new combinations being tried out by managers, it is rare for international friendlies to go perfectly, but Algeria achieved near perfection during the break. Sluggish first half performances against Mauritania and Mali gave way to improved second halves with increased efficiency in the attack. Manager Djamel Belhadi implemented different combinations, particularly in the midfield, and managed to experiment while still having his side show the class that has made them arguably the best African senior national team since international football returned from the pandemic. Their most recent win against Tunisia was the culmination of progress shown over the international break with a devastating first half providing victory for the Fennecs over their neighbors and rivals.

4 Stars

Gambia

Results: 2-0 Win v. Niger, 1-0 Win v. Togo, 0-1 Loss v. Kosovo

Coach Tom Saintfiet took full advantage of the Scorpions’ series of friendlies in Turkey to find out more about the depth within his squad as well as see more of the team’s burgeoning young stars ahead of the nation’s debut AFCON appearance and upcoming World Cup qualifying matches. The defeat to Kosovo featured an unsatisfactory performance but inconsistency will occur when young players are being implemented and the team showed why they are no longer in the middle of the pack in African football with their wins against Niger and Togo. What is important is that Saintfiet got a good look at players like AS Roma’s Ebrima Darboe, defenders James Gomez and Leon Guwara as well as goalkeeper Baboucarr Gaye to get a further idea of who will make the cut for more important games later on.

3 1/2 Stars

Senegal

Results: 3-1 Win v. Zambia, 2-0 Win v. Cape Verde

The Teranga Lions are well known as one of Africa’s elite national teams at this point and more or less proved it on the pitch during the break with their two victories. However, two factors dropped down their rating compared to a team like Algeria. Their second half against Zambia was quite subpar after being up 3-0 by halftime and the first half against Cape Verde was substandard, resulting in the scores covering up some less than optimal spells. Manager Aliou Cissé also could have experimented more with younger players on the fringe rather than using his stars so much.

Rwanda

Results: 2-0 Win v. Central African Republic, 5-0 Win v. Central African Republic

Amavubi showed a punch in attack that was sorely lacking during this past Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign where they only netted once in six games. Using a side with more regular starting players in the opening victory over Central African Republic, a more experimental team surprisingly devastated Les Fauves by punishing a poor performance from their opponents to relieve past criticism of coach Vincent Mashami for negative tactics while allowing him to see players who have excelled in the Rwanda Premier League this season. The opponent was certainly weak but at this point the Rwanda side needed these decisive victories to boost their confidence.

3 Stars

Ivory Coast

Results: 2-1 Win v. Burkina Faso, 0-0 Draw v. Ghana

An uneven AFCON qualifying campaign left Les Éléphants fans in a bit of suspense as one of Africa’s top powers needed a win on the final day against Ethiopia to finish the job. There are very few national teams on the continent who rival the Ivorians when it comes to talent, so many questions needed to be answered in the two friendlies. A sputtering start against rivals Burkina Faso at home gave the necessary spark for a dominant attacking performance in the second half that most importantly saw the emergence of 18-year-old Manchester United wunderkind Amad Diallo as a future weapon, his excellent free kick making the home crowd instantly forget any previous shortcomings from the team. The subsequent draw at Ghana featured a defensive show that suffocated the Ghanaian attack. A deadly World Cup qualifying group awaits in September with only one spot going to either the Ivorians or Cameroon, so manager Patrice Beaumelle needs to continue the forward progress.

Tunisia

Results: 1-0 Win v. DR Congo, 0-2 Loss v. Algeria, 1-0 Win v. Mali

Tunisia have remained a steady force under manager Mondher Kebaier and outside of a ten-minute spell where they conceded two goals in their loss to neighbors Algeria, the trend continued during their three matches. Kebaier has done well to gradually increase the roles of young talents like Espérance star midfielder Mohamed Ben Romdhane, Rizespor defender Montassar Talbi and Brondby player Anis Ben Slimane and over time they will fit well with veterans Wahbi Khazri, Naïm Sliti and Talbi’s club center back partner Yassine Meriah. There is plenty of depth in the Carthage Eagles squad and the team looks to be heavy favorites to continue on from an undefeated AFCON qualifying campaign and obtain first place in their World Cup qualifying group.

Guinea

Results: 0-0 Draw v. Turkey, 0-2 Loss v. Togo, 2-1 Win v. Kosovo, 2-1 Win v. Niger

It was up and down at the start for the Syli Nationale with a well earned draw against a Turkish side making their last preparations for Euro 2020 and falling victim to a Kodjo Laba brace in a poor display against Togo. However, they were clearly the better team against Kosovo and Niger to wrap up their schedule on a positive note. Coach Didier Six was able to see how domestic-based players like Horoya forward Yacouba Gnagba Barry and goalkeeper Moussa Camara looked alongside the European-based regulars such as Young Boys defender Mohamed Camara and the team will be well prepared for World Cup qualifying games in September.

Cameroon

Results: 1-0 Win v. Nigeria, 0-0 Draw v. Nigeria

A grueling European season prevented the Indomitable Lions from having their best talent for the break, but the team showed substantial improvement on the defensive end in their back-to-back matchups against Nigeria. The unavailability of starting goalkeepers Andre Onana and Fabrice Ondoa allowed AS Vita Club keeper Simon Omossola to shine in the opening match and continue his emergence as a reliable option. Despite recent sluggishness in the attack, Cameroon’s prior success in that department with stars like Vincent Aboubakar made the defense more of a focus in these friendlies and that is where they were more than adequate.

South Africa

Results: 3-2 Win v. Uganda

With the DStv Premiership and European seasons just wrapping up as well as an upcoming Summer Olympic campaign, it is understandable that the senior Bafana Bafana side had only one friendly scheduled. Credit must be given to new manager Hugo Broos for utilizing their match against Uganda to put out a side that featured many new, younger faces who had shown well in the DStv Premiership campaign and several made great first impressions. Baroka FC’s Evidence Makgoba was an example, the 21-year-old forward scoring twice on his debut to boost his stock going forward.

2 1/2 Stars

Morocco

Results: 1-0 Win v. Ghana, 1-0 Win v. Burkina Faso

It was not a particularly positive or negative international break for the Atlas Lions. The results were satisfactory if somewhat underwhelming and European-based stars as well as players excelling in the domestic Botola Pro were utilized. Vahid Halihodzic’s team did not look particularly good in the attack but the team still defended well and took chances well enough, which leaves the impression that the team will be clicking on all cylinders by September.

Burkina Faso

Results: 1-2 Loss v. Ivory Coast, 0-1 Loss v. Morocco

Burkina Faso manager Kamou Malo’s main issue heading into the international break was to learn more about the team’s depth and how new arrivals to the squad could fit in with established stars Bertrand Traoré, Lassina Traoré, Edmond Tapsoba and Hervé Kouakou Koffi. The opening match for Les Étalons saw them display a solid effort against rivals and neighbors Ivory Coast, but the high pressure of the match left fans disappointed because Malo opted to use veterans like Charles Kaboré and Abdou Traoré who are in the twilight of their careers. The second match against Morocco was more satisfying because the team put in a very competitive performance while Malo utilized more younger and unproven players, sitting most of the main stars to the satisfaction of fans who wished to see more of the depth in the Burkinabé player pool.

Togo

Results: 2-0 Win v. Guinea, 1-0 Loss v. Gambia

It is clearly an era of rebuilding for Les Éperviers following a disastrous AFCON qualifying campaign, but domestic-based caretaker manager Jonas Komla and his squad scored a momentum building victory against Guinea. Komla’s knowledge of players in the Togolese league allowed some players to get their opportunity alongside established stars like talismanic striker Kodjo Laba and goalkeeper of the future Malcolm Barcola. Togo will likely struggle to compete for tournament qualification in the immediate future but their qualification for the most recent African Nations Championship suggests that incoming manager Paulo Duarte has some talent to work with when he takes over in August.

Zambia

Results: 1-3 Loss v. Senegal, 2-2 Draw v. Benin, 2-3 Loss v. Sudan, 1-0 Win v. Sudan

Even if the results continue to be average to below average for the Chipolopolo under Micho Sredojevic, credit must be given to the manager for packing in as many exhibitions as possible during his reign to learn more about his player pool. Lacking stars such as Red Bull Salzburg duo Patson Daka and Enock Mwepu for this string of matches, Micho called in numerous players based in the Zambia Super League in his attempts to find answers going forward. A positive second half performance against the stars of Senegal and some signs of improvement despite a lack of chemistry make his effort worthy of praise, but expectations of results will still be high when he has his stars available for competitive games.

Cape Verde

Results: 2-1 Win v. Brazil U-23, 0-2 Loss v. Senegal

Facing two teams with far more star power than the Blue Sharks, Cape Verde took their chances and held out well to upset the Brazil Olympic team and provide some resistance early on against Senegal. This team is still very much based around veterans, but a couple of younger players are establishing themselves to be key players in the future such as AS Nancy midfielder Kenny Rocha Santos and forward Lisandro Semedo of Fortuna Sittard. Nigeria, favorites to win Group C in World Cup qualifying, need to be very wary when preparing for a Cape Verde side that has a recent history of punching above expectations.