Afcon 2023: Senegal defend title as Mohamed Salah eyes win with Egypt


Mohamed Salah walks past the Africa Cup of Nations trophy following the final of the 2021 tournament against Senegal
Image caption,Mohamed Salah has lost two Africa Cup of Nations finals with Egypt, against Cameroon in 2017 and Senegal at the 2021 edition
Africa Cup of Nations 2023
Venue: Ivory Coast Dates: 13 January – 11 February
Coverage: World Football at Afcon podcasts on BBC Sounds, commentary on the BBC World Service in Africa and news, round-ups, reports and live text coverage on BBC Sport website

Mohamed Salah will be looking to captain Egypt to a record-extending eighth triumph when the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) gets under way in Ivory Coast on Saturday after finishing as a runner-up with the Pharaohs twice.

The Liverpool forward missed out on penalties in the 2021 Afcon final against Senegal, with former Reds team-mate Sadio Mane netting the winning spot-kick.

The defending champions are firmly among the favourites to lift the trophy but face threats from across the continent – with the unpredictability of the tournament underlined by the fact the past seven editions have produced seven different winners.

Morocco are Africa’s top-ranked team at 13th in the world after their historic run to the semi-finals at the 2022 World Cup, while Nigeria can boast the striking firepower of African Footballer of the Year Victor Osimhen.

Hosts Ivory Coast are bidding for a first title since 2015 and Algeria will be searching for a vast improvement after crashing out as holders in the group stage two years ago.

“I cannot recall a stronger field,” Senegal forward Mane, who now plays his club football in Saudi Arabia, said.

“All the giants are going to be in Ivory Coast and all of them will be plotting to dethrone us. I believe [this] Nations Cup will be the toughest to win.”

The 24-team format will see the top two in each of the six groups qualify for the last 16, with the four best third-placed sides also progressing to the knockout stages where the overall winners will pick up $7m (£5.5m) in prize money.

BBC viewers in the UK will be able to see 10 games live, including two quarter-finals, both semi-finals and the final on 11 February, while the World Football at Afcon podcast will have discussions rounding up every matchday.

The tournament was originally scheduled to be played in June and July last year, but has been shifted to early 2024 to avoid the rainy season in West Africa.

Club vs country dilemma caption,

Brilliant goals by Premier League stars heading to Afcon 2023

The switch to being played in middle of the European season for the second time running has caused a club versus country debate to flare up again, with Salah stepping away from Liverpool’s Premier League title challenge after netting 14 league goals so far this season.

Reds boss Jurgen Klopp may have joked about hoping the 31-year-old forward returns to Anfield soon, but Salah has no regrets.

“I want to win this competition having come so close twice,” he said before the North Africans departed for Ivory Coast.

“I am so happy to play in this wonderful African tournament and my team-mates and I are desperate to succeed. Every time I step on the pitch I am conscious of my role – I am representing millions of Egyptians.

“We know the streets of Cairo and other cities, towns and villages will be empty when we play.”

Yet Manchester United and Andre Onana have been blasted as “out of touch” after the Cameroon goalkeeper decided to stay with the Red Devils for their Premier League game against Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.

The 27-year-old, who has endured dips in form since his move to Old Trafford in July, is expected to miss his country’s Group C opener against Guinea on Monday.

“For me, this is disrespectful from United and it is really low from Onana to even consider it,” former Indomitable Lions defender Sebastien Bassong told the BBC’s World Football at Afcon podcast.

With forward Bryan Mbeumo injured, Vincent Aboubakar is again expected to lead the line for five-time winners Cameroon after his eight-goal haul won the golden boot at the last edition.

The other contenders

Morocco players celebrate winning a match at the 2022 Fifa World Cup
Image caption,Expectations have risen for Morocco after beating Belgium, Spain and Portugal on the way to a historic World Cup semi-final appearance in Qatar in 2022

Morocco are prominent among the favourites – with Paris St-Germain right-back Achraf Hakimi a stand-out talent – but it is almost half a century since the Atlas Lions won their sole continental title in 1976.

Quarter-finalists last time out, Walid Regragui’s side will also need to overcome whatever mental hurdles they need to in order to advance to a first Afcon semi-final since they were runners-up in 2004.

Morocco will face Tanzania, the only representatives from East Africa, and former champions DR Congo and Zambia in Group F.

Shock 2012 winners Zambia, managed by former Chelsea and Ghana coach Avram Grant, impressed in qualifying after missing the past three tournaments.

“We’re going there to fight and to bring pride again to our country, mother Zambia, and to just make sure that we get the best out of this tournament – not only for ourselves, but for our nation as well,” Copper Bullets striker Patson Daka told BBC Sport Africa. caption,

Afcon 2023: Sadio Mane and Achraf Hakimi and scorers of best goals from last tournament

Burkina Faso reached the last four in Cameroon two years ago and join Mali among the dark horses for the title, with Tunisia led by the experienced Youssef Msakni, who is set to play at a record-equalling eighth Afcon finals.

Nigeria are three-time winners yet their hopes appear to rest on the threat of Osimhen, who finished eighth in the 2023 Ballon d’Or after firing Napoli to a first Serie A title in 33 years.

However, the West Africans have been hit by injuries to forward Victor Boniface and influential midfielder Wilfred Ndidi, and Super Eagles boss Jose Peseiro has been criticised by supporters for both selection and recent results.

“We are capable of winning this tournament because the squad is packed with players who are performing exceptionally well for their European clubs,” Osimhen said.

Mohammed Kudus celebrates after scoring for Ghana at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar
Image caption,Ghana fans hope Mohammed Kudus can replicated his impressive recent form at West Ham United as the Black Stars seek a first title since 1982

Ghana, coached by former Newcastle and Brighton manager Chris Hughton, have also come under fire after enduring a mixed start in 2026 World Cup qualifiers.

The Black Stars, four-time continental champions, failed to progress from their group at the 2021 Afcon and have been drawn alongside Egypt in Group B.

West Ham’s Mohammed Kudus has emerged as Ghana’s star man, but fellow forward Andre Ayew is present for his 8th Afcon and could become the first player to score at seven different editions.

Stuttgart striker Serhou Guirassy, with 17 goals in 14 Bundesliga outings this season, could help Guinea go far at a tournament likely to spring surprises, with both unfancied Equatorial Guinea and debutants The Gambia reaching the quarter-finals at the 2021 finals.

Cape Verde, Mauritania and Guinea-Bissau have all become regular qualifiers, but the latter two sides are still awaiting their first victories at the finals.

South Africa, 1996 champions, are back and bolstered by a strong core of players from Pretoria-based club side Mamelodi Sundowns, winners of the inaugural African Football League, while Angola, Namibia and Mozambique the contenders from the south of the continent.

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