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2023 Africa Cup of Nations Preview: Group F

Our preview of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations finishes up with a preview of Group F which is headlined by the nation who made waves with a fourth place finish at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the Atlas Lions of Morocco. The North African nation are heavy favorites to win the group but have a history of struggling to meet expectations at the AFCON and will face the strong attacks of DR Congo and Zambia as well as a sturdy Tanzania side who are strong in defense. Read all about the important players for each team and our evaluations below:

Morocco

Resumé

FIFA Ranking: 13

CAF Ranking: 1

Nickname: The Atlas Lions

Previous Appearances: 18

Best Finish: Champions (1976)

Manager

Walid Regragui

Since his appointment as head coach of top Moroccan club Wydad AC in August 2021 it has been a spectacular two-and-a-half years for the 48-year-old. Regragui won the 2021-22 CAF Champions League and a league title in Morocco’s top division Botola Pro with Wydad, an accomplishment that led to his assignment with The Atlas Lions and eventually an outstanding run to the semifinals of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The French-Moroccan tactician represented Morocco at two editions of the Africa Cup of Nations during his playing career and now the next challenge is to guide his country to its first continental title since 1976. Morocco has a history of failing to meet expectations at the AFCON but momentum is certainly on their side even if the pressure will be very high for Regragui and his charges.

2023 AFCON Squad

Key Players

Hakim Ziyech
Club: Galatasaray (TUR)
Position: Attacking Midfield/Winger

There was plenty to prove for the Dutch born playmaker ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar after a frustrating spell with London club Chelsea FC but Ziyech was excellent and restored his reputation. Now on loan at Turkish club Galatasaray from Chelsea, the 30-year-old’s club career continues to be a bit chaotic with an up-and-down 2023-24 campaign and rumors that his loan may be terminated. However the AFCON will be another opportunity to find potential suitors and his left foot always produces magic with the Atlas Lions.

Achraf Hakimi
Club: Paris-Saint Germain
Position: Full Back

A genuinely two-footed full back who can operate on either flank, the PSG player is certainly among the best wide defenders in the world and he proved hit with emphasis at the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Still only 25-years-old, Hakimi thrived at Borussia Dortmund and Inter Milan and continues to be among the best players for the French champions after finishing his youth career with Real Madrid. The elite attacking presence makes Morocco a perpetual threat on the flanks and his pace allows him to keep up with any opposition attacker when fulfilling his defensive duties.

Sofyan Amrabat
Club: Manchester United (ENG)
Position: Defensive Midfield

While the 2022 FIFA World Cup helped teammate Ziyech escape English football, Amrabat’s excellent performances saw him move the other way on loan to Manchester United from Italian Serie A club Fiorentina. A deep-lying midfielder who focuses on disrupting opposition attacks while moving the ball quickly to the playmakers on his team, Amrabat’s time in England has been up and down this season but he always produces his best work with The Atlas Lions where he thrives at the base of the Moroccan midfield behind two central creative players.

Other Players to Watch

Nayef Aguerd- Injury disrupted his start to life in the English Premier League following a lucrative transfer to West Ham United but the skilled central defender came back strong and is adjusting well in London. Aguerd forms a strong partnership in the heart of the defense with Morocco captain Romain Saïss that combines the captain’s toughness and leadership with Aguerd’s technical ability and anticipation. With Aguerd and Saïss in front of Africa’s best goalkeeper at the moment Yassine Bounou, Morocco appears to have the strongest defense ahead of the AFCON finals in Ivory Coast.

Yassine Bounou- Africa’s current best goalkeeper, Bounou earned his big money move to the Saudi Pro League with league leaders Al-Hilal thanks to strong performances at the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The 32-year-old is worthy of being in the “Key Players” section above but it truly says a lot about the quality in the Morocco side that he is not there. The Moroccan defense is a wall that is sturdy and Bounou plays a significant role with his excellent reflexes and composure.

Youssef En-Nesyri- If there is any sort of weakness in the Morocco team it is at the striker position but the options for The Atlas Lions remain quite strong there. En-Nesyri has top level athleticism and leaping ability to meet crosses and give defenders trouble but the Sevilla FC player is held back by his inconsistent finishing and composure when competing at the highest level.

Evaluation

Goalkeeper:
Defense:
Midfield:
Attack:

DR Congo

Resumé

FIFA Ranking: 67

CAF Ranking: 13

Nickname: Les Léopards (The Leopards)

Previous Appearances: 19

Best Finish: Champions (1968, 1974)

Manager

Sébastien Desabre

The French coach has spent well over ten years in Africa since his first assignment on the continent began in 2010 with Ivorian super club ASEC Mimosas. The 47-year-old has since built up an excellent reputation and did brilliantly to guide Uganda to the country’s first appearance in the Africa Cup of Nations knockout stages in over forty years when they reached the Round of 16 in 2019. Taking over The Leopards in the midst of a disastrous beginning to qualifying for the upcoming competition, the impact of Desabre was instant both on the pitch and off it. The Congolese team is showing signs of performing to its maximum potential and the Frenchman is a coach known for earning the respect of his players, also bringing in talented dual national players to add to the quality of the team.

2023 AFCON Squad

Key Players

Yoane Wissa
Club- Brentford (ENG)
Position- Winger/Forward

A 27-year-old winger and forward born in France, Wissa made his debut for DR Congo in 2020 and a couple of years passed before he became an essential player for The Leopards. During those two years Wissa found success with current club Brentford in the English Premier League where he developed a reputation for his ability to thrive in multiple attacking positions. There is no shortage of talented forwards and attackers on the wing in the Congolese team but Wissa’s quality stands out and he contributes plenty to his team even during the times when he is not scoring or assisting goals.

Chancel Mbemba
Club: Olympique Marseille (FRA)
Position: Defender

The defender from Kinshasa is enjoying the best form of his club career with French Ligue 1 side Olympique Marseille where he won the 2022-23 Prix Marc-Vivien Foé as the best African player in the top division of French football. Mbemba can mark attackers who possess both speed and strong physicality and also enjoys having the ball at his feet when progressing forward and beginning attacks. After some moments of inconsistency during his time at English Premier League club Newcastle United and top Portuguese side FC Porto, Mbemba’s confidence is at its highest and the captain will be the anchor in a Congolese team that is looking to surprise with a deep run.

Charles Pickel
Club: Cremonese (ITA)
Position: Central Midfield

An example of the dual national players coach Desabre continues to recruit for The Leopards, the Swiss born defensive midfielder instantly became a regular in the eleven since his first call in September 2023. A former FC Basel youth player who moved to the second tier of France to gain regular football with Grenoble Foot 38, Pickel joined Italian club Cremonese ahead of the 2022-23 season where he suffered relegation to the second tier Serie B. His high activity in the midfield to win balls and make tackles are characteristics that Desabre clearly enjoys and why Pickel instantly became top choice as one of the two deep-lying midfielders in the system of Desabre.

Other Players to Watch

Cédric Bakambu- The Congolese captain can be quite an enigma when he plays for The Leopards. There are moments when his brilliance is apparent such as at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations when he scored three goals in four matches and then there are the moments when he l