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2023 Africa Cup of Nations Qualifying Preview: Group K

Morocco

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FIFA Ranking: 24

AFCON Appearances: 18

Best Finish: Champions (1976)

Manager: Vahid Halilhodžić

Key Player

Achraf Hakimi (Paris Saint-Germain- France)

With Chelsea playmaker Hakim Ziyech’s ongoing fractured relationship with manager Halilhodžić, Hakimi has taken on the responsibility of being the star of the Atlas Lions and provided two stunning free kick goals at the 2021 AFCON. A right back who is excellent with both feet and possesses elite athleticism, the 23-year-old is up there with the best fullbacks in the world. In a technically skilled team that has high ambitions, Hakimi is the star who can make the difference making play with his excellent attacking skills.

Other players to watch

Romain Saïss (Unattached) Having just said farewell to English Premier League clubs following six seasons of excellent service, the 32-year-old has no shortage of suitors and will continue on as the captain and defensive leader for the Atlas Lions. Tough as nails and a force on aerial challenges, Saïss also has the technique to distribute well from the back and can slot in as a defensive midfielder if needed.

Nayef Aguerd (Rennes- France) The 26-year-old center back forms an excellent partnership with Saïss and is coming off an excellent club season that saw him nominated for the Prix Marc-Vivien Foé, an award given out in France’s Ligue 1 for the best player representing an African national team. Aguerd hardly misplaces his passes and remains a calm presence in the heart of defense to make Morocco a very difficult team to break down.

Tarik Tissoudali (Gent- Belgium) A winger/forward who had a remarkable 2021-22 club season, the 29-year-old born in The Netherlands scored 29 goals in 52 appearances for Belgian club Gent and made his impact soon after debuting with Morocco in January with two goals in their 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying playoff aggregate victory over DR Congo. Tricky on the dribble with an eye for goal in the opposition penalty area, Tissoudali continues to add quality to an inconsistent Moroccan attack.

Outlook

The quality in this squad is as high as it gets in African football but at times the Atlas Lions can underachieve as seen in their 2021 AFCON quarterfinal exit at the hands of North African rivals Egypt. An eye will be on their upcoming appearance at the 2022 World Cup but expect Morocco to win their AFCON qualifying group comfortably.

South Africa

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FIFA Ranking: 69

AFCON Appearances: 10

Best Finish: Champions (1996)

Manager: Hugo Broos

Key Player

Percy Tau (Al Ahly- Egypt)

The diminutive forward did not make the impact Bafana Bafana supporters desired in the team’s 2022 World Cup qualifying bid but adds a noticeable quality to the attack when in form. Tau scored four goals in six matches during qualifying for the 2021 AFCON and has finally found a stable club situation with Egyptian giants Al Ahly after making multiple loan moves away from English Premier League club Brighton. The 28-year-old has excellent instincts in and around the penalty area with blazing speed that can expose any opposition defense.

Other players to watch

Keagan Dolly (Kaizer Chiefs- South Africa) After a rough spell with Montpellier in French football the 29-year-old playmaker returned to South African club football with much fanfare and was a regular contributor if inconsistent at times for an underachieving Kaizer Chiefs side this past season. Has not appeared very often for Bafana in recent years but now that he is playing regularly again there will be plenty expected as South Africa look to return to the AFCON.

Ronwen Williams (SuperSport United- South Africa) The steady goalkeeper earned his way to the role of captain and has had an excellent spell at SuperSport United, spending his whole club career since graduating from SuperSport’s renowned youth academy in 2010.

Goodman Mosele (Orlando Pirates- South Africa) Due to leaving the team without notice a while back after being called up, the 22-year-old former Baroka FC star has yet to win his first appearance but offers the skill needed to connect the midfield with the attack. Following an impressive first season with Orlando Pirates he may be fast-tracked into Broos’ starting lineup despite his past misbehavior.

Outlook

Manager Hugo Broos has been honest about his intentions to keep expectations low while he rebuilds the team with younger players but Bafana Bafana supporters are running out of patience. With Zimbabwe being withdrawn from the group due to their ban there is absolutely no excuse for Broos if South Africa fail to qualify in the top-2 out of three teams. Expect Bafana to find their way back to the AFCON but we will learn a lot about this team after their two opening matches against group favorites Morocco.

Liberia

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FIFA Ranking: 149

AFCON Appearances: 2

Best Finish: Group Stage (1996, 2002)

Manager: Peter Butler

Key Player

Oscar Dorley (Slavia Prague- Czech Republic)

The star of this Liberian side has been used all over the pitch throughout his career, mainly as a left back in the 2021-22 season by top Czech club Slavia Prague. For the Lone Star, Dorley is used higher up the pitch in his natural role as a box-to-box midfielder who can contribute to the attack as well as his strength in pressing the opposition into giveaways. The 23-year-old is a player who has been rumored to join higher level clubs and is a true talent who continues to rise, making Liberia a more dangerous side then they are given credit for.

Other players to watch

Marcus Macauley (Al-Sarhan- Jordan) A midfielder with an eye for goal and the versatility to line up on either wing or in a forward role, the 30-year-old has been a force in Jordanian club football and a regular for the Lone Star.

Allen Njie (Aarau- Switzerland) The 22-year-old central midfielder had a standout season for Aarau in Switzerland’s second tier to help his club to third place in the 2021-22 season. Incredibly active and quick to launch himself into challenges to win the ball in midfield, Njie and Dorley make Liberia a very energetic team who have no issues keeping up with opponents physically.

Mark Pabai (SPAL- Italy) Pabai is a right back whose name is on the rise in Liberian football, going ninety minutes in the Lone Star’s final two 2022 World Cup qualifying matches against Nigeria and Central African Republic. Made his debut for Italian Serie B side SPAL towards the end of the 2021-22 season and is expected to secure the right back spot for Liberia.

Outlook

Liberia will compete with Morocco and South Africa and could cause some trouble for Bafana Bafana with the Lone Star expected to compete for second place behind group favorites Morocco. There is young talent who will be put to the test and with South Africa rebuilding through younger players, don’t be surprised if Liberia makes things close and uneasy for South African supporters.

Prediction

  1. Morocco
  2. South Africa
  3. Liberia

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