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AFCON 2023 Day 3 Preview: Defending champions Senegal and Algeria begin their campaigns

After hosts Ivory Coast kicked off the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations with an expected victory on the opening day, the second day featured surprise results in all three matches with Egypt and Nigeria held to draws while Ghana suffered a heartbreaking defeat to Cape Verde. Two more tournament favorites begin their bids to reign supreme in African football with Senegal in action against The Gambia in the “Group of Death” and Algeria takes on Angola to start off action in Group D. Read more on all three matches including Cameroon’s clash with Guinea below:

Group C: Senegal vs The Gambia 14:00 GMT

Defending champions Senegal have an intriguing duel in their opening match with The Gambia willing to show their neighbors that they have plenty to offer. The Gambia were a success story of their own at the 2021 edition, advancing to the quarterfinals on their debut appearance in Africa’s showpiece competition. Expectations are high for Senegal who are looking to continue a dominant run in African national team football following a wildly successful 2022 and 2023.

There will be plenty of familiar faces in the Senegalese squad to observers of their previous championship run with a couple of differences. Former French youth national team and Nottingham Forest central defender Moussa Niakhaté appears set to partner captain Kalidou Koulibaly instead of Abdou Diallo and Krépin Diatta, a favorite of coach Aliou Cissé, should start at right back or in a wing back role.

Sadio Mané and Ismaïla Sarr are the wingers in a three-forward line while Habib Diallo is reported to be the slight favorite to feature as the striker with Illman Ndiaye and Nicolas Jackson also in contention. Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Pape Matar Sarr has recovered from an injury and will start with perhaps Pape Gueye. Cheikhou Kouyaté has the edge on Idrissa Gana Gueye considering that Gueye is not fully recovered from an injury.

The Scorpions of The Gambia arrived in Ivory Coast after a life-threatening situation that saw a lack of oxygen force their flight to return to capital city Banjul, an incident that left members of the squad with headaches and dizziness. Now the team will focus on facing the African champions with a strong attack led by Al-Taawoun playmaker Musa Barrow and all-time leading scorer Assan Ceesay at the striker position. Ablie Jallow, Alieu Fadera and teenager Yankuba Minteh are all dynamic attackers who could feature and Ceesay could even make way after a poor stretch of form.

Omar Colley is the defensive anchor from his central position in the defensive line with Bubacarr Sanneh and Noah Sonko-Sundberg in contention to start and all three could play from the beginning. James Gomez is another capable central defender who could get the nod from coach Tom Saintfiet. Midfielder Ebou Adams will protect the defensive line and his role is crucial for success against stronger teams like Senegal.

Group C: Cameroon vs Guinea 17:00 GMT

Guinea have high hopes for this competition and the Syli National have an excellent opportunity to get off to a winning start against a Cameroon team depleted by injuries. Syli coach Kaba Diawara has a strong squad at his disposal and it is expected that the team will exceed the Round of 16 finishes seen in the last two editions of the AFCON. Cameroon’s preparations continue to be damaged by controversy off the pitch and a growing list of injuries.

Guinea striker Serhou Guirassy is in hot demand in European club football but the VfB Stuttgart player is dealing with an injury that could see his role reduced on Monday. If Guirassy is unable to play or start than Le Havre striker Mohamed Bayo is likely to replace him with Aguibou Camara and Morgan Guilavogui in support. Captain and midfielder Naby Keïta continues to make strides after a 2023 filled with injuries and will play some sort of role.

Reliable midfielder Amadou Diawara will miss out on the opener due to yellow card accumulation in the qualifying matches. If Keïta begins on the bench than Ilaix Moriba could get a start but playing time at his club is nonexistent this season, leaving Le Havre player Abdoulaye Cissé to start as a defensive-minded option and Seydouba Cissé to focus more on connecting the midfield to the attack. In the defense, Mouctar Diakhaby is the leader and there are several options for coach Diawara regarding who will partner the Valencia central defender. Veteran goalkeeper Ibrahim Koné will be the preferred choice.

It has been a disaster for Cameroon in the buildup to their first match. Goalkeeper André Onana decided to stay behind until the day before the match to play one more match with Manchester United, a 2-2 draw with Tottenham Hotspur in English Premier League action. Onana took a private jet to join up with his teammates and it appears that he will play on Monday despite fears he would miss the opener. In front of Onana it is difficult to know if coach Rigobert Song

An intriguing three-man midfield is likely to include star André-Frank Zambo Anguissa as well as Olivier Ntcham and Olivier Keman. The other big news for Cameroon is an injury to captain and star striker Vincent Aboubakar. However after fears he would miss the entire tournament the Cameroonian Football Federation (FECAFOOT) confirmed that he could return after Monday’s opener. Set piece expert Moumi Ngamaleu looks set to begin on the right wing and Darlin Yongwa, typically a left back, could feature again in an attacking position after scoring in a preparation friendly against Zambia. Frank Magri, Faris Moumbagna, Karl Toko Ekambi and Clinton N’Jie are all candidates to replace the goal scoring void left by the absence of Aboubakar.

Group D: Algeria v Angola 20:00 GMT

Following a disastrous 2021 Africa Cup of Nations that saw them eliminated at the group stage as defending champions, Algeria have something to prove in the final match on Monday with Angola standing in their way. Les Verts are expected to get off to a winning start with the status of heavy favorites but the Palancas Negras of Angola have plenty of talent and a strong defense that leaves them capable of stealing a positive result.

There appear to be no injury concerns for Algeria outside of backup goalkeeper Raïs M’Bolhi. Anthony Mandrea will be the shot stopper with experienced central defender Aïssa Mandi in front of him and Ramy Bensebaini partnering the Villarreal defender in the center. Rayan Aït-Nouri and Youcef Atal will bring strong attacking ability at the left and right back positions with a strong double pivot in the defensive midfield that should include Nabil Bentaleb of French club LOSC Lille and Ismaël Bennacer of Italian giants AC Milan.

It appears coach Djamel Belmadi trusts all-time leading scorer Islam Slimani to lead the attack but Baghdad Bounedjah is just as likely to play with both veteran options offering strong finishing ability. Star creative force Riyad Mahrez will be the player to watch of course with rising talent Farès Chaïbi set to make his debut for Algeria in a tournament since the 20-year-old decided to represent Les Verts last year. Adam Ounas, Youcef Belaïli, Houssem Aouar and veteran Sofiane Feghouli are all strong options to complete the attacking setup.

Angola possess a strong defense under coach Pedro Gonçalves and it will be anchored by central defender Kialonda Gaspar who appears likely to be partnered by veteran Jonathan Buatu. Núrio Fortuna is a talented left back who had done well with KAA Gent in Belgian football and the defensive midfield will likely feature Maccabi Haifa midfielder Show and Manuel Keliano, a 20-year-old who is already showing his excellent ability to win the ball off attackers.

A talented group of quick and tricky wingers is headlined by Gelson Dala who is the star of the Angolan attack with his blazing pace and the most accomplished goal scorer in the team. Captain and veteran central midfielder Fredy will look to create opportunities for his quicker attacking teammates and Italian-based winger Zito Luvumbo appears the most likely to operate on the opposite flank from Gelson Dala. The striker position is a big question for the Palancas Negras and the heavy responsibility appears likely to fall on the shoulders of veteran Agostinho Mabululu who continues to find great success in Egyptian club football but has yet to get going with Angola.

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