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2023 Africa Cup of Nations Qualifying Preview: Group D

Egypt

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FIFA Ranking: 32

AFCON Appearances: 25

Best Finish: Champions (1957, 1959, 1986, 1998, 2006, 2008, 2010)

Manager: Ehab Galal

Key Player

Mohamed Salah (Liverpool- England)

After a grueling club season with Liverpool where the team was competing on four fronts in their quest for a historic four trophies this season, it will be interesting to see how Egypt’s superstar performs for his country after suffering two disappointments as Liverpool came up just short of winning the English Premier League and UEFA Champions League. The 2021 AFCON highlighted how essential Salah is to Egypt’s success and how much the Pharaohs depend on him to create and finish goals. His performance undoubtedly suffered in the second half of the European club season and it will be important for new Egypt manager Ehab Galal to find a way to relieve his team’s dependence on Salah.

Other players to watch

Mahmoud Hassan “Trezeguet” (Aston Villa- England) Trezeguet did well to make an impact at the 2021 AFCON despite coming back from a lengthy injury layoff and after a productive loan spell at Turkish club İstanbul Başakşehir, it appears the 27-year-old is at full strength to force opponents to concentrate on him rather than exclusively on Salah. The tricky winger should make Egypt a more formidable attacking side this summer than the defensive-oriented team they were in Cameroon.

Mohamed Abdelmonem (Al Ahly- Egypt) Injuries and circumstances created a golden opportunity for the 23-year-old to step into the spotlight and the center back took full advantage on his way to being named in the Best XI for the 2021 AFCON. His ability to deal with physical attackers as well as quicker forwards makes Abdelmonem a perfect partner for Egypt’s more physically imposing center backs like Ahmed Hegazy and Mahmoud Hamdy.

Mohamed Elneny (Arsenal- England) The veteran center midfielder enjoyed an excellent season for Arsenal in the English Premier League and appears to be back at peak form after many ups and downs at the London club. Regardless of his club form, Elneny always brings his best for Egypt and figures to yet again play a crucial part now that injury issues are behind him.

Outlook

Egypt are always a reliable pick to get the job done and achieve qualification and the Pharaohs look to be in good shape heading into a group they should expect to finish at the top of. With the return of Trezeguet and a few attacking options who could step into an increased role like Ahmed Sayed “Zizo”, Omar Marmoush or Ibrahim Adel, what Egypt needs to focus on is taking a step forward in their ability to create goals and take the pressure off Mohamed Salah. Top spot in Group D is expected but it will be interesting to see if new manager Galal can take a talented Pharaohs side forward.

Ethiopia

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FIFA Ranking: 140

AFCON Appearances: 11

Best Finish: Champions (1962)

Manager: Wubetu Abate

Key Player

Abubeker Nasir (Ethiopian Coffee- Ethiopia)

Ethiopia’s star 22-year-old forward failed to break out at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations as he failed to provide a goal or assist as Ethiopia exited at the group stage. The electric goal scorer who escapes pressure with ease and scored 27 goals for Ethiopian Coffee last season struggled to find his form at club level early on in the season but is bouncing back with better performances as his team struggles in fifth place in the Ethiopian Premier League. With a couple of Ethiopia’s veteran attackers in the twilight of their careers, Nasir will need to carry the load for the Walias if they want to qualify for the 2023 AFCON in Ivory Coast.

Other players to watch

Shimeles Bekele (El Gouna- Egypt) At 31-years-old the shifty winger’s goals are starting to dry up for club and country but Bekele is always going to be an influential force in the national team he has been an important part of since making his debut in 2010. The question for Ethiopian supporters is whether Bekele still has a couple of moments of magic left in him.

Surafel Dagnachew (Fasil Ketema- Ethiopia) A creative central midfielder who contributes to possession and making the incisive pass, the 24-year-old’s role has only increased in the Ethiopia setup since becoming a regular sight during the 2021 AFCON qualifying campaign. Dagnachew has the talent to be in Ethiopia’s starting lineup for years to come and looks poised to be a force in a team that always shows potential in the attack.

Ramadan Yusuf (Wolkite Kenema- Ethiopia) The talented 21-year-old left back started all of Ethiopia’s matches at the 2021 AFCON and continues to show signs that he will be a regular starter for the future. In a defense that continues to make mistakes that cost them dearly in Cameroon, Yusuf looks like one of the constants despite his young age with his one-on-one defending skill against quick wingers continuing to grow.

Outlook

It appears that Ethiopia are set for a period of transition with players like Shimelis Bekele and all-time leading scorer Getaneh Kebede in the latter parts of their careers but there continue to be talents emerging from the Ethiopian Premier League. However, with stadium issues causing the Walias to host their matches outside the country in 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying, the odds do not favor a team that has historically been a force at home with woeful away form. It will be competitive race for second spot and it is hard to see Ethiopia gaining an edge on Malawi or Guinea.

Guinea

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FIFA Ranking: 80

AFCON Appearances: 13

Best Finish: Runners-up (1976)

Manager: Kaba Diawara

Key Player

Naby Keïta (Liverpool- England)

The two-way central midfielder does everything for his national team, even taking over goal scoring duties when the Syli National attack needs his assistance as seen from his spectacular goal for Guinea against Zimbabwe at the 2021 AFCON. Keïta’s relentless engine, ability to add class to the midfield and creativity when moving forward are essential for Guinea’s success and once again his nation will count on him to lead them to a third consecutive appearance at Africa’s biggest tournament. With home advantage restored after being forced to play their 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers outside the West African nation, expectations will be high for Keïta and his teammates.

Other players to watch

Mohamed Bayo (Clermont- France) The striker has been electric for club Clermont, winning top scorer honors in the 2020-21 Ligue 2 season before helping his side avoid relegation in their debut season in France’s top tier Ligue 1 this season. However, the 23-year-old has struggled to replicate his club form for Guinea and failed to find a goal as they crashed out of the 2021 AFCON in the round-of-16. Expectations remain high for Bayo and with the striker looking to move to a bigger club it will be a priority for him to make an impact for Guinea this summer.

Aguibou Camara (Olympiakos- Greece) A player we profiled in depth here, the 21-year-old is an attacking talent who figures to play a more significant role for the Syli National after showing promise in their failed attempt to qualify for Qatar 2022. Camara’s work rate, speed and attacking instincts create plenty of goal scoring opportunities but his focus will be on improving his finishing after missing several guilt-edged chances last year.

Ilaix Moriba (Valencia- Spain) The 19-year-old center midfielder has been hailed as one of the young talents to watch in world football and Moriba gained some valuable experience with fourteen appearances for Valencia last season on loan from parent club Red Bull Leipzig. Trained at FC Barcelona, Moriba is excellent in possession and prefers to lie deeper in the midfield where he can use his vision to unlock the opposition. If he can form good chemistry with Keïta in the midfield then Guinea can take a major step forward over the summer.

Outlook

The talent has never been a question for Guinea but the results on the pitch have been underwhelming in recent times. With players like Ilaix Moriba and Mohamed Bayo yet to find their best form for the national team observers will be watching to see if new coach Kaba Diawara can get the best out of players who are excelling in European top divisions. Guinea should expect to challenge Egypt and qualify but if Diawara is not up to the job in his first full time managing opportunity, it could get awfully difficult for the National Syli.

Malawi

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FIFA Ranking: 120

AFCON Appearances: 3

Best Finish: Round of 16 (2021)

Manager: Mario Marinică

Key Player

Frank “Gabadinho” Mhango (AmaZulu- South Africa)

Malawi proved they are a force to be reckoned with after surprising all onlookers by making it out of their group at the 2021 AFCON and Gabadinho Mhango was the major reason why. The unpredictable striker shook off poor form for club Orlando Pirates to be a captivating force of nature for the Flames, scoring what may have been the best goal of the tournament to give Malawi the lead against Morocco before they bowed out in the round of 16. Now having secured a reported move to another DStv Premiership club in AmaZulu, expect to see a refreshed Gabadinho after he stated his determination to contribute for Malawi this summer.

Other players to watch

Peter Banda (Simba SC- Tanzania) In a team that has more than capable options at the forward position, the 21-year-old midfield playmaker will be expected to take the next step and be more influential for Malawi this summer. After time spent at Moldovan power club Sheriff Tiraspol, Banda made the move to Tanzanian giants Simba and continued to show his potential in a season marked by inconsistency at times.

Stanley Sanudi (Mighty Wanderers- Malawi) What really boosted Malawi’s run to the knockout stage of the 2021 AFCON was their domestic-based players and right back Sanudi was a symbol of tenacity and energy throughout. The 27-year-old is not a technical dynamo but he is a reliable defender who consistently maintains his high work rate throughout the ninety minutes.

John Banda (UD Songo- Mozambique) The 28-year-old is a seasoned campaigner for Malawi who has seen all the highs and lows as the Flames ended a long AFCON drought to qualify for the 2021 edition. Banda is an uncompromising tackler who is unafraid to put a foot in and disrupt any opposition attacks that attempt to come through the center of the midfield. Played every minute of the Flames’ 2021 AFCON participation.

Outlook

With several young talents finding their way in European club football and a group of veterans based in African football who have been regular fixtures in the Flames side, Malawi have a good balance ahead of their 2023 AFCON qualifying campaign and are very capable of repeating their achievement last time around. They will not be favorites for a top-2 spot due to being grouped with African powerhouse Egypt and a very talented side in Guinea but Malawi proved in the 2021 edition that they have an excellent team mentality to go along with a few players who can make difference-making plays.

Prediction

  1. Egypt
  2. Malawi
  3. Guinea
  4. Ethiopia

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