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COUNTDOWN TO AFCON 2023

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Senegal, Cameroon, Guinea and The Gambia

Continental heavyweights Cameroon have five Nations Cup titles to their name but had to settle for third place on home soil last time out.

Despite being drawn with holders Senegal, anything short of success might not go down well with Indomitable Lions supporters.

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“We expect them to bring home the trophy, especially because we won our first Afcon in Abidjan in 1984,” Cameroonian football analyst Lawrence Nkede said.

Yet performances during the 2021 finals elicited mixed reactions. While there was praise for the team’s resilience, the disappointment was pervasive after a semi-final defeat by Egypt on penalties.

Now observers worry over coach Rigobert Song’s lack of a settled starting XI.

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“In the past ten games we’ve had ten different line-ups. It’s very difficult to read the team and its true capacity,” Nkede added.

With goalkeeper Andre Onana enduring dips in form at Manchester United and doubts over the fitness of forward Bryan Mbeumo, the Lions may already be wounded ahead of their opener against Guinea.

The Syli Nationale have reached the knockout stages on their past three appearances while The Gambia return after a surprise run to the quarter-finals on their Afcon debut.

“The Scorpions will have to be at their very best to progress following poor performances and two defeats in World Cup qualifiers,” journalist Momoudou Bah said.

“Coach Tom Saintfiet’s team will be pumped up to face Senegal in a derby in the opening fixture, as it will be the first time in over 15 years the two countries have faced each other at senior level.”

Gambian football is progressing, with the country featuring at the Under-20 World Cup this year for the first time in 16 years, but Saintfiet has faced criticism over his playing philosophy.

“The pragmatic approach, which is based on sitting deep to soak up pressure before hitting opponents on the break, has been one of the team’s strengths since the Belgian took over in 2018,” Bah added.

“But he has had to deal with a backlash from expectant supporters who want a more expansive approach. Saintfiet has also faced challenges in the build-up as some key players struggle in front of goal.”

Group C fixtures

o          Monday, 15 January: Senegal v The Gambia, Cameroon v Guinea

o          Friday, 19 January: Senegal v Cameroon, Guinea v The Gambia

o          Tuesday, 23 January: Guinea v Senegal, The Gambia v Cameroon

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