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COUNTDOWN TO AFCON 2023

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The 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) is drawing ever closer, with Ivory Coast staging the finals for the second time.

The tournament kicks off on Saturday, 13 January when the hosts will take on Guinea-Bissau at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan.

Record seven-time champions Egypt are also in action on the opening weekend, facing Mozambique in Group B, while holders Senegal begin the defence of their title against The Gambia in Group C on Monday, 15 January.

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But when are the other group fixtures? What is the format of the tournament? Where are matches being played and when do they kick off?

What are the groups?

The 24 teams have been split into six groups of four teams, with the hosts in Group A alongside three-time champions Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea and Guinea-Bissau.

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Group B also contains a heavyweight match-up, with Mohamed Salah’s Egypt, the most successful team in the competition’s history, drawn against Ghana, currently coached by former Newcastle and Brighton boss Chris Hughton.

Morocco, who became the first side from the continent to reach a World Cup semi-final in Qatar in 2022, are the highest African nation in the world rankings (13th) – but have not won a Nations Cup since 1976.

Walid Regragui’s side face former winners DR Congo and Zambia and East Africa’s sole representatives Tanzania in Group F.

Group A: Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau.

Group B: Egypt, Ghana, Cape Verde, Mozambique.

Group C: Senegal, Cameroon, Guinea, The Gambia.

Group D: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Angola.

Group E: Tunisia, Mali, South Africa, Namibia.

Group F: Morocco, DR Congo, Zambia, Tanzania.

Afcon 2023 schedule and kick-off times

After the opening match, at least two games will be played each day during a group stage that runs until 24 January.

Games are being held at 14:00, 17:00 and 20:00 (all times GMT) during the group stages, with the two latter kick-off times being used in the final round of group games and the knockout stages, which begin on Saturday, 27 January.

The top two teams in each group and the four best-ranked third-placed teams will advance to the last 16, with quarter-finals, semi-finals, a match for third place and the final to follow.

Venues

Six stadiums will be used for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations in five host cities across Ivory Coast

Twelve years on from the end of a civil war that split the country in two, Ivory Coast will welcome Africa’s best footballers for the first time since 1984.

Six stadiums will be used in five host cities, with two in Abidjan.

o          Alassane Ouattara Stadium, Abidjan (capacity 60,000)

o          Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium, Abidjan (capacity 33,000)

o          Charles Konan Banny Stadium, Yamoussoukro (capacity 20,000)

o          Stade de la Paix, Bouake (capacity 40,000)

o          Amadou Gon Coulibaly Stadium, Korhogo (capacity 20,000)

o          Laurent Pokou Stadium, San Pedro (capacity 20,000)

All of the stadiums are either new or have undergone renovations ahead of Afcon, with the government spending one billion US dollars on infrastructure projects around the country.

Originally scheduled to be held in June-July 2023, the tournament was moved to avoid a clash with the West African rainy season.

Who are the form teams?

Many bookmakers have Senegal down as favourites to retain the title they won for the first tie in Cameroon.

Since then, star names Sadio Mane, Kalidou Koulibaly and Edouard Mendy have all moved to play in the Saudi Pro League, but new talents such as Tottenham midfielder Pape Matar Sarr and Marseille forward Iliman Ndiaye, who helped Sheffield United win promotion to the Premier League, have become first-team regulars, while 19-year-old prodigy Lamine Camara was recently named African young player of the year.

Algeria, champions in 2019, are also highly fancied despite a poor showing at the last Nations Cup. They beat Senegal in a friendly in September and recently started World Cup qualifying with two solid victories.

Morocco are seen as challengers following their  World Cup heroics in Qatar while Ivory Coast also ride high in the odds, even if their team no longer boasts star names of the same lustre at Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure.

Seven-time winners Egypt lost the last final on penalties and can still rely on Mohamed Salah’s brilliance, but some of the other big names, including Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon, have struggled to impress in recent fixtures – and all three have speculation surrounding their coaches going in to the tournament.

Fixtures:

Saturday 13 January

Group A: Ivory Coast vs Guinea-Bissau, Alassane Ouattara Stadium, Abidjan (20:00)

Sunday 14 January

Group A: Nigeria vs Equatorial Guinea, Alassane Ouattara Stadium, Abidjan (14:00)

Group B: Egypt vs Mozambique, Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium, Abidjan (17:00)

Group B: Ghana vs Cape Verde, Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium, Abidjan (20:00)

Monday 15 January

Group C: Senegal vs The Gambia, Charles Konan Banny Stadium, Yamoussoukro (14:00)

Group C: Cameroon vs Guinea, Yamoussoukro (17:00)

Group D: Algeria vs Angola, Stade de la Paix, Bouake (20:00)

Tuesday 16 January

Group D: Burkina Faso vs Mauritania, Bouake (14:00)

Group E: Tunisia vs Namibia, Amadou Gon Coulibaly Stadium, Korhogo (17:00)

Group E: Mali vs South Africa, Korhogo (20:00)

Wednesday 17 January

Group F: Morocco vs Tanzania, Laurent Pokou Stadium, San Pedro (17:00)

Group F: DR Congo vs Zambia, San Pedro (20:00)

Thursday 18 January

Group A: Equatorial Guinea vs Guinea-Bissau, Alassane Ouattara Stadium, Abidjan (14:00)

Group A: Ivory Coast vs Nigeria, Alassane Ouattara Stadium, Abidjan (17:00)

Group B: Egypt vs Ghana, Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium, Abidjan (20:00)

The Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium, which hosted the opening and final matches the 1984 Nations Cup, has been renovated for the 2023 finals

Friday 19 January

Group B: Cape Verde vs Mozambique, Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium, Abidjan (14:00)

Group C: Senegal vs Cameroon, Yamoussoukro (17:00)

Group C: Guinea vs The Gambia, Yamoussoukro (20:00)

Saturday 20 January

Group D: Algeria vs Burkina Faso, Bouake (14:00)

Group D: Mauritania vs Angola, Bouake (17:00)

Group E: Tunisia vs Mali, Korhogo (20:00)

Sunday 21 January

Group E: South Africa vs Namibia, Korhogo (20:00)

Group F: Morocco vs DR Congo, San Pedro (14:00)

Group F: Zambia vs Tanzania, San Pedro (17:00)

Monday 22 January

Group A: Equatorial Guinea vs Ivory Coast, Alassane Ouattara Stadium, Abidjan (17:00)

Group A: Guinea-Bissau vs Nigeria, Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium, Abidjan (17:00)

Group B: Cape Verde vs Egypt, Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium, Abidjan (20:00)

Group B: Mozambique vs Ghana, Alassane Ouattara Stadium, Abidjan (20:00)

Tuesday 23 January

Group C: The Gambia vs Cameroon, Bouake (17:00)

Group C: Guinea vs Senegal, Yamoussoukro (17:00)

Group D: Angola vs Burkina Faso, Yamoussoukro (20:00)

Group D: Mauritania vs Algeria, Bouake (20:00)

Wednesday 24 January

Group E: Namibia vs Mali, San Pedro (17:00)

Group E: South Africa vs Tunisia, Korhogo (17:00)

Group F: Tanzania vs DR Congo, Korhogo (20:00)

Group F: Zambia vs Morocco, San Pedro (20:00)

Second round fixtures

Saturday 27 January

SR1: Group D Winner vs 3rd Place Group B/E/F, Bouake (17:00)

SR2: Group A Second Place vs Group C Second Place, Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium, Abidjan (20:00)

Sunday 28 January

SR3: Group A Winner vs 3rd Place Group C/D/E, Alassane Ouattara Stadium, Abidjan (17:00)

SR4: Group B Second Place vs Group F Second Place, San Pedro (20:00)

Monday 29 January

SR5: Group B Winner vs 3rd Place Group A/C/D, Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium, Abidjan (17:00)

SR6: Group C Winner vs 3rd Place Group A/B/F, Yamoussoukro (20:00)

Tuesday 30 January

SR7: Group E Winner vs Group D Second Place, Korhogo (17:00)

SR8: Group F Winner vs Group E Second Place, San Pedro (20:00)

Two-time African Footballer of the Year Sadio Mane’s Senegal team are in a tricky group including Cameroon

Quarter-finals

Friday 2 February

QF1: Winner SR2 vs Winner RS1, Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium, Abidjan (17:00)

QF2: Winner SR4 vs Winner SR3, Alassane Ouattara Stadium, Abidjan (20:00)

Saturday 3 February

QF3: Winner SR7 vs Winner RS6, Bouake (17:00)

QF4: Winner SR5 vs Winner SR8, Yamoussoukro (20:00)

Semi-finals

Wednesday 7 February

SF1: Winner QF1 vs Winner QF4, Bouake (17:00)

SF2: Winner QF3 vs Winner QF2, Alassane Ouattara Stadium, Abidjan (20:00)

Third place play-off

Saturday 10 February

SF1 vs SF2 losers, Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium, Abidjan (20:00)

Final

Sunday 11 February

Sf1 vs SF2 winners, Alassane Ouattara Stadium, Abidjan

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