The bid to secure a place in Africa’s biggest football spectacle, the TotalEnergies Africa Cup of Nations continues this week with some eye-catching encounters as African nations prepare to put their best foot forward to seal a place in the continental showpiece set for Cote D’Ivoire next year.
A total of 44 nations will be in action over the week of 22 – 24 March, with some nations looking at extending their leads, while others look to regain ground in the race to qualification.
Three-time African champions, Nigeria welcome Guinea Bissau to the Abiola Stadium in Abuja where they will be aiming at stretching their lead at the top of Group A, following their victories over Sao Tome E Principe and Sierra Leone.
The Stallions of Burkina Faso, who currently occupy top spot in Group B, play host to a bruised Togo side, who are looking for their first victory of the qualifiers following their loss to Cape Verde that was followed by a share of the spoils with Eswatini.
Concluding the group B action will be Cape Verde, who continue to be on a steady rise in African football. They welcome a resilient Eswatini side who are equally and gradually outgrowing being pushovers on the continent.
Five-time African champions, Cameroon face Burundi in their first Group C assignment, following their walkover result over Kenya as they sit top of the group. The East Africans on the other hand secured a valuable away point to Namibia and will be looking at building from that result and unseating the Indomitable Lions from the summit of the group.
Egypt, who find themselves in a precarious position at the bottom of Group D as a result of goal-difference, welcome Malawi to the Cairo International Stadium, while Guinea play host to a high in confidence Ethiopia in a match set to be played at the Mohammed V Complex Stadium in Casablanca, Morocco.
A top of the table clash awaits Group E as Ghana welcome Angola who are equal on points with the Black Stars and will be looking at causing an upset in Kumasi’s Baba Yara Sports Stadium.
The newly built, Nelson Mandela Stadium in Algeria’s capital of Algiers sees Group F table toppers, Algeria welcoming second placed, Niger in what promises to be an action-packed encounter, while the Ugandan Cranes are looking at climbing out of the danger zone as they play host to Tanzania in a match set to be played at Egypt’s Suez Canal Stadium in Ismailia.
In Group J, a north African battle looms as group leaders, Tunisia travel to Libya for what promises to be a tough encounter between the two sides at the Martyrs of Benina Stadium.
MUST-WIN FOR BAFANA
An interesting battle in Group K sees Liberia taking on South Africa in a must-win match for both sides who lost against table toppers, Morocco. Both sides understand that a victory sets them up for a strong chance of a second-placed finish of the group, which subsequently secures them a ticket to Cote D’ Ivoire.
To conclude the round of qualifiers, reigning African champions, Senegal is looking at maintaining their 100%-win record in Group L when they take on Mozambique at the Me Abdoulaye Wade de Diamniadio Stadium in Dakar.
Benin, Rwanda kick-start Afcon qualifiers
An important three points will be up for grabs when Benin host Rwanda in a 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier at the Friendship Stadium in Cotonou on Wednesday afternoon. Both teams are winless after the opening two rounds in Group L and they are in desperate need of a result to keep their respective hopes alive of qualifying for the showpiece in Ivory Coast next year.
The Benin Football Federation (FEBEFOOT) has subsequently turned to Gernot Rohr in an attempt to get the West African nation’s Afcon qualifying campaign back on track.
Former Nigeria manager Rohr has signed a three-year contract with FEBEFOOT and revealed that money was not the motivating factor in his decision to take on this new challenge.
Rwanda warmed up for the clash with a 1-0 loss to Ethiopia and will need to address the lack of concentration among players ahead of the trip to West Africa.
The two teams last met in a 2014 World Cup qualifier on 8 September 2013 when Benin emerged 2-0 victors – their second triumph in four encounters, with Rwanda claiming their solitary win in a 2012 Afcon qualifier on 9 October 2011.
Angola forced to make changes against Ghana
Angola have been forced into two changes to their squad for their two Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Ghana over the next week.
Angola take Ghana in Kumasi on Thursday before hosting them in Luanda four days later.
Injury to Italian-based winger Zito Luvumbo has seen a call-up for Loide, who plays for Mafra in the Portuguese second division, while Tó Carneiro comes in for the Belgian-based Núrio Fortuna among the defenders.
Coach Paulo Goncalves also said Vitoria Guimaraes’ midfielder Nelson Luz would not be joining up with the squad despite a call-up.
There are first call ups for Portuguese-born midfielder Bruno Paz, a former academy player at Sporting Lisbon who is now at Konyaspor in Turkey, and Sagrada Esperança defender Lulas.
Angola have been preparing for Thursday’s match in Algeria, where Petro Atletico played at the weekend in the African Champions Laue. There are six players from the GiraBola champions in the Angola squad, including former Cape Town City goalkeeper Hugo Marques.
‘Palancas Negras’ share top place in Group E with Ghana’s Black Stars after the opening two rounds of the qualifiers last June when they beat the Central African Republic at home in Luanda and drew away in Madagascar to make a strong start to their bid to qualify for the finals in the Ivory Coast in January.