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Thursday, February 22, 2024
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Africa Cup of Nations preview

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With Kalipha Jabbi & Batou Saidy

With barely a week before the footballing world switches its attention to Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), football writers and pundits, Kalipha Jabbi (Karl) and Batou Saidy share their thoughts on potential talking points for the much-anticipated continental showpiece in Ivory Coast. As well as debating over the Gambia’s chances in the tournament, the duo takes their tournament favorites, surprise packages, dark horses, young players of the tournament and predicted top scorers.
Batou: It’s back-to-back AFCON appearances for the Scorpions and that’s a grin on the faces of the fans. The anticipated showdown between the Scorpions and the Teranga Lions is giving everyone goosebumps across every corner in Senegambia. An encounter tipped to be a Senegambian derby, a decider of the local rivalry between these two countries and a prototype of such an encounter on the continental stage, how do you rate Gambia’s chances of defeating Senegal, Karl? Can the Scorpions deal with the Teranga Lions and shutdown the Teranga noise, finally?
Karl: Gambia is in the proverbial Group of Death with football powerhouses Cameroon and Guinea, and of course Senegal, the defending champions. On paper, all these teams have better sides than The Gambia but football is no longer played on paper. It is played on the pitch. Yes, we are the underdogs in this group and all the teams will be relishing their chances against us but I have the feeling that we can make another shock. When we played Guinea at our debut AFCON, it was a fairytale and this will make the rest of the teams take us seriously. We may not have maximum points but if Tom can release the attacking threats at his disposal instead of being defensive, we can come out from the group as best losers at least. Anything less than a quarterfinal will be a failure.

Tournament favorites
Batou: Assessing the previous performances of the participating nations in this edition, you can’t disregard the vast array of overt quality the Teranga Lions have. Aliou Cissè is so experienced and patient, and he knows how to reach the last four. Since finishing in the quarterfinals of the AFCON 2017, they managed consecutive finals. That’s insane consistency and class. They are the champions of the last one in Cameroon, and they finished as runners-up in the 2019 edition in Eqypt. With that in mind, with that on the ground, who would diss the Teranga Lions at their own peril, even without their famous “seringtu”?
A rejuvenated Syli National side with the best striker in Africa right now, Serhou Guirassy, under the captaincy of a midfield maestro and serial winner Naby Keita, I am not only eager to see them lock horns with the Scorpions; but cannot wait to watch their clash with the Teranga Lions as well. Gambia-Senegal would be a crazy encounter, but Guinea-Senegal would probably be even crazier as we think.
However, I also fear a Cameroon side that snubbed an experienced Choupo-Moting, a powerful Moumi Ngamaleu until the eleventh hour, and an ever reliable Collins Fai. Conversely, an Ivorian side of booming youngsters like Simon Adingra, Odilon Kossonou; Karim Konate and Oumar Diakite can’t be underrated, essentially with their home advantage. How lethal would it look with Wilfred Zaha on the left flank, supported in midfield by the experienced Ibrahim Sangaré, Franck Kessié and Jean-Michael Seri, famously dubbed the African Xavi? I have high hopes for Serge Aurier and his compatriots, Karl.

Tournament favorites: Ivory Coast
Karl: Senegal will still be every bookmaker’s favorite as the defending champions and the mixed category of players they have; both experienced and crop of new youngsters. Bamba Dieng was a surprise star of the last tournament and I am surprised he didn’t make this year’s squad because of his poor club performance after switching sides but Coach Aliou Cisse has replaced him with Iliman Ndiaye and Nicolas Jackson; two top talents in European football. Young midfielder Lamine Camara will be one to watch and a midfield trio of him, Pathe Ciss and Pape Gueye will be ones to watch in the absence of Pape Matarr Sarr. If Aliou Cisse can work on his attacking strength, he can make another great tournament even though I don’t expect them to win it.
The North African sides always have their ways in such tournaments over the years, and Morocco with the core of their historic World Cup players in the team, Egypt with Mo Salah still in his prime, and Tunisia, all have a stake. Algeria, to me, is the best North African team and coach Djamel Belmadi knows a thing or two about wining AFCON. He was both a wining Captain and a coach. Last tournament was a total failure and this one presents the last chance for his golden generation of stars.
Nigeria has the best forward in the continent with Victor Oshimen and Boniface in their prime. Mali has the midfield of Aliou Dieng, Bissouma, Samassekou and Haidara. Ghana has Kudus to look up to for inspiration but my tournament favorites will have to be the host country, Ivory Coast. The coach made a dangerous call of dropping Wilfred Zaha but if Simon Adingra can find his Brighton form, then home support will be an added advantage.

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Tournament favorites: Ivory Coast

Watch out for part two.

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