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2023 Africa Cup of Nations Qualifying Preview: Group F

Algeria

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FIFA Ranking: 44

AFCON Appearances: 19

Best Finish: Champions (1990, 2019)

Manager: Djamel Belmadi

Key Player

Riyad Mahrez (Manchester City- England)

Following some early season questions regarding his playing time and relationship with Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, the 31-year-old playmaker rebounded to have a very good second half of the season after returning from disappointment at the 2021 AFCON. Mahrez scored 24 goals in all competitions this season for City and continued to be the difference maker for Algeria in 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying but the team’s AFCON group stage exit in Cameroon and subsequent ousting in the final round of Qatar 2022 qualifying were noticeable blemishes on his season. The English Premier League winner will sit out the first two 2023 AFCON qualifiers to recover from a long club season but should be back to lift Algeria to their sixth consecutive AFCON finals.

Other players to watch

Ramy Bensebaini (Borussia Mönchengladbach- Germany) The versatile left-footed defender has thrived for club and country as a left back who plays with intelligence when defending or attacking down the wing. The 27-year-old’s importance for Algeria will only continue to grow as manager Belmadi attempts to bring younger players into the squad.

Islam Slimani (Sporting CP- Portugal) An acrimonious club season in Portugal did not negatively impact the 33-year-old as he became his nation’s all-time leading scorer during Qatar 2022 qualifying, scoring eight goals and avoiding Belmadi’s clear out of veteran players unlike Baghdad Bounedjah. Slimani will need to find a new club situation where he can find regular playing time but is set to be counted on again to be the #9 up top for the Fennecs.

Ismaël Bennacer (AC Milan- Italy) At 24-years-old the central midfielder had an excellent club season to help Milan win the Serie A following a long title drought but came up missing at the 2021 AFCON. Bennacer’s starting spot is secured and Fennecs supporters are hoping he can regain his national team form in AFCON qualifying and be the force they know he is capable of.

Outlook

The 2019 AFCON conquest seems like a long time ago after a miserable first half to 2022 but the quality in the team remains. Belmadi made it clear his mission is to transition the team from depending on veterans and despite the struggles that may come in the process, Algeria should progress to the 2023 AFCON without too much trouble.

Uganda

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FIFA Ranking: 86

AFCON Appearances: 7

Best Finish: Runners-up (1978)

Manager: Milutin “Micho” Sredojevic

Key Player

Bobosi Byaruhanga (Vipers SC- Uganda)

The 20-year-old central midfielder won the Federation of Uganda Football Association’s Male Player of the Year and scored a career high six goals for Uganda Premier League winners Vipers this season. Much is expected of the diminutive player who loves to drop deep and escort the ball out of the defensive third to stretch defenses with his accurate long range passing. After distinguishing himself in Uganda’s run to the final of the 2021 Africa U-20 Cup of Nations, Bobosi appeared in all of the Cranes’ 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying matches but has yet to thrive at the senior level.

Other players to watch

Bevis Mugabi (Motherwell- Scotland) A physically dominant center back born in England, Mugabi’s commitment to the Cranes’ cause has been questioned at times but his presence in the squad is valued to anchor the defense. If there is one department Uganda has succeeded in under manager Sredojevic it is keeping opponents off the scoreboard and Mugabi is a big reason why.

Emmanuel Okwi (Kiyovu Sports- Rwanda) Powerful striker Fahad Bayo scored all three of Uganda’s goals in their failed attempt to qualify for Qatar 2022 but Sredojevic is doing all he can to get skipper Okwi back into form after an extended poor stretch of form while unattached to a club. However, Okwi has found his stride with Rwandan club Kiyovu and scored in the Cranes’ last two friendly matches against Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Along with Bayo and 2021 Africa U-20 Cup of Nations leading scorer Derrick Kakooza, Okwi needs to produce when the games matter.

Farouk Miya (Unattached) The youth phenom had not made an appearance in club football for a year when he was called back into the Cranes setup for March friendlies following his release from Turkish club Konyaspor as well as the inability to play for new club FC Lviv due to the war in Ukraine. However, he showed signs of his talent against Uzbekistan and could make a massive difference in the Cranes’ ability to generate goals.

Outlook

While Algeria are widely expected to finish first in the group, the battle for second position is wide open and it appears that the Cranes are the slightest of favorites. However, under Sredojevic the team has continued to play uninspiring football in the attacking end and Uganda will need to show improvement to obtain positive results against Niger and neighbors Tanzania to achieve their goal.

Tanzania

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FIFA Ranking: 130

AFCON Appearances: 3

Best Finish: Group Stage (1980, 2019)

Manager: Kim Poulsen

Key Player

Mbwana Samatta (Royal Antwerp- Belgium)

The talismanic striker flying the flag for Tanzania in European club football made his name at Dar es Salaam giants Simba SC before starring for Congolese club TP Mazembe, winning a CAF Champions League in 2015 to eventually earn a move to Genk and then English Premier League club Aston Villa. England did not work out for Samatta but the quick and powerful goal hunter is only five goals away from being the Tanzania national team’s all-time leading scorer. The captain of the Taifa Stars will be determined to lead Tanzania to their third AFCON and improve on their group stage exit at the 2019 edition.

Other players to watch

Kelvin John (Genk- Belgium) The 18-year-old attended Brooke House College in Harborough, England before earning a move to Genk and competing in the 2021 Africa U-20 Cup of Nations. The electric forward has pace and dribbling moves, making his Belgian Pro League debut towards the end of the 2021-22 campaign.

Novatus Dismas (Maccabi Tel Aviv- Israel) Another member of the 2021 U-20 AFCON side, the 19-year-old along with John got plenty of minutes in recent friendlies for the Taifa Stars to suggest that he will play a role in qualifying. The central midfielder possesses plenty of technical ability and passing skill to set up Tanzania’s talented forward corps.

Mohamed Husseini (Simba SC- Tanzania) It was an underachieving season for Simba SC as their stranglehold on the Tanzania Mainland Premier League was broken by rivals Young Africans but the club’s full backs still figure to play a major role for the national team. The 25-year-old Husseini is set to start at left back with veteran Shomari Kapombe on the right side and both offer plenty going forward as well as leadership.

Outlook

Considering their draw this time around it is an excellent opportunity for the Taifa Stars to qualify and shake off the disappointment of a poor finish to Qatar 2022 qualifying. The country’s ranking is deceiving and Tanzania is certainly on par with Niger and neighbors Uganda when it comes to their chances. Expect them to be in the hunt until the end and possibly favorites to secure second place behind Algeria.

Niger

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FIFA Ranking: 116

AFCON Appearances: 2

Best Finish: Group Stage (2012, 2013)

Manager: Jean-Michel Cavalli

Key Player

Victorien Adebayor (USGN- Niger)

Niger’s all-time leading scorer is an expert marksman in African club football. Adebayor led the Ghana Premier League in goals during the 2019-20 season and emerged again to be co-leading scorer during the group stage of the 2021-22 CAF Confederation Cup while on loan at reigning Nigerien champions USGN. The 25-year-old instantly adds class and and boosts the Ménas team when he is on the pitch, making them a dangerous team to play against when their star presence is involved.

Other players to watch

Kassaly Daouda (Katsina United- Nigeria) 19-year-old former Anderlecht youth player Naïm van Attenhoven is being groomed as Niger’s goalkeeper of the future but the 38-year-old Daouda continues to be excellent and will be between the sticks once again for the Ménas. Daouda has lost his starting spot in recent months at Nigerian club Katsina United but he is written into the starting lineup whenever he is fit and available for his country.

Ali Mohamed (Maccabi Haifa- Israel) The deep lying central midfielder maintains a high passing efficiency rate and acts as a stabilizing presence in the Nigerien team. Also a strong tackler, the 26-year-old is coming off a title-winning season at Maccabi Haifa.

Youssouf Oumarou (US Monastir- Tunisia) The 29-year-old captain and central midfielder has competed for top teams in African leagues including Morocco, Ivory Coast, his native country and now is leading US Monastir in a close 2021-22 Tunisia Ligue 1 Professionnelle title race. Forms a talented and experienced partnership with Mohamed and has an all around game that includes strong passing and ball winning ability.

Outlook

Niger could very well steal in and snatch second place to return to the AFCON for the third time. The midfield is talented, Adebayor can find the goal at any time and Daouda is a solid goalkeeper. With an experienced manager in Jean-Michel Cavalli who led the team during their 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying attempt the pieces are in place for the Ménas.

Prediction

  1. Algeria
  2. Tanzania
  3. Niger
  4. Uganda

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