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2023 Africa Cup of Nations Qualifying Preview: Group A

Nigeria

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FIFA Ranking: 30

AFCON Appearances: 19

Best Finish: Champions (1980, 1994, 2013)

Manager: José Peseiro

Key Player

Victor Osimhen (Napoli- Italy)

Osimhen has been the subject of plenty of transfer speculation after overcoming a frightening facial fracture to score fourteen goals for Napoli this season. The lethal striker will be looking to get behind defenses to latch onto through balls and is absolutely clinical in the opposition penalty area. He will be eager to atone for missing the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations and for failing to deliver in the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying playoff against rivals Ghana.

Other players to watch

Joe Aribo (Rangers- Scotland) The link between defense and attack in the midfield, Aribo has been the most consistent playmaker for the Super Eagles and was impressive at the 2021 AFCON. The 25-year-old is coming off his most impressive season yet in club football after playing a key role in Rangers’ run to the UEFA Europa League final.

William Troost-Ekong (Watford- England) His role may have declined with Watford FC but the Dutch-born center back’s influence in the Nigerian squad is only growing. The 28-year-old captain of the Super Eagles takes great pride in representing Nigeria and even stepped up to bury a high pressure penalty kick against Ghana in 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying.

Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City- England) A knee injury has kept the defensive rock out for an extended period of time and the Nigerian midfield missed him severely during their aggregate defeat to Ghana. Will not be available for the first two 2023 AFCON qualifiers but his reading of the game and high work rate will be welcomed back with open arms in the second round of games in September.

Outlook

The Super Eagles are fragile when it comes to their confidence at the moment but have been given a very favorable draw. Look for Nigeria to get back on track with their Group A fixtures but their supporters will not be convinced unless they go undefeated on their way to the 2023 AFCON.

Guinea-Bissau

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FIFA Ranking: 115

AFCON Appearances: 3

Best Finish: Group Stage (2017, 2019, 2021)

Manager: Baciro Candé

Key Player

Moreto Cassamá (Stade Reims- France)

The 24-year-old diminutive midfield playmaker adds class and technical skill to Guinea-Bissau, instantly making them a more formidable side when he is in the lineup. Unfortunately for the Djurtus, Cassamá has not played in three months since being benched at Ligue 1 club Reims and then spending time out due to injury. Despite his struggles this season at club level look for him to make the difference-making pass in a match for Guinea-Bissau.

Other players to watch

Fali Candé (FC Metz- France) An attack-minded left back, Candé suffered relegation after joining Ligue 1 club Metz midway through the 2021-22 season but has established himself as a key player for the Djurtus. The 24-year-old former Benfica youth product highlights how full back is a position of strength for Guinea-Bissau.

Alfa Semedo (Vitória de Guimarães- Portugal) The physically imposing central midfielder complements Cassamá well when they line up together in the center of midfield and was sorely missed when Covid-19 limited him to one substitute appearance during Guinea-Bissau’s group stage exit at the 2021 AFCON.

Zinho Gano (Zulte Waregem- Belgium) A giant striker, Belgian-born Gano recently committed to play for Guinea-Bissau and made his debut in March. Following a productive season with thirteen goals in the Belgian Pro League, the 28-year-old figures to add finishing ability to a strike force that has struggled to take advantage goal scoring opportunities recently.

Outlook

Second place appears to be set for a battle between Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone and the Djurtus will be the favorite. Guinea-Bissau have qualified for three straight AFCON’s and are a consistent force in the qualifying stage with players competing at high levels of European club football. Expect the Djurtus to join Nigeria in booking tickets to Ivory Coast.

Sierra Leone

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FIFA Ranking: 108

AFCON Appearances: 3

Best Finish: Group Stage (1994, 1996, 2021)

Manager: John Keister

Key Player

Steven Caulker (Gaziantep FK- Turkey)

After making one appearance for the England national team and representing Great Britain at that year’s Summer Olympics, Caulker has instantly become a leader and eventually the captain for Sierra Leone since having his switch of international allegiance approved in December. The 29-year-old strong center back is a force in the air and will be tasked with leading the Leone Stars as they look to bring along younger members of the squad following the retirement of a couple of veterans such as Kei Kamara.

Other players to watch

Mustapha Bundu (AGF Aarhus- Denmark) The 25-year-old forward lines up on either wing and offers clever dribbling, a quality final ball and is also capable on free kicks. Bundu will be counted upon to make the difference in the attacking third for Sierra Leone and earned regular playing time for Danish club Aarhus on loan from Anderlecht this past season.

Mohamed Kamara (Horoya AC- Guinea) The former East End Lions goalkeeper rose from obscurity to prominence with a Man of the Match performance in Sierra Leone’s surprise 0-0 draw against Algeria at the 2021 AFCON. Now having joined Guinean giants Horoya, the 23-year-old’s club and national team careers are in full flight with Kamara set to be a long-term key contributor for the Leone Stars.

Kwame Quee (Hapoel Haifa- Israel) Quee plays a variety of roles in the midfield for Sierra Leone and made a big move for his club career with a transfer to the Israeli Premier League side Hapoel Haifa for next season. After making over 100 appearances and scoring 26 league goals in Icelandic football the 25-year-old continues to rise up the ladder and will be important if Sierra Leone are to qualify for the 2023 AFCON.

Outlook

Following the international retirement of a few key veterans, it will be quite a task for Sierra Leone to qualify for a second consecutive AFCON but their draw is desirable and the Leone Stars have proven they can obtain results against Nigeria from the previous AFCON qualifying campaign. Guinea-Bissau are stern competitions for second place in Group A but never count out this Sierra Leone side.

São Tomé and Príncipe

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FIFA Ranking: 183

AFCON Appearances:

Best Finish: N/A

Manager: Adriano Eusébio

Key Player

Luís Leal (Guabirá- Bolivia)

The 35-year-old forward born in Portugal elected to represent São Tomé and Príncipe in 2012 and has been the class of the side since then, becoming the country’s all-time leading scorer. A true journeyman who has represented top division clubs in his native Portugal, the Middle East, Mexico, Paraguay and now Bolivia. Leal will be the focal point of the São Toméan attack but is also capable of creating for his teammates when he drifts out wide or plays more withdrawn.

Other players to watch

Ricardo Cardoso (HJK Helsinki- Finland) A 20-year-old forward who goes by his moniker Gué, Cardoso can play in any forward position and is attempting to make his name in Finnish club football after time in the youth teams of Portuguese sides Belenenses, Sporting CP and Tondela. Scored his first two international goals in São Tomé’s 3-3 draw against Mauritius in the second leg of his team’s qualifying preliminary round aggregate victory.

Joazhifel Soares (UDRA- São Tomé) A deep lying midfielder who is the captain of the national team, staying active on the defensive end while doing well at maintaining possession when on the ball. The 31-year-old holds the all-time record for appearances for his country and has played his entire club career in domestic football.

Outlook

São Tomé showed they are capable of competing with teams like South Africa and Ghana but the odds are long for them to get anything beyond a point or two in Group A. Leal is a quality forward along with promising prospect Gué as players who can spur the attack on and there is experience from the domestic-based players in the squad, so perhaps São Tomé can replicate the last time they won in this stage of qualifying when they defeated Libya 2-1 in 2016.

Prediction

  1. Nigeria
  2. Guinea-Bissau
  3. Sierra Leone
  4. São Tomé and Príncipe

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