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2023 Africa Cup of Nations Qualifying Preview: Group L

Senegal

Profile

FIFA Ranking: 20

AFCON Appearances: 16

Best Finish: Champions (2021)

Manager: Aliou Cissé

Key Player

Sadio Mané (Liverpool- England)

The heartbeat and soul of the Senegal team, Mané scored the winning penalty kick to give the Lions of Teranga their first ever Africa Cup of Nations trophy earlier this year and followed it up a month and a half later by converting the winning spot kick to send his nation past Egypt into the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Like his club teammate and CAF rival Mohamed Salah, the energy level of Mané is going to be the big question as Senegal starts their attempt to defend a title. However, Mané has always shown the ability to step up his performance when putting on the Senegal shirt and will be expected to once again lead his team’s cause and come up with big plays when they need him.

Other players to watch

Édouard Mendy (Chelsea- England) Following a dream 2021 that saw the 30-year-old capture nearly every individual award for his outstanding goalkeeper, Mendy suffered a downturn in form for Chelsea in 2022 but is still undoubtedly the best shot stopper in African football. His presence gives Senegal an edge few African national teams enjoy and he will look to get back on track this summer.

Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli- Italy) The anchor and captain in the heart of the Senegalese backline, national team supporters can always be confident that the defense will remain solid even when the attack can sputter at times. Excellent passer out of the back to go along with leadership and an imposing physicality.

Ismaïla Sarr (Watford- England) An explosive winger who is unlikely to be at Watford next season following their relegation from the English Premier League, Sarr’s absence for the first half of Senegal’s 2021 AFCON run showed his importance. When Sarr is on the opposite wing from Mané it allows both players to thrive with opposing defenses unable to focus solely on Mané.

Outlook

There will be no slowing down for Senegal this summer with a favorable draw and a veteran core that is still in its prime. Supporters will and should expect an undefeated record during qualifying for the reigning African champions as they prepare for their campaign in Qatar 2022.

Mozambique

Profile

FIFA Ranking: 119

AFCON Appearances: 4

Best Finish: Group Stage (1986, 1996, 1998, 2010)

Manager: Chiquinho Conde

Key Player

Luis Miquissone (Al Ahly- Egypt)

The quick and diminutive winger is known for his highlight reel goals that earned him a big money move from Simba SC in Tanzania to African giants Al Ahly, but Miquissone has failed to find similar success when playing for his country. The 27-year-old has not scored for Mozambique since netting against Madagascar in qualifying for the 2020 African Nations Championship in 2019. Following a very inconsistent debut season for Ahly, this summer represents an excellent opportunity for Miquissone to rediscover his scoring touch ahead of the next Egyptian Premier League season.

Other players to watch

Geny Catamo (Vitória de Guimarães- Portugal) Following a couple of seasons in the reserves with Portuguese giants Sporting CP, the 21-year-old was able to get some time playing in the top division with ten appearances while on loan to Vitória de Guimarães this season. Catamo displayed his excellent speed on the dribble and creativity during qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup and will be expected to continue his development into an important player this summer.

Reinildo Mandava (Atlético Madrid- Spain) The left back has come a long way in his club career to earn a transfer from France Ligue 1 club Lille to famed Spanish club Atlético Madrid at the end of January, earning a starting spot in manager Diego Simeone’s side. The 28-year-old is difficult to beat on his flank and appeared in every match for the Mambas in 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying.

Mexer (Bordeaux- France) A leader in the Mambas backline, the 33-year-old center back lost spot in the starting lineup as Bordeaux crashed to a disastrous finish and suffered relegation from Ligue 1. With two friendlies for Mozambique being the only time on the pitch he has had since the end of January, the tall defender will need to get up to speed quick in his fifteenth year as a member of the Mozambique setup.

Outlook

The opportunity is certainly there for Mozambique to make a run at second spot in the group but they will have to be sharp in their matches against competitors Rwanda and Benin. One factor that will certainly hurt the cause of the Mambas is their inability to host home fixtures with their opening match against Rwanda taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa. If manager Chiquinho Conde can get the most out of his talented attacking unit then Mozambique can absolutely qualify but there is a lot that need to goes right.

Benin

Profile

FIFA Ranking: 84

AFCON Appearances: 4

Best Finish: Quarterfinals (2019)

Manager: Moussa Latoundji

Key Player

Steve Mounié (Stade Brestois- France)

A physically imposing striker who can finish either on the ground or on aerial balls, the 27-year-old continues to be Benin’s most reliable goal scorer. Indeed, under previous manager Michel Dussuyer it seemed like Mounié was the only player capable of scoring goals for a Squirrels side that emphasized defensive organization over attacking prowess. Under new manager Moussa Latounji, however, it appears to be a new era for the national team with seven goals in their first three friendly matches and the addition of Nigerian-born forward Tosin Aiyegun. Mounié will have more support up top and that can only help the French-based marksman find more opportunities to put the ball in the net.

Other players to watch

Tosin Aiyegun (FC Zürich- Switzerland) The Lagos-born striker with a mother from Benin committed to play for the Squirrels in 2022 and scored in his first two matches against exhibition opponents Liberia and Zambia. At 23-years-old and and coming off a Swiss Super League title with Zürich, Aiyegun and his elite pace is a massive boost to the Benin attack and potentially an excellent compliment to the physicality of Mounié.

Khaled Adénon (Doxa Katokopias- Cyprus) An ageless wonder in the heart of defense, the 36-year-old center back and captain marches on in his national team career to lead the Squirrels on another qualification campaign. Adénon adds toughness and leadership to the side with a club career best known for helping French club Amiens earn back-to-back promotions from the French third tier to Ligue 1.

Jodel Dossou (Clermont- France) The right sided midfielder contributes dribbling and pace down the wing along with an eye for goal, capable of finishing with either foot. After scoring twelve goals last season in Ligue 2 for Clermont, the 30-year-old remained an important player for his side as they retained their top division status in their debut Ligue 1 season.

Outlook

Benin have built a reputation as a defensively strong team in recent years with a dependence on Steve Mounié for goals but it looks like a new era for Beninese football under Moussa Latounji. After just missing out on the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations and the final round of 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying, success for the under-20 national team and plenty of goals in their preparation matches for the summer are giving supporters plenty of optimism. Expect Benin to fight off challenges from Mozambique and Rwanda for second place in the group.

Rwanda

Profile

FIFA Ranking: 136

AFCON Appearances: 1

Best Finish: Group Stage (2004)

Manager: Carlos Alós

Key Player

Muhadjiri Hakizimana (Police FC- Rwanda)

A regular contributor in the Amavubi squad for years, it appears that this team is now Hakizimana’s to run as new manager Carlos Alós attempts to launch the Rwanda team into a new era. The 27-year-old was on the Rwanda squad for the 2018 African Nations Championship (CHAN) and progressed to being a star player on the 2020 CHAN side. Hakizimana plays direct, thriving when making penetrating long range passes and on occasions when he has time to line up his powerful long range shots or strikes off direct free kicks. Now acting as Rwanda captain with regular leader and striker Jacques Tuyisenge having fitness and club issues, much will revolve around Hakizimana’s performances.

Other players to watch

Emmanuel Imanishimwe (ASFAR Rabat- Morocco) The 27-year-old left back is calm and composed on the ball and is playing at a high level for club and country, playing the full ninety minutes in ASFAR’s win in the final of Morocco’s domestic cup. Imanishimwe remains an every match starter for Rwanda and is arguably the national team’s most reliable member.

Fitina Omborenga (APR FC- Rwanda) Rwanda has quality at both full back spots with Imanishimwe on the left and APR FC’s Omborenga on the right. Omborenga continues to play very well in the Rwanda Premier League for APR since joining in 2017 and is a consistent crosser when getting forward.

Meddie Kagere (Simba SC- Tanzania) The Ugandan-born marksman has been scoring goals at a high rate for club side Simba SC but has not found the net since 2019 for Amavubi when he scored three goals in two matches against minnows Seychelles. A lack of goals was what characterized Rwanda under previous coach Vincent Mashami and with fellow regulars Jacques Tuyisenge and Ernest Sugira in poor form, it is crucial that the 35-year-old finds his stride.

Outlook

Under new coach Alós, Rwanda is looking to turn the page after a couple of hapless qualifying campaigns where Amavubu failed to threaten the opposition goal and utilized uninspiring defensive tactics. With a couple of regular veterans struggling at their clubs and the new manager looking around the world of football for players of Rwandan descent in European lower leagues, however, it looks like more struggles are ahead for Amavubi. The team is a bit of an unknown with a new manager but unless there is dramatic improvement they will be making up the numbers this time around.

Prediction

  1. Senegal
  2. Benin
  3. Mozambique
  4. Rwanda

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