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2023 Africa Cup of Nations Preview: Group D

Next up in our series of group previews from the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations is Group D where Algeria stand out as the heavy favorites to win the group. Riyad Mahrez will lead Les Verts against opponents that include a strong Burkina Faso team who have an excellent recent record in the competition, a well coached Mauritania side and Angola who are attempting to earn a result that is on par with the talent in the Palancas Negras squad. Read more on all the teams and players to watch below:

Algeria

Resumé

FIFA Ranking: 30

CAF Ranking: 4

Nickname: Les Verts (The Greens) or Les Fennecs (The Fennec Foxes)

Previous Appearances: 19

Best Finish: Champions (1990, 2019)

Manager

Djamel Belmadi

The fiery and passionate head coach suffered a couple of blows to his reputation after winning the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations with a disastrous group stage exit at the 2021 edition before failing to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. However the former midfielder and winner of the Algerian Player of the Year’s reputation remained intact with supporters of Algerian football who admire his combative nature as well as his accomplishment in the previous AFCON conquest which defied expectations. An easy qualification group for the upcoming edition allowed Belmadi to experiment with his squad, integrate newly recruited dual national players and build positive momentum for a competition where Algeria is expected to be a serious contender.

2023 AFCON Squad

Key Players

Riyad Mahrez
Club: Al-Ahli (KSA)
Position: Attacking Midfield/Forward

After falling out of favor despite a reasonably productive season at Manchester City towards the end of the 2022-23 season, Mahrez is playing with freedom at Saudi club Al Ahli and the playmaker is in fine form ahead of the competition. The 32-year-old Algerian captain struggled along with the entire team at the 2021 AFCON in Cameroon but there is more than a sense that Mahrez is eager to recapture the form and prestige that saw him lead The Greens to victory at the 2019 edition. With the addition of dual national midfielders such as Farès Chaïbi and Houssem Aouar there will be more space for Mahrez to operate and utilize his incredible left foot to score and create goals.

Ramy Bensebaini
Club: Borussia Dortmund (GER)
Position: Defender

A versatile defender who is equally comfortable operating at left back or in the center, it appears that the Borussia Dortmund player will be used centrally in Ivory Coast. Bensebaini has very good technique and will be useful to Belmadi as a distributor out of the defense while still having the physicality to battle with the physically imposing strikers that are a characteristic of African football. Moving Bensebaini to the center will make way for Wolverhampton Wanderers left back Rayan Aït-Nouri who offers more attacking capabilities out wide.

Farès Chaïbi
Club: Eintracht Frankfurt (GER)
Position: Attacking Midfield/Winger

The 21-year-old born in France became an important recruit for Belmadi after he committed to play for Les Verts and is making an instant impact upon his arrival. A strong 2022-23 season with French club Toulouse led to a big money move to German Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt where he is continuing to display strong form. The 2021 Africa Cup of Nations exposed the lack of a central attacking midfield force but with the arrival of Chaïbi and fellow dual national Houssem Aouar there is no shortage of options for Belmadi this time around.

Other Players to Watch

Nabil Bentaleb- After nearly four years out of the Algeria team the 29-year-old central midfielder is back following some difficulties in his club career. The midfield was exposed in Algeria’s surprise failure at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations and the return of Bentaleb gives more support for AC Milan midfielder Ismaël Bennacer. Both are deep-lying midfielders who will provide cover for the defensive line and find the attackers with accurate passing.

Rayan Aït-Nouri- The welcome addition of the left back born in France makes the Algerian defense more secure and allows Ramy Bensebaini to move inside to a central position. Now playing at English Premier League club Wolverhampton Wanderers, Aït-Nouri is a balanced fullback who can support the attack with forward runs and defend against quick wide attackers.

Anthony Mandrea- The decline of long-time regular goalkeeper Raïs M’Bolhi led to an extended battle for the gloves between Mandrea and Moustapha Zeghba but it appears that the shot stopper based in France’s Ligue 2 has earned the nod from Belmadi. M’Bolhi is back in the team following a move to Algerian club champions CR Belouizdad but OGC Nice youth product Mandrea cemented his spot following an excellent performance away from home in a 2-0 victory for Les Verts at Mozambique in 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifying.

Evaluation

Goalkeeper:
Defense:
Midfield:
Attack:

Mauritania

Resumé

FIFA Ranking: 105

CAF Ranking: 22

Nickname: Les Mourabitounes

Previous Appearances: 2

Best Finish: Group Stage (2019, 2021)

Manager

Amir Abdou

The architect of a dream run to the Round of 16 for Africa Cup of Nations debutants Comoros in the 2021 edition is back with a new nation whose football he knows very well. Abdou balanced his duties with Comoros with his work in club football with top Mauritanian side FC Nouadhibou and his time in the country’s domestic scene made him a perfect candidate to lead Les Mourabitounes after a second consecutive group stage exit. Mauritanian football has come a long way in recent years and now the goal is to reach the knockout stages for the first time in Africa’s biggest national team competition. Considering they have a navigable draw in the group stage, there is a bit more pressure on the team this time but Abdou can get the best out of the group.

2023 AFCON Squad

Key Players

Aboubakar Kamara
Club- Al Jazira (UAE)
Position- Striker

The powerful French-born striker brought plenty of pedigree to the Mauritanian attack after electing to represent the country in 2021 following spells for clubs like Amiens and Fulham FC. In the seven matches in which Kamara has scored, Mauritania has won six times. Hemeja Tanjy is another talented option up top but has yet to prove himself in a tournament of this stature while new dual national recruit Aboubakary Koita could give Kamara some much needed support after a strong first half of the season with Belgian club Sint-Truiden.

Aboubakary Koita
Club: Sint-Truiden (BEL)
Position: Winger/Forward

Born in Senegal and developed in Belgian football after moving to the country as a child, Koita instantly moved into the eleven of Amir Abdou after deciding to represent Mauritania who he qualifies for through his father. The 25-year-old winger prefers to operate on the left flank and gives Mauritania a much needed boost to the attack with his pace and strong shot. Koita is enjoying the best season of his club career, already scoring eleven goals in the Belgium Pro League halfway through the 2023-24 campaign.

Bodda Mouhsine
Club: FC Nouadhibou (MRT)
Position: Central Midfield

The 26-year-old central midfielder is a regular sight for both the Mauritania national team and the country’s top club, FC Nouadhibou. A player that coach Abdou knows well from his time managing Nouadhibou, Mouhsine is quick and skilled at navigating tight spaces with the ball while fulfilling box-to-box duties and should play an important part after a pre-tournament injury suffered by Abdallahi Mahmoud.

Other Players to Watch

Aly Abeid- Signed