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2023 Africa Cup of Nations Preview: Group E

A reliable performer in Tunisia and a dynamic and explosive Mali side headline Group E at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations as Pan-Africa Football continues its preview of Africa’s top national team competition. Two nations from the COSAFA region of Southern Africa are also eager to surprise with the Bafana Bafana of South Africa looking to announce their presence on the continental stage again while surprise package Namibia attempt to prove they should not be overlooked. Read more on all four teams and the players to watch in our preview below:

Tunisia

Resumé

FIFA Ranking: 28

CAF Ranking: 3

Nickname: Les Aigles de Carthage (The Carthage Eagles)

Previous Appearances: 20

Best Finish: Champions (2004)

Manager

Jalel Kadri

The veteran coach, an assistant at the time, oversaw Tunisia’s 2021 Africa Cup of Nations victory over Nigeria in the Round of 16 due to the Covid-19 infection of head coach Mondher Kebaier and a temporary stay was expected when he took over on an interim basis after Kebaier departed following the competition. However, Kadri led Tunisia to the title of the 2022 Kirin Cup, an exhibition tournament hosted by Japan, and was in charge when the Carthage Eagles defeated France at the 2022 FIFA World Cup allowing him to retain the faith of the Tunisian federation. The 52-year-old will now face a serious test in Ivory Coast where Tunisian supporters have a higher set of expectations and only a run to the quarterfinal stage or later will allow Kadri to keep his job. While the Tunisia team continues to achieve decent results it is going to be a difficult task for Kadri to match expectations considering the lack of stars in his squad relative to Africa’s leading contenders.

2023 AFCON Squad

Key Players

Ellyes Skhiri
Club: Eintracht Frankfurt (GER)
Position: Central Midfield

The French-born midfielder is a model of consistency. Skhiri continues his reputation in German football as a reliable deep-lying midfielder who can occasionally contribute a goal or assist with late runs into the penalty area. Midfield is the department in which Tunisia maintains a high level of quality and it all begins with Shkiri who was highly involved in Tunisia’s fourth place finish at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations and won the country’s award for Footballer of the Year in 2021.

Aïssa Laïdouni
Club: Union Berlin (GER)
Position: Central Midfield

Partnering Shkiri in the center of the midfield at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Laïdouni proved his abilities in Qatar where Tunisia only conceded one goal in three matches due in large part to the tenacity of the midfield. A Man of the Match performance against Denmark continued the tenacious player’s rise on the international stage. It is only fitting that the 27-year-old won the Tunisian Footballer of the Year award a year after Skhiri in 2022 and earned a move to the big stage of the German Bundesliga with Union Berlin after spending time in the lower leagues of his native France as well as in Romania and with top Hungarian club Ferencváros. Laïdouni plays with a high level of intensity but like Shkiri he also has the technical ability to help support the Tunisian attack.

Youssef Msakni
Club: Al-Arabi (QAT)
Position: Winger/Forward

Tunisia has a reputation of remaining solid in the defense and midfield but what prevent the Carthage Eagles from approaching the top of African football is the lack of goals. Out of the options in attack, Msakni is the most consistent source of goals and the 33-year-old will serve as the captain in Ivory Coast. While he and Naïm Sliti are reliable players who prefer to operate on the wing, their combined record of 10 goals in 39 appearances at the Africa Cup of Nations requires more support from the striker position at the head of the formation where Tunisia continues to lack a reliable option.

Other Players to Watch

Ali Abdi- A left back who is very confident moving forward, the 30-year-old has accumulated ten goals and nine assists over two-and-a-half seasons with French Ligue 2 side Caen. The former Club Africain star is a consistent presence with plenty of pace and advanced crossing ability that will give Tunisia width on the attack.

Yassine Meriah- There were doubts that the vocal and strong central defender would recover his best form after a devastating knee injury during the 2020-21 season but he has done excellently to recover his spot in the Tunisia team. The 30-year-old brings firm leadership to the heart of the Carthage Eagles defense and is among the best defenders in African club football with Tunisian giants Espérance ST.

The Striker Position- Tunisia and coach Kadri continue the search for a reliable option to lead the line but it is unclear who Kadri will utilize. Stade Tunisien forward Haythem Jouini is a physically imposing presence who is in top form in Tunisia’s Ligue 1 with five goals this season after scoring eleven goals in all competitions last season. Taha Khenissi, based in Kuwait, is an adequate if unspectacular option who will make the necessary runs but his ability is well known. Zamalek striker Seifeddine Jaziri has plenty of speed but has not been very prolific when selected and this level appears to be above his abilities.

Evaluation

Goalkeeper:
Defense:
Midfield:
Attack:

South Africa

Resumé

FIFA Ranking: 66

CAF Ranking: 12

Nickname: Bafana Bafana (The Boys)

Previous Appearances: 10

Best Finish: Champions (1996)

Manager

Hugo Broos

A Belgian tactician who also had a long and successful career as a player, making several appearances as Belgium finished fourth at the 1986 FIFA World Cup in Mexico. Broos has a good reputation in African football having led Cameroon to the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations title and also previously managed in Algerian club football. The 71-year-old is known for his frank honesty which drew criticism from South African supporters after Broos downplayed the level of play in the country’s top division Premier Soccer League, something that has resulted in an ongoing tension between Broos and the administration of the PSL as well as followers of the PSL. It appears to be a calculated gamble by the coach as he looks to motivate his players to arrive in Ivory Coast and leave a strong impression.

2023 AFCON Squad

Key Players

Percy Tau
Club- Al Ahly (EGY)
Position- Winger/Forward

The attacker who developed at Mamelodi Sundowns exploded onto the scene in South Africa’s PSL in 2016 when he played a significant role as Sundowns won the CAF Champions League, an accomplishment he followed up by becoming co-leading scorer in the league in the 2017-18 season. After several seasons on loan in Belgian football from English club Brighton, the 29-year-old is back in African football and thriving with Egyptian giants Al Ahly. Just recognized as the African Inter-Club Player of the Year at the 2023 CAF Awards for his heroics during Al Ahly’s capture of the 2022-23 CAF Champions League, expectations are high for Tau and the diminutive winger will be South Africa’s greatest goal threat in Ivory Coast.

Teboho Mokoena
Club: Mamelodi Sundowns (RSA)
Position: Central Midfield

South African champions and newly crowned African Football League winners Mamelodi Sundowns continue to fly the flag for the nation’s football and Mokoena is the midfield general for the Pretoria club. A player who possesses accurate passing ability and a strong long range shot, Mokoena will get his first opportunity at the Africa Cup of Nations after previously starring for South African youth national teams at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, the U-23 Africa Cup of Nations and the 2020 Summer Olympics. Mokoena is a crucial playmaker for Bafana Bafana and the most irreplaceable player in the squad for Broos.

Ronwen Williams
Club: Mamelodi Sundowns (RSA)
Position: Goalkeeper

A goalkeeper developed at the excellent academy of SuperSport United, Williams spent ten years at the club before making a big money move to Pretoria rivals Mamelodi Sundowns where his excellent reflexes played a major role as Sundowns won the inaugural African Football League in November. While the adventurous goalkeeper can frighten supporters due to a high confidence with the ball at his feet, the 31-year-old is continuing to reduce his mistakes and has incredible reflexes making his performances a major factor for South Africa’s fortunes in Ivory Coast.

Other Players to Watch