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AFCON 2023 Day 13 Preview: Tunisia and Zambia try to keep their tournament hopes alive

Is there any possible way that the final day of the group stage at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations can live up to the incredible drama and shock results of the previous two days? Well we are about to find out on Wednesday when Group E and Group F conclude and there is plenty of potential for teams to lift themselves into the knockout stages as well as opportunities to fall out of the race. Below we preview all four matches on Wednesday where African powerhouse Morocco are in action as well as intriguing teams like Mali, DR Congo and South Africa. Read more below:

Group E: Mali v Namibia 17:00 GMT

Group E: South Africa v Tunisia 17:00 GMT

A defeat will put Namibia in danger of failing to reach the knockout stages so playmaker Deon Hotto will need to come up big again for the Brave Warriors on Wednesday

Mali enjoyed a significant advantage in their first two Group E matches in Korhogo but now Les Aigles must play in San Pédro for their final group stage match, giving Namibia a bit more hope of obtaining the draw or victory they might need. Namibia stunned Tunisia in their opening match to make history with their first ever AFCON victory but suffered a heavy defeat to neighbors South Africa while Mali are the current group leaders on four points through two matches.

For the Eagles of Mali, coach Éric Chelle is mostly pleased with the results of the first two matches but observed the weak points from each match when speaking with Malian media. Chelle’s players were disappointed to settle for a draw against Tunisia but the coach praised his team for adding more control and restraint after bringing plenty of intensity in the opening match victory against South Africa. Mali avoided picking up any yellow cards in the second match giving them a full squad for Wednesday’s clash with Namibia.

Chelle stated his preference for a 4-4-2 formation with a diamond midfield to take advantage of Mali’s surplus of talented central midfielders. 20-year-old attacking midfielder Kamory Doumbia continues to emerge as an important player and Chelle will want him to find spaces between the lines to cause havoc for the Namibian defense. There is an even distribution of minutes between the more defensively oriented midfielders but Amadou Haidara is the most accomplished and should receive a third start. Lassine Sinayoko is established as the featured striker up top but Mali’s defense must watch out for Namibia’s direct style of play with long balls over the top.

Namibia coach Collin Benjamin lavished high praise for his team’s focus and determination ahead of the 0-4 defeat to South Africa and remains optimistic despite the result. The Brave Warriors will not worry about results elsewhere and look to make further history by qualifying for the Round of 16 with a draw or victory. The nation from the COSAFA region will have to take advantage of their opportunities after wastefulness cost them dearly against Bafana Bafana.

Star striker Peter Shalulile had his fair share of chances to open his AFCON account in the opening two matches but the Mamelodi Sundowns player surprisingly fired blanks, leaving him as a key player who knows he needs to do better. Roaming playmaker Deon Hotto scored the match winner against Tunisia and the 33-year-old Orlando Pirates winger is showing no signs of his age with quickness and precision with the final ball. The defense will need to be better, however, in order to make Namibia more effective with their style of quick transitions and eradicating the mistakes of the last match are essential.

Tunisia’s central midfield duo of Ellyes Skhiri (L) and Aïssa Laïdouni (R) did well to contain Mali but will have to support the North African nation’s misfiring attack to get a victory over South Africa

It is a disappointing campaign for Tunisia so far and a victory is needed for the Eagles of Carthage to avoid becoming the second North African nation and follow Algeria’s premature exit at the group stage. Difficulties could arrive with a South Africa team that has a unique advantage over its peers at the AFCON due to the large amount of players in the side who play their club football together with Mamelodi Sundowns. A 4-0 victory over Namibia all but guarantees passage to the Round of 16 regardless of what happens on Wednesday for Bafana Bafana but matching the intensity of a desperate Tunisian team is important to maintain positive momentum.

Tunisia will be facing a team that is a similar to Mali in the form of South Africa who have plenty of pace that could trouble the Tunisian defense. The Eagles of Carthage had a good strategy against Mali that can provide a blueprint for the approach of coach Jalel Kadri and his staff. Champions of the 2004 edition, avoiding a group stage exit is essential for Kadri to keep his job and there will be plenty of urgency in the Tunisian approach.

The best department in the Tunisia eleven is the center of the midfield with Ellyes Skhiri and Aïssa Laïdouni, who can make a big difference by winning the battle against Bafana Bafana players Teboho Mokoena and Sphephelo Sithole. The defense remains solid and the left defensive spot will be a focus of attacks whether Kadri elects to use Ali Abdi or Ali Maâloul. Attack is the major weakness but there is potential. Attacking midfielders Hamza Rafia and Anis Ben Slimane are capable players while the forward position is underachieving, particularly captain Youssef Msakni who must find the goal in an important match.

South Africa regained their confidence against Namibia after a positive start in their opening match became a nightmare after forward Percy Tau missed an early penalty kick against Mali. Coach Hugo Broos is buying into the idea of featuring a large number of players in his eleven from South Africa’s dominant club, Mamelodi Sundowns, and it appears to be working after eight players from the club began the match against Namibia. Broos expressed concern that Tunisia enjoyed one more day of rest than his team and it will be interesting to see if there is any rotation in his lineup.

Goalkeeper Ronwen Williams and the defensive line all play for Sundowns and their chemistry could be important in Bafana’s efforts to earn a clean sheet against Tunisia. The selection of right winger Thapelo Morena, also from Sundowns, was a stroke of genius from Broos as Morena caused all sorts of trouble for the Namibian defense with his lightning pace last match. Sundowns playmaker Themba Zwane was at his best with two goals and he and Tau create chaos with quick, intelligent runs to compliment the bruising physicality of Orlando Pirates striker Evidence Makgopa who continues to justify his controversial selection.

Group F: Morocco v Zambia 20:00 GMT

Group F: DR Congo v Tanzania 20:00 GMT

Zambia need a result against Morocco but have to go find a way past West Ham United central defender Nayef Aguerd and Africa’s best defense

A disappointing draw against Tanzania leaves Zambia in a perilous position ahead of their clash against Group F favorites Morocco. The Chipolopolo attack is coming up short at a crucial time and their defensive weaknesses were exposed by Tanzania after an excellent performance against a superior DR Congo side in the opening match. Morocco displayed some of their own shortcomings under the hot sun and humidity of Ivory Coast in a draw against DR Congo last match, which ended controversially with a confrontation between the teams following head coach Walid Regragui’s clash with Congolese defender Chancel Mbemba.

Morocco have proven themselves to be the one North African side that is performing reasonably well in a competition where teams from the region are struggling. Regragui is under investigation by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) following the incident with Mbemba which includes accusations of racist comments, creating a bit of a potential distraction off the pitch. Regragui denies the accusations and focused on his team ahead of the match, admitting that the left side of the Moroccan formation has been a weakness so far in Ivory Coast. Central defender and captain Romain Saïss is a potential absence for the Atlas Lions after missing training in the buildup to Wednesday’s clash and Regragui could give some opportunities to previously unused players.

That left wing appears to have reinforcements arriving. Fullback Noussair Mazraoui is back in full training and Yahya Attiyat-Allah is another option on the left who can come in for Mohamed Chibi. In attack, mediocre performances from Abde Ezzalzouli and Sofiane Boufal leave doubt over who will get the nod against Zambia. Boufal continues to recover from illness and did not look his best against the Congolese but both he and Ezzalzouli are tricky attacking players who are capable of reversing their earlier form. The center of midfield led by Azzedine Ounahi and Sofyan Amrabat is secure with both tenacity and creativity and the right wing led by attacking fullback Achraf Hakimi and playmaker Hakim Ziyech is the focal point of wide attacks.

Zambia, a team that expected to reach at least the Round of 16, suffered a major blow when an early mistake was followed by a first half red card in their draw with Tanzania. Head coach Avram Grant acknowledged the difficult task ahead of his team, stating his belief that Morocco is the strongest team in Africa. Captain Lubambo Musonda showed no such fear in his pre-match comments and indicated that he and his Chipolopolo teammates still believe in their ability to prevail beyond the group stage.

Left back Roderick Kabwe received two yellow cards against Tanzania and Musonda appears likely to fill in at the position to offer a presence that is best when attacking down the flank. Central defensive partnership Frankie Musonda and Stoppila Sunzu will have to replicate their impressive performance against DR Congo in the opening match in order for Zambia to earn a result. Striker Patson Daka is showing clear signs of frustration but managed to find the net and equalize against Tanzania but is lacking service. Lameck Banda is the brightest sign of quality from the wings and Grant may consider a change on the opposite wing for Fashion Sakala, whose dribbling continues to be ineffective in addition to a lack of ability to set up his teammates.

Simon Msuva and Mbwana Samatta are the source of goals for Tanzania, who must upset DR Congo to have any chance of qualifying for the Round of 16 out of Group F

Unfancied Tanzania have done well to keep themselves in contention for the knockout stages with a draw against Zambia but the Taifa Stars are up against it once again in Wednesday’s duel with a talented Congolese side. After a fierce and physical approach against Morocco in their opener, Tanzania reduced the yellow cards to zero against Zambia but must find a way to threaten on the attack. DR Congo are performing well but the results do not show it following draws against Zambia and Morocco but the Leopards attack is looking to find their full stride on Wednesday.

DR Congo are displaying impressive chemistry under coach Sébastien Desabre whose team are showing great potential in all departments. The French tactician prioritized finding the first goal in his pre-match comments, something that Tanzania achieved against Zambia and allowed the CECAFA nation to focus on their strength in the defense. It appears that Desabre studied Tanzania’s draw with Zambia closely based on his comments which mentioned avoiding mistakes and employing a variety of attacking styles to break down the Taifa Stars.

Defensive stalwart Chancel Mbemba, involved in the confrontation with Morocco coach Walid Regragui following the clash between the teams, sat out the press conference to avoid questions on the subject. He will be the leader of the defense from his central defense position. Defensive midfielder Charles Pickel announced he is ready to retain his spot after being forced off with a minor muscle injury and an impressive attack features star winger Yoane Wissa. Winger Meschack Elia impressed off the bench against Morocco and there are no bad options for Desabre at the central attacking midfield position or right wing opposite Wissa. Veteran striker Cédric Bakambu continued to struggle and either Fiston Mayele, who came on for Bakambu early in the second half, or Simon Banza could get their big chance to impress.

Tanzania proved they belong by earning a point against Zambia after a comprehensive defeat to Morocco in their opening match but the reality remains that the Taifa Stars are heavy underdogs on Wednesday. Focusing on defense despite a numerical advantage against Zambia cost the East African nation two points and now they must find a way to produce goals to earn a necessary victory and dream of a first-ever qualification to the knockout stages. Further complicating the efforts of the Taifa Stars is the suspension of head coach Adel Amrouche for inflammatory comments against the Moroccan football federation ahead of their opening match.

However there is no pressure on the team and praise has arrived for the strong defense which is led by Bakari Mwamnyeto and Ibrahim Hamad, both players at Young Africans. Hamad is earning praise from other coaches at the AFCON including now former Gambia coach Tom Saintfiet, who said Hamad is worthy of an opportunity in European club football after playing in the top division of Zanzibar only two years ago. Himid Mao Mkami is the defensive midfield anchor but the weakness is in attack. Captain and star Mbwana Samatta was forced to drop deep and play the unnatural role of playmaker due to the lack of chance creation and interim coach Hemed Sulaiman Ali must discover a way to get good service to Samatta and fellow accomplished striker Simon Msuva, scorer of the goal against Zambia.

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