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2023 Africa Cup of Nations Qualifying Preview: Group B

Burkina Faso

Profile

FIFA Ranking: 56

AFCON Appearances: 12

Best Finish: Runners-up (2013)

Manager: Hubert Velud

Key Player

Edmond Tapsoba (Bayer Leverkusen- Germany)

As we said when previewing Burkina Faso in our preview of their group at the 2021 AFCON, Edmond Tapsoba is the best defender in African football and a transfer to one of Europe’s super clubs is overdue at this point. It appears the 23-year-old will finally get his opportunity to test himself at the highest level with rumors continuing to swirl about a move to English Premier League clubs but it is worth repeating why the Salitas youth product is worthy of such high praise. His extraordinary calm in all situations, his passing and timely tackles are crucial to Burkina Faso’s rise and a major reason why they made it to the semifinals in Cameroon.

Other players to watch

Bertrand Traoré (Aston Villa- England) A miserable 2021-22 club season filled with injuries impacted the 26-year-old’s international career as well. A goal and two assists for Traoré at the 2021 AFCON saw him lead the Stallions well in Cameroon. However, after returning to club Aston Villa with another injury suffered at the competition he was limited to three substitute appearances for Villa for the remainder of the English Premier League season. Possesses an excellent left foot and is a great dribbler capable of sneaking by multiple defenders.

Hervé Koffi (Charleroi- Belgium) An excellent shot stopper who has continued his rapid development since leaving former club Lille after a few loan spells in Belgium and Portugal. Now that he is the established starter at Charleroi the 25-year-old is only getting better and more reliable.

Lassina Traoré (Shakhtar Donetsk- Ukraine) What makes Burkina Faso’s run to fourth place in Cameroon even more impressive is that they did it without the 21-year-old striker. A devastating knee injury has kept Traoré out since late September but he is getting back into shape while he figures out his club future due to the war in Ukraine. Once he returns to action for the Stallions they are capable of defeating any team in Africa and in the meantime, 2021 AFCON breakout star Dango Ouattara proved himself to be a competent replacement.

Outlook

Expectations are as high as ever for Burkina Faso but recent troubles with the leadership at the Burkinabé federation delayed the arrival of new manager Hubert Velud and he has had little time to prepare the side for the upcoming campaign. However, the talent within the Stallions squad is indisputable and once Lassina Traoré returns to action the attack will be as formidable as the defense. Expect Les Étalons to top the group.

Cape Verde

Profile

FIFA Ranking: 71

AFCON Appearances: 3

Best Finish: Quarterfinals (2013)

Manager: Bubista

Key Player

Garry Rodrigues (Olympiakos- Greece)

When he is at his best the temperamental winger can devastate defenses and score highlight goals as seen in Cape Verde’s 1-1 draw against hosts Cameroon at the 2021 AFCON. Rodrigues had a productive club season and won a league title with Greek giants Olympiakos, giving hope to Cape Verde supporters that he will bring his best in 2023 AFCON qualifying. With the Blue Sharks having a talented attacking line the 31-year-old will have plenty of space to operate and only needs one moment to make a match-winning play.

Other players to watch

Jovane Cabral (Lazio- Italy) Cape Verde welcomed two new players with dual nationality into the fold and between former Manchester United player Bebé and Cabral, the Sporting CP product offers the most potential and excitement. The 23-year-old struggled during his loan spell at Lazio this season but ended the Serie A season with a goal and has unquestioned talent and explosiveness. It will be interesting to see who Bubista goes with but Cabral could be a major factor for Cape Verde going forward.

Jamiro Monteiro (San Jose Earthquakes- United States) The central midfielder has an excellent work rate and technique to match, allowing him to thrive in a physical and athletic league like Major League Soccer in the United States. Monteiro along with Kenny Rocha Santos brings a high technical level to the Cape Verde midfielder and the 28-year-old has grown into a leader for the Blue Sharks as well.

Roberto Lopes (Shamrock Rovers- Ireland) The strong and uncompromising center back has become a welcome presence in the heart of the Blue Sharks backline since making his debut in 2019. Lopes defends with a simple and bruising style that means the 29-year-old will always leave a mark on any attackers who have the misfortune of dueling with him.

Outlook

Cape Verde have proven themselves to be a team that always punches above expectations and following the recruitment of a couple more European-based players to join the cause, the Blue Sharks will be confident of qualifying out of an evenly matched group. If players like Jovane Cabral and Bebé can add more quality to the attack then Cape Verde should get the job done but without the advantage of playing at home, they better watch out for an improved Togo side.

Togo

Profile

FIFA Ranking: 121

AFCON Appearances: 8

Best Finish: Quarterfinals (2013)

Manager: Paulo Duarte

Key Player

Kodjo Laba (Al Ain- United Arab Emirates)

As far as African strikers there may be none who are coming into the summer with better form than the 30-year-old Al Ain poacher. Laba scored an astounding 31 goals in 29 appearances across all competitions for the UAE Pro League champions as they wrapped up the title by a ten-point gap. The powerful marksman has all the tools that a manager looks for in a striker: fast acceleration to break out into space on the dribble, excellent instincts when on the receiving end of crosses and the strength to hold onto the ball under pressure from defenders. Laba will be eager to return to the AFCON for the first time since the 2017 edition where he could only score one goal as the Sparrow Hawks were eliminated at the group stage.

Other players to watch

Djéne Dakonam (Getafe- Spain) The 30-year-old center back and Togo captain turned in a fifth straight reliable and steady campaign where he appeared in nearly every match for La Liga club Getafe and will once again be the marshal in defense for Les Éperviers. Djéne is a good passer out of the back and is efficient in his challenges while avoiding unnecessary cards when he plays for the national team.

Malcolm Barcola (Lyon- France) The towering young goalkeeper still has yet to earn an appearances since graduating from Lyon’s youth academy but his talent and potential is on full display when he suits up for Togo. Barcola could make the difference between whether Togo returns to the AFCON or watches their third straight tournament from home.

Kennedy Boateng (Santa Clara- Portugal) One of three Ghanaian-born additions to the Sparrow Hawks squad with Togolese ties, Boateng made a smooth transition from the Austrian Bundesliga to Portugal’s top division and featured regularly as Santa Clara finished in seventh place. The 25-year-old center back will step in to partner Djéne and help bolster the Togolese defense.

Outlook

With the hiring of new manager Paulo Duarte and the efforts to bring in three Ghanaian-born players of Togolese parentage who play in European football, Togo are taking this campaign very seriously and are in with a good shot of qualifying. Without a clear dominant team in the group this is perhaps the last good opportunity for stars Djéne and Kodjo Laba to qualify for an AFCON but there is no room for error if they want to beat out favorites Burkina Faso and Cape Verde.

Eswatini

Profile

FIFA Ranking: 143

AFCON Appearances: 0

Best Finish: N/A

Manager: Dominic Kunene

Key Player

Leon Manyisa (Mbabane Swallows- Eswatini)

The subject of a profile in BBC Sport Africa at the age of 18, the creative midfielder went for a trial to Real Madrid and impressed the Spanish giants but could not attend a second trial due to visa issues. Since then it has been difficult for the 23-year-old to get his career going due to a failed move to Armenian football that led to paperwork issues upon his return after two months. After featuring for Eswatini youth national teams this summer is the opportunity for Manyisa to make his first senior national team appearance and supporters will be eager to see if he lives up to the hype.

Other players to watch

Sabelo Ndzinisa (Mbabane Highlanders- Eswatini) Hardworking striker who does well to keep defenses on guard with his runs and effort when leading the line. Scored two goals for Eswatini during their run to the semifinals of the 2021 COSAFA Cup where they just fell short of reaching the final.

Fanelo Mamba (Young Buffaloes- Eswatini) Like Ndzinisa, the winger was one of the standout players during Eswatini’s COSAFA Cup run last summer with his dribbling runs while providing a goal and two assists during the competition. Drew attention for his excellent long throw-ins which caused opposing defenses plenty of issues.

Mzwandile Mabelesa (Royal Leopards- Eswatini) Mabelesa played every minute during Royal Leopards’ remarkable run to the group stage of the 2021-22 CAF Confederation Cup, defeating 2020-21 CAFCC runners-up JS Kabylie of Algeria on their way. A midfielder who lines up in front of the defense, the 29-year-old is a reliable passer who stays active breaking up attacks from the opposition.

Outlook

In a group that looks like it will be very competitive, Eswatini have little hope of qualifying for their first ever AFCON but have proven through their recent success in the COSAFA Cup that they are not to be taken for granted. Being forced to host their home fixtures in South Africa all but rules out any shot at finishing in a top-2 spot but they are very capable of pulling a surprise or two in their group stage campaign.

Prediction

  1. Burkina Faso
  2. Togo
  3. Cape Verde
  4. Eswatini

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