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2023 Africa Cup of Nations Qualifying Preview: Group J

Tunisia

Profile

FIFA Ranking: 35

AFCON Appearances: 20

Best Finish: Champions (2004)

Manager: Jalel Kadri

Key Player

Hannibal Mejbri (Manchester United- England)

It is not clear that the 19-year-old Manchester United player will even start for a national side that tends to value veteran experience, but if Tunisia wants to make any impact in the 2022 FIFA World Cup then these are the perfect games to provide a test for the savvy midfield playmaker. Mejbri has marked 2022 so far with his first career start for Manchester United and an Africa Cup of Nations debut for Tunisia, and while he did not find success in either match his skillset is too valuable to ignore for a Carthage Eagles team that needs new ideas. It will be interesting to see if he can graduate to a starting position during Tunisia’s 2023 AFCON qualifying campaign.

Other players to watch

Ellyes Skhiri (FC Köln- Germany) Essential to Tunisia for his ability to contribute as a two-way midfielder, Skhiri’s availability has been limited lately for Tunisia and the team has suffered for his absence by barely making it past Mali in the Qatar 2022 playoff. The 27-year-old will be absent for Tunisia’s opening two qualifiers and it remains to be seen how they will perform against Equatorial Guinea and Botswana without him.

Mohamed Dräger (FC Luzern- Switzerland) Tunisia gains strength from their fullbacks and Dräger holds down the right flank with his excellent stamina and ability to get forward. Lining up opposite veteran Ali Maâloul on the left flank, both will be key to making the Tunisian attack more fearful.

Naïm Sliti (Al-Ettifaq- Saudi Arabia) The tricky winger/forward is usually a reliable threat for the Carthage Eagles with his dribbling and ability to score goals but his form has fallen for club and country a bit in the past year. The 29-year-old failed to score for Tunisia at the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup, the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations as well as 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying. However, five goals in his last four matches for Saudi club Al-Ettifaq suggests that he may be reinvigorated for Tunisia’s fixtures during the remainder of 2022.

Outlook

Despite an attack that has misfired lately, Tunisia are a steady force in African football with a defense that is very difficult to break down. Group J appears to be a good draw for the Carthage Eagles and they should be able to navigate their way to first place and a spot in Ivory Coast.

Botswana

Profile

FIFA Ranking: 148

AFCON Appearances: 1

Best Finish: Group Stage (2012)

Manager: Mogomotsi Mpote

Key Player

Thatayaone Ditlhokwe (SuperSport United- South Africa)

The 23-year-old is the class of the Motswana defense and has already emerged as a leader who is a force in the air as well as when making tackles on the ground. Since moving from top local club Township Rollers to SuperSport United in South Africa’s DStv Premiership, Ditlhokwe has made 56 league appearances but saw his role diminished towards the end of the season as SuperSport slumped to a mid-table finish. Regardless of his club form he will act as the marshal in a Zebras defense that can be difficult to break down.

Other players to watch

Tumisang Orebonye (Olympique Khouribga- Morocco) The strong striker has seen his ups and downs with club side OCK but his first season in Morocco’s Botola Pro has seen him find his footing with six goals after helping his side to promotion the previous season from the Botola 2. Look for him to be Botswana’s man up top as he hopes to draw upon a strong 2021 COSAFA Cup where he scored three goals for the Zebras.

Kabelo Seakanyeng (Olympique Khouribga- Morocco) Joined OCK along with Orebonye with both being key contributors in helping their team gain promotion to Morocco’s top division. The diminutive playmaker can torch opposing defenses with his speed on the dribble, passing vision and eye for goal. Has displayed excellent form and scored nine goals this season in the Botola Pro, putting him in third place on the top scorer chart.

Mothusi Johnson (Orapa United- Botswana) A left back who is fearless when attacking down the flank, the 24-year-old started all four of Botswana’s games at the 2021 COSAFA Cup and impressed as the Zebras went out in the group stage. If he starts for Botswana, Johnson has the potential to be a key contributor in the team’s attempts to make noise in Group J.

Outlook

Botswana are a side who can make it quite difficult on their opponents and the Zebras have aspirations of qualifying for their second AFCON appearance. The Zebras have a decent group and the key for them will be finding a steady supply of goals, something they sorely lacked in qualification for the 2021 edition. Their first two fixtures against Libya and Tunisia will say a lot about their potential but they have much to prove before they can be considered a genuine threat to qualify.

Libya

Profile

FIFA Ranking: 117

AFCON Appearances: 3

Best Finish: Runners-up (1982)

Manager: Corentin Martins

Key Player

Ali Al-Musrati (Braga- Portugal)

The former Al Ahli Tripoli star has done excellently in his attempt to make it in European football, featuring primarily for the reserves at Vitória de Guimarães before moving on to success at one of Portugal’s top clubs in Sporting Braga. The 26-year-old is a powerfully build central midfielder who does well at winning the ball and anticipating situations but also has excellent vision that allows him to pick out targets from a deep lying position. Al-Musrati will not be with the Mediterranean Knights for their first two AFCON qualifying fixtures against Botswana and Equatorial Guinea while he sorts his club future out with rumors of an English Premier League transfer to Fulham in the headlines.

Other players to watch

Sanad Al Warfali (Al-Ittihad- Libya) A commanding center back who is a threat in the air on set pieces, the 30-year-old figures to be an important part of the Libyan back line. Spent two seasons on loan from former club Al Ahly Tripoli to Moroccan giants Raja CA where he won the 2020-21 CAF Confederation Cup before moving back to Libyan football with Al-Ittihad, where he scored three goals on their run to the quarterfinals.

Hamdou Elhouni (Espérance ST- Tunisia) With captain and fellow tricky winger Muaid Ellafi on the sidelines for a long period due to torn knee ligaments while playing for African champions Wydad AC, Elhouni will be counted on to make the difference in the attacking end for Libya. Following time spent in Portuguese football the 28-year-old has made over 100 appearances for Tunisian giants Espérance since joining in 2019, scoring 18 goals and providing 19 assists.

Omar Al Khouja (Al-Ittihad- Libya) The central midfielder shot to prominence in the past couple of years as the 22-year-old logged plenty of minutes in Libya’s 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign before playing an important role in Al-Ittihad’s run to the CAF Confederation Cup quarterfinals. Has an eye for goal that could prove valuable to a Libyan attack that can struggle to find the net.

Outlook

Libya finally has home advantage available to them for a full qualifying campaign and the Mediterranean Knights have always been a capable side who can challenge any African team when at their best. With manager Martins on board and his record of elevating African national teams to new heights there is plenty of potential for a rebuilding Libya team. However, without star and captain Muaid Ellafi it will be a tough task but Libya will be in the thick of the race for second spot with Equatorial Guinea and Botswana. Do not be surprised if they sneak in for a ticket to Ivory Coast.

Equatorial Guinea

Profile

FIFA Ranking: 99

AFCON Appearances: 3

Best Finish: Fourth Place (2015)

Manager: Juan Micha

Key Player

Pedro Obiang (Sassuolo- Italy)

The 30-year-old central midfielder is back in the Equatorial Guinea fold after a long time out of action for club and country for nearly ten months due to bronchopulmonary disease. A dominant defensive presence who is capable when playing the ball forward, it will certainly take some time for Obiang to get back to covering the distance he is known for after having no club matches for Italian Serie A side Sassuolo since returning from injury. However, his return will be a huge boost for the Nzalang Nacional, particularly with a few notable starters missing for the first two fixtures.

Other players to watch

Iban Edú (CF Fuenlabrada- Spain) A fierce competitor when he suits up for the Nzalang, Edú is the straw that stirs the drink when it comes to the Equatoguinean attack with his ability to run at defenders and make big plays in the final third. Will miss out for the first couple of matches but will be eager to make an impression this summer since his club side was relegated from Spain’s second tier.

Carlos Akapo (Cádiz CF- Spain) Another important absence in the opening two matches, Equatorial Guinea will miss Akapo’s leadership and pedigree in their defense. The 29-year-old was an important leader in the defense during the Nzalang’s run to the quarterfinals of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations from his preferred right back spot. Made 25 appearances for Cádiz as his club just avoided relegation from Spain’s La Liga this past season.

Pablo Ganet (Real Murcia- Spain) Another member of the large Spanish-born contingent on Equatorial Guinea, Ganet made a huge impact with his important goal to lead his team to a win over Sierra Leone in the group stage of the 2021 AFCON and qualification for the knockout stage. Currently playing in Spain’s fourth tier, Ganet provides timely goals and a hard shot from distance that can make the difference in close games.

Outlook

Equatorial Guinea showed what they were capable of with a quarterfinal finish in Cameroon for the 2021 AFCON, which has made them a favorite to qualify out of Group J. However, at the same time Libya and Botswana will fancy their chances of making it over the Nzalang Nacional due to the important injuries in their team ahead of the opening two fixtures. They will be the slightest of favorites to qualify but Equatorial Guinea will need to show that they have depth in their squad to avoid dropping important points while hoping key player Obiang can get back up to speed quickly.

Prediction

  1. Tunisia
  2. Libya
  3. Equatorial Guinea
  4. Botswana

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