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Pan-Africa Football’s AFCON preview: Group A

Cameroon

Manager

António Conceição

A fullback in his playing days who earned one appearance for the Portugal national team, Conceição has over twenty years of experience managing primarily in his native country and in Romanian football. Cameroon is his first opportunity to manage a national team and the 60-year-old has done well by guiding the Indomitable Lions to top spot in their AFCON qualifying group. His team followed up that achievement by obtaining a crucial victory in November over Ivory Coast to help Cameroon overtake the Elephants and move into the final round of 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying. The expectations will be high as the host nation and Group A may be tough to navigate, but the team has a clear identity under Conceição that gives Cameroonian supporters plenty of reason to be confident. The Indomitable Lions are expected to line up in a 4-3-3 with the fullbacks expected to cover plenty of ground in defense and attack.

Key Players

Vincent Aboubakar – Al-Nassr (SAU)

The 29-year-old Yaoundé native made his name with prestigious Cameroonian club Coton Sport and was the only domestic-based player on the Cameroon side that competed at the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Aboubakar is a proven goal scorer with success in France’s Ligue 1 and Portugal’s Primeira Liga with FC Porto. Now playing his club football in Saudi Arabia, Aboubakar will now be looking to repeat his heroics from Cameroon’s 2017 AFCON conquest, this time in the role of experienced leader and captain of the Indomitable Lions. Look for him to crash into the opposition penalty area and be a handful for defenders as he attempts to get on the end of crosses from out wide.

André-Frank Zambo Anguissa – Napoli (ITA)

A box-to-box central midfielder, Anguissa was one of Fulham FC’s few highlights during their 2020-21 English Premier League campaign that ended with relegation. Currently on loan in Italy’s Serie A, the 26-year-old is a regular for top-3 side Napoli and continues to be a force when fulfilling his defensive duties in front of the back line. Anguissa has gradually developed more confidence when moving forward thanks to his time in European football, and as a result he looks to play more of a role in the attack when playing for Cameroon. Was one of the seven players who infamously declined a call-up to the 2017 AFCON squad along with Liverpool’s Joël Matip but has earned his way back into the good graces of the national team setup.

André Onana – AFC Ajax (NLD)

Onana was initially set to miss out on the AFCON due to a ban after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance, but after appeal his 12-month ban was reduced to nine months. The 25-year-old continues to maintain his innocence but either way, his return is a massive boost for Cameroon. Onana has the full package between the sticks with excellent reflexes, good distribution and a commanding presence when dealing with aerial balls. The Samuel Eto’o Academy graduate has only made two appearances for club Ajax since his return but has the ability to help Cameroon fulfill their ambitions of being a contender to win the competition.

PAF’s Evaluation

Goalkeeper:
Defense:
Midfield:
Attack:

Prediction

Cameroon is a real threat to win the competition not only due to the fact that they are hosting, but also because the Indomitable Lions squad is solid from front to back. The return of Onana in goal is a boost and instantly upgrades a position that could have been exploited. However, the team lacks a major star on the level of Riyad Mahrez, Sadio Mané or Mohamed Salah who can provide that individual moment in an elimination game. A semifinal appearance is the most realistic goal for Cameroonian supporters, but if this team gains momentum anything is possible with a nation behind them.

Cape Verde

Manager

Bubista

The 51-year-old was a former Cape Verde national team defender who excelled in the local league and competed for CD Badajoz in the Spain’s Segunda Division as well as in Angolan football during his playing career. Bubista took over two matches into the qualification campaign with Cape Verde on two points, leading the Blue Sharks to a four-match unbeaten streak that saw them defeat Cameroon and overtake Mozambique for second place. A former U-17 and U-20 youth national team manager, he also was an assistant on the historic team that qualified for Cape Verde’s first ever AFCON in 2013 under manager Lúcio Antunes, where they made it to the quarterfinals. Bubista will look to crowd the middle of the pitch with his tactical setup and instruct his team to play direct to set up speedy attacker Ryan Mendes as well as target forward Julio Tavares.

Key Players

Vozinha – AEL Limassol (CYP)

Vozinha, a veteran goalkeeper whose moniker means “Little Voice” in Portuguese, has been ever-present for the Blue Sharks over the years. Vozinha made his debut for Cape Verde in qualifying for the 2013 AFCON, shutting out Cameroon 2-0 in the first leg and appearing in the 2-1 return leg defeat to help his country qualify for their first ever appearance. His status as permanent starter was secured when Cape Verde surprised the experts by making it to the quarterfinals in the final tournament. The Cyprus-based keeper provides valuable experience to go along with his adeptness at shot stopping, giving the Blue Sharks a reliable presence between the sticks.

Kenny Rocha Santos – Oostende (BEL)

The 22-year-old quickly established himself as a creative presence in the Cape Verde midfield over the past year. Rocha Santos had a hand in many of Cape Verde’s attacks during their 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign where the Blue Sharks came up just short of overtaking Nigeria for first place in their group. Came up in the youth system of French club Saint-Étienne before breaking through at second division club AS Nancy, where he scored six goals and provided nine assists in the 2020-21 Ligue 2 season. While midfield partner Jamiro Monteiro looks to push the tempo and apply pressure on the opposition, Rocha Santos is content to sit a bit deeper and spray passes out to Cape Verde’s pacey players on the wing.

Ryan Mendes – Al-Nasr (UAE)

Able to operate as an attacking winger or up top, Mendes appeared in every match across Cape Verde’s two previous AFCON campaigns in 2013 and 2015. The speedster came up at Le Havre in France before making a big money move to Lille in 2012, where an ankle injury threatened to end his career prematurely. However, the now 31-year-old was able to recover and is now starring in the United Arab Emirates following spells in England’s EFL Championship and the Turkish Süper Lig. Second on Cape Verde’s all-time scorer list, the Blue Sharks will count on Mendes to cause havoc by running at the defense to shoot or set up his fellow attackers.

PAF’s Evaluation

Goalkeeper:
Defense:
Midfield:
Attack:

Prediction

This Cape Verde team stays tactically solid and will be difficult to break down because Bubista knows his squad well. Understanding that the defense needs extra support, Cape Verde defends in numbers and will attempt to break out in transition once they win the ball. As a result, this team is battle tested with veterans in the squad who know how to get the job done. Expect the Blue Sharks to qualify for the knockout stages, most likely as one of the competition’s highest ranked third-place teams.

Burkina Faso

Manager

Kamou Malo

Malo has done excellently in recent months as Burkina Faso manager despite not qualifying the Stallions for the final round of 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying. Injuries played a major factor in his squad selection with Bertrand Traoré and Edmond Tapbsoba unavailable for large stretches due to injury, and star striker Lassina Traoré suffering a devastating leg injury in late September that ruled him out for the latter part of their qualifying fixtures. Malo adjusted well and explored the talent pool, giving some of the nation’s young and African-based players their opportunity to gain valuable experience and nearly upsetting Algeria on the road to overtake Africa’s defending champions for a spot in the final round. The AFCON qualifying campaign was straightforward in a relatively easy group and expectations are high for the team in Cameroon. It will be interesting to see how his team lines up with Bertrand Traoré and Tapsoba back from injury, but the coach who has spent his entire career in Burkinabe football should have his team in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3.

Key Players

Edmond Tapsoba – Bayer Leverkusen (GER)

Tapsoba is an immense talent who is the embodiment of a modern defender. The 22-year-old is composed with the ball at his feet and his passing statistics are up there with the best defenders in the world in Europe’s top-5 leagues. The 22-year-old always appears calm but accelerates to top speed quickly when closing down opposition attackers, making him an excellent option in a defensive midfield role as well. A youth product of Ouagadougou-based club Salitas, Tapsoba played a season for the reserve team of Portuguese Primeira Liga side Vitória de Guimarães before being promoted to the senior team, where he stayed for only six months before moving to current club Leverkusen for about $20 million. Due to a three-month injury lay off last year, his name is not being mentioned as much as it should heading into the tournament but he is now fit and ready to remind the world’s biggest clubs why he just may be the best defender in Africa.

Bertrand Traoré – Aston Villa (ENG)