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2023 Africa Cup of Nations Qualifying Preview: Group E

Ghana

Profile

FIFA Ranking: 60

AFCON Appearances: 23

Best Finish: Champions (1963, 1965, 1978, 1982)

Manager: Otto Addo

Key Player

Mohammed Kudus (AFC Ajax- Netherlands)

The qualification campaign for the 2021 AFCON was where a 19-year-old Kudus grew into a major contributor for the Black Stars and while a series of injuries have limited his ability to contribute regularly, Ghanaian supporters are hoping the attacking midfielder will stay fit for all of 2022. After an injury-fit 2021-22 season with Ajax, the Dutch giants have eased Kudus back into fitness with numerous substitute appearances and a couple of starts since he returned from starting both legs in Ghana’s 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying playoff victory over Nigeria. His close control of the ball and ability to pick out forwards making runs makes Kudus essential to the Ghanaian midfield.

Other players to watch

Thomas Partey (Arsenal- England) A crucial component in the base of Ghana’s midfield, Partey will not be available for the opening two matches as his injury struggles continue to pop up. Ghana will expect to advance as a top-2 side and will hope that most importantly, Partey is ready for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in November.

Daniel-Kofi Kyereh (St. Pauli- Germany) In the injury-related absences of players like Kudus, the German-born attacking midfielder earned his spot in the team by filling in at the 2021 AFCON earlier this year. Scored 12 goals and provided 9 assists for St. Pauli in the Bundesliga 2 this season.

Felix Afena-Gyan (AS Roma- Italy) The 19-year-old forward graduated from Roma’s youth academy to make 22 appearances this season in all competitions and showed his potential in the Qatar 2022 qualifying playoff against Nigeria. With several dual national attacking players in the process of switching allegiance to Ghana, the 2023 AFCON qualifying campaign is Afena-Gyan’s best opportunity to secure his spot in the World Cup squad.

Outlook

Ghana will be heavy favorites to advance and win the group but the Black Stars will need to secure full points at home due to tough road challenges awaiting them in Madagascar and Angola. If the defense can stay secure as it did against Nigeria in World Cup qualifying then it will give freedom for a developing attack to improve.

Madagascar

Profile

FIFA Ranking: 102

AFCON Appearances: 1

Best Finish: Quarterfinals (2019)

Manager: Nicolas Dupuis

Key Player

Loïc Lapoussin (Royale Union SG- Belgium)

The French-born midfielder was ever present in a Royale Union side who took the Belgian Pro League by storm this season, making 38 league appearances as his team came just shy of winning the title. However, Lapoussin will be competing for UEFA Champions League football next season and he is a creative force when putting on the Madagascar shirt. The 26-year-old likes to operate on the left wing and cut inside onto his favored right foot to break down and run at defenses, also possessing a stinging shot.

Other players to watch

Marco Ilaimaharitra (Sporting Charleroi- Belgium) A tough tackling presence who is part of a Malagasy midfield that will be quite formidable. The 26-year-old has made over 150 appearances for Charleroi in the Belgian Pro League over five seasons.

Rayan Raveloson (Los Angeles Galaxy- USA) Had a fantastic first season in Major League Soccer after transferring from Troyes to the LA Galaxy, filling in at center back and even showing an eye for goal before starting regularly at his favored center midfield position. Raveloson’s versatility allows him to contribute on both defense and attack and he will be important with Madagascar determined to return to the AFCON.

Arnaud Randrianantenaina (El Gouna- Egypt) The 21-year-old is poised to breakthrough into the starting lineup for Barea after a prolific career with Madagascar’s under-20 side, scoring seven goals combined in the 2019 COSAFA U-20 Cup and the 2020 Arab Cup U-20. With prolific goal scorers Carolus Andriamahitsinoro and Paulin Voavy in the twilight of their careers the opportunity is there for Randrianantenaina to graduate from substitute to starter.

Outlook

Madagascar will fancy their chances of qualifying for another AFCON. With a fierce home advantage and the return of the architect of their 2019 run to the quarterfinals, manager Nicolas Dupuis, the Barea will be aiming for second place in the group but will need to find a couple of positive results on the road. At this point it is difficult to predict who is favored between them and Angola to advance out of the group along with Ghana but this team certainly has the talent.

Central African Republic

Profile

FIFA Ranking: 131

AFCON Appearances: None

Best Finish: N/A

Manager: Raoul Savoy

Key Player

César Manzoki (Vipers SC- Uganda)

Central African Republic have been doing their best to find players based abroad with ties to the country and Manzoki may be their most prominent recruit for the 2023 AFCON qualifying campaign. Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the 25-year-old is a physical presence at the striker position who has plenty of CAF Champions League experience from his time in Congolese football. Manzoki has scored 20 goals in 45 Uganda Premier League appearances with Vipers SC over the last two seasons and was an important contributor as the Venoms dominated Ugandan football on their way to a 2021-22 league title.

Other players to watch

Karl Namnganda (Les Herbiers- France) The forward who gained infamy by scoring Central African Republic’s winning goal in their shocking victory at Nigeria during 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying, Namnganda has spent his entire career in France’s lower leagues but has seized his opportunity since being recruited to join Les Fauves in September 2021. May be used as a substitute due to his speed like he was against Nigeria.

Isaac Ngoma (Tempête- Central African Republic) An attacking midfielder, the 19-year-old represents the future of the national team and was a key contributor during CAR’s run to the quarterfinals at the 2021 Africa U-20 Cup of Nations. With young talents coming up to join with CAR’s dual national recruits, Les Fauves could be more formidable than many anticipate.

Outlook

Les Fauves are certainly not a minnow as they proved during 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying with a road victory at Nigeria but it is difficult to see them qualifying as a top-2 side in the group. The future is bright after their under-20 national side advanced to the quarterfinals at the 2021 Africa U-20 Cup of Nations but there have been only a couple of opportunities for manager Raoul Savoy to build chemistry with the young talents and dual nationals being brought in. Expect signs of potential but qualification is too much to ask for at this point.

Angola

Profile

FIFA Ranking: 126

AFCON Appearances: 8

Best Finish: Quarterfinals (2008, 2010)

Manager: Pedro Gonçalves

Key Player

Hélder Costa (Valencia- Spain)

The 27-year-old former Portugal international switched allegiance after appearing in one friendly for A Seleção and made an instant impact in the final matches of Angola’s failed attempt to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, scoring in a 2-2 home draw against Egypt. Costa can line up on either wing with game-changing speed and dribbling ability that makes Angola a dangerous team to defend against. The Palancas Negras have a formidable attack but the former Leeds United and current Valencia winger could make all the difference when it comes to qualification.

Other players to watch

Ary Papel (Al-Akhdar- Libya) The former Primeiro de Agosto star has struggled to find stable club success outside of Angola but the tall forward who prefers to have the ball at his feet is rediscovering his form for the national team with two goals in their most recent friendly against Guinea-Bissau. Now in Libyan football, Papel has plenty of competition for starting spots with the Palancas Negras but his experience and instincts in the penalty area make him stand out in an attack filled with speedy wingers.

Show (Ludgorets Razgrad- Bulgaria) Another former Primeiro de Agosto star, the deep lying midfielder is an excellent distributor of the ball particularly with his long range passing. Show was signed by French Ligue 1 club LOSC Lille at the age of 20, spending two seasons on loan in Portugal’s top division before moving to Bulgarian champions Ludogorets. The 23-year-old continues to progress in European club football and brings class to the Angolan midfield.

Núrio Fortuna (KAA Gent- Belgium) The 27-year-old left back enjoyed a career year at club level by making 46 appearances with two goals and four assists for Gent in the Belgian Pro League and UEFA Europa Conference League. Fortuna’s role is continuing to grow with Angola and his ability to get up and down the flank will only add to the team’s quality in defense as well as attack.

Outlook

The talent is formidable on Angola and supporters will be expecting their team to navigate the group for their first AFCON finals appearance since 2019. It will not be easy with Ghana, Madagascar and an unknown quantity in Central African Republic but the Angolan attack may just be the most talented out of all four teams. With home advantage secured unlike many African national teams at the moment, expect Angola to finish second and even challenge Ghana for top spot but also watch out for the important fixtures against a determined Madagascar team.

Prediction

  1. Ghana
  2. Angola
  3. Madagascar
  4. Central African Republic

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